There's no doubt that the Honda Odyssey is a great minivan. Having claimed the best-in-class crown from Chrysler shortly after its debut in 1999, Honda reliability, coupled with a cavernous interior filled with useful features are among the reasons why the Odyssey reigned supreme. But with no major Odyssey update during the past two years, many of its competitors have taken great strides toward threatening the Honda's status as the class leader. Last year's redesigned Toyota Sienna and Nissan Quest made it clear that automakers have every intention of challenging the Honda Odyssey, and Toyota has gotten downright aggressive with its successfully redesigned Sienna.
But just when the others were getting a jump, Honda again trumps the competition with the all-new 2005 Odyssey. With numerous mechanical improvements as well as increased feature content, the Odyssey is poised to reclaim the top position. The newest Honda Odyssey is quieter, more spacious and offers even more innovative features than before, including increased seating configurations and unique storage solutions.
But the best part is that all of the new benefits are packed into nearly the same-size overall package. Interior dimensions have expanded, but without a significant increase to the exterior dimensions. The new Honda Odyssey maintains the same exterior length as the previous model, while the exterior width increases by just an inch. Interior length grows by two inches, and interior width gains an additional inch as well. Also new is optional eight-passenger seating with a Stowable Second-Row PlusOne seat. This optional seat can be converted into a center tray table or removed and stored in the vehicle's new in-floor storage area made even more functional with a rotating lazy Susan hidden inside. The term "optional seat" may cause one to wonder how comfortable a temporary seat can be, but we're pleased to note that after spending a few miles seated between the two second-row full-size captain's chairs, we had no more complaints to offer on the temp seat than we did on the rest of the Honda Odyssey's comfortable seating positions. Additionally, the captain's chairs can be pushed together to form a two-passenger bench. In the far back, the third-row seat remains a fold-flat bench, but new for Honda is a one-motion 60/40-split seat instead of a one-piece bench.
A minivan should be as straightforward to drive as a car — easily maneuverable, with intuitive controls to minimize distractions. Typical of Honda vehicles, we found everything just where we thought it should be, save one exception. The climate controls now operate by up-and-down rocker switches detailed in bright silver, and while they may appear all nice and shiny, we'd prefer the old-school rotary knobs instead.
The previous Honda Odyssey was renowned for its carlike handling and the new minivan is even better. Drivability is improved compliments of the all-new chassis and body structure which has a 20-percent increase in rigidity. Also present are new fully isolated front and rear subframes, and an improved suspension design to help absorb road bumps. Most of our test-drive consisted of fairly smooth pavement, so we went looking for some rougher terrain. A quick trip down a short dirt road confirmed our initial opinion — the new Honda Odyssey offers a more compliant ride than the stiffer feel of the outgoing model.
Whether transporting kids a short distance to the local elementary school or on a long road trip, safety is paramount. Honda's new Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) Body Structure system is designed to dissipate energy in a frontal collision, and also helps other vehicles line up more closely with the Odyssey's bumper during a front-end collision. Two cars that hit bumper to bumper will suffer less damage than if one car's bumper goes over that of the other car.
Additional standard safety features on the Odyssey include Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) with traction control, antilock braking system (ABS), BrakeAssist, advanced dual front and side airbags, three-row side curtain airbags with rollover sensors (previously unavailable), pre-tensioning driver and front passenger seatbelts, a four-ring safety structure with side-impact protection beams, run-flat tires and a new tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS) with location and pressure indicators for better stability in the event of a loss of tire pressure. We drove the Odyssey equipped with the Michelin PAX run-flat tires, and were pleased to find no difference in ride quality between the run-flats and traditional rubber.
Previously available with one engine, the Honda Odyssey now offers two new V6 options. Both are 3.5-liter VTEC engines rated at 255 horsepower (an increase of 15 hp over the 2004 model), and are mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. The difference is that one is classified as an i-VTEC featuring Variable Cylinder Management (VCM, standard equipment on top trim levels). VCM increases fuel efficiency by "shutting off" three of the engine's six cylinders during cruising and deceleration, and when it's performance time, the engine switches back to using all six cylinders. The VCM system, noted to increase fuel economy by as much as 12 percent over the regular VTEC V6, is virtually undetectable, and was only apparent during our test-drive when a light on the dash signaled that VCM had kicked into gear.
As an added bonus, Honda Odyssey models with VCM are extra quiet because they're equipped with Active Noise Control (ANC) technology that works with the audio system to effectively cancel inherent noise produced by the VCM system (along with some road noise). Further NVH dampening occurs through the use of an Active Control Engine Mount System (ACM) that uses electrically activated dampers to minimize engine vibration to smooth out the driving experience.
Now available in four different trim levels, the Honda Odyssey is bursting at the seams with standard equipment. The base-level LX model includes the 3.5-liter VTEC; a five-speed automatic transmission; 16-inch wheels with wheel covers; ABS; Vehicle Stability Assist with traction control; advanced dual stage, dual threshold driver and front passenger airbags; side curtain airbags with rollover sensors; power front- and second-row windows; power locks; cruise control; keyless entry; a CD player; a 60/40-split third-row seat; in-floor storage; and a smart maintenance indicator.
The EX adds alloy wheels, optional eight-passenger seating, power-sliding doors, an in-dash six-disc CD player, in-floor storage with a "lazy Susan," integrated second-row sunshades and a conversation mirror with a sunglass holder.
Choose the EX with leather interior and you'll also get the more advanced V6 engine and a power moonroof. Family road-trippers can also add a DVD entertainment system with a whopping nine-inch display screen and integrated remote control, plus wireless headsets with personal surround sound and an optional navigation system with voice recognition (complete with Zagat survey for restaurants) and an integrated rearview camera.
The Touring model adds a power tailgate, tri-zone auto climate control, driver memory seat, 115-volt AC power outlet, multi-information display, power-adjustable pedals, leather steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror, foglights, corner/backup sensors, auto headlights, a second-row removable center console (in place of the Stowable PlusOne seat), run-flat tires, 17.5-inch wheels and a tire-pressure monitoring system. A premium audio system with a six-disc CD changer and XM Satellite Radio are also available.
If it sounds like the Honda Odyssey is a place we'd want to spend time in, you're right. With vehicles designed to be everything from no-frills transportation to luxurious, fast sport coupes, the most important thing about minivan design is utility. It's not simply about style or luxury or power. Minivans are about the people inside them — their comfort, safety and the way they live. And in the case of the new 2005 Odyssey, Honda again approaches the challenge with a special thoughtfulness that sets the Odyssey apart from the competition.