2003 Honda Odyssey Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
More power, more features bolster a real contender.
The Honda Odyssey is at the top of its class. It's a big van, and does everything a minivan is supposed to do exceedingly well. Nifty features such as a disappearing rear seat, a deep storage well in the floor and optional power sliding doors allow it haul to groceries home, kids to school, adults to dinner and plywood to the shop, all with equal convenience.
For 2002, Odyssey will haul all those things a little faster, with 30 more horsepower than before. Amazingly, fuel efficiency has not suffered, thanks at least partly to a new five-speed automatic transmission. Backing up that newfound go-power are new four-wheel disc brakes, which come standard. Inside, Honda has added side-impact air bags, a leather seating option, a DVD entertainment option, and other refinements.
Add to that Honda's hallmark levels of design, engineering and quality, and you get a vehicle that is a joy to live with on a daily basis. The Honda Odyssey gives the acknowledged benchmarks of the minivan category, the Dodge Caravan and the Chrysler Town & Country, a run for your money.
Odyssey comes in two trim levels, the $24,250 LX and $26,750 EX.
A 3.5-liter 24-valve V6 powers the front wheels, now generating 240 horsepower when fed premium-grade fuel. (Regular unleaded can be used, but output suffers.) A new five-speed automatic transmission is standard.
The LX offers most of the popular features, including air conditioning, antilock brakes, traction control, cruise control, adjustable steering column, and power assists for windows, mirrors and door locks.
EX adds power sliding side doors, automatic climate control, upgraded sound system with a CD player, a keyless remote entry and security system, and handsome alloy wheels.
Honda lists the EX with leather trim as a separate model, stickered at $28,250. All leather-clad Odysseys come with electric seat warmers. Leather-covered seats are a prerequisite for the DVD entertainment system, which adds another $500, and for the $2,000 factory-installed GPS navigation system. The latter works in conjunction with a DVD-generated map to give route instructions within major cities in the 48 continental states.
Standard Odyssey safety features include dual front airbags, side-impact airbags, and a three-point seatbelt/shoulder harness for each of the seven seating positions. Child safety seat anchors for the second and third-row seats were added last year. NHTSA awarded the Odyssey five stars for occupant protection in frontal collisions, the highest possible government rating.
The current Honda Odyssey is among the biggest minivans on the market. It's about the same size as the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country. It's a little larger than the Toyota Sienna, but slightly smaller than the Ford Windstar, Chevrolet Venture, Oldsmobile Silhouette and Pontiac Montana.
Honda took a safe, utilitarian approach to the design of its minivan. The Odyssey is neither as distinctive as DaimlerChrysler's minivans nor as anonymous as the Sienna. Honda has made an attempt to give it some corporate identity around the grille area, but the profile and rear view are decidedly ordinary.
Like its contemporaries, the Odyssey comes with four large doors plus a tailgate. The rear doors slide open, making it easier to get in at crowded shopping-center parking lots.
A large, roomy interior is a direct benefit of the Odyssey's size. The floor height is relatively low, making it easy to get in and out. Even the door handles, inside and out, are large, comfortable, and, well, handy. The rear hatch swings up, and a low lift-over height makes it easy to load cargo in back.
The power sliding doors that come with the Odyssey EX are easy to operate. Either door can be opened or closed by pressing a button on the dash or key fob, or by moving the inside or outside levers on the door. For safety, the driver can defeat the system by pressing a switch next to the steering wheel. Additionally, the doors cannot be opened when the vehicle is either locked or moving.
Space is plentiful by every measure. There's lots of headroom and comfortable accommodations for six passengers. You can fit seven, but only if three of them are small children who don't need a child seat. The front seats are comfortable. They don't provide as much side support as I like, but the flat seat bottoms make getting in and out easier, which is a benefit when managing munchkins. Driver visibility is excellent.
The third-row bench seat can be folded into a deep recess, leaving a completely flat floor aft of the second seat for carrying cargo. It is a relatively simple process, though the third-seat headrests must be removed and stowed in side pockets first. Setting the third seat back in place for passengers reveals a large well in the floor, where you can stash enough groceries to sustain an army and not worry about them sliding around. (Try that in a sport-utility.) The back of the third-row seat is raked for comfort.
By sliding the seats sideways, the second row can be converted from two bucket seats to a small bench with a bit of effort. But the main benefit of second-row buckets is improved access to the third row. Second-row seats are removable, which, with the rear seats folded into the floor, turns the Odyssey into a carpeted cargo van. When you're in more of a hurry or away from the garage, the second-row seats can be folded down, leaving space for large, flat items. That's a nice convenience for those spontaneous stops at the home-improvement center. The second-row bucket seats are adjustable fore and aft, allowing optimum comfort for six passengers. Adjustable shoulder belts for the front and second-rows add comfort.
Temperature and fan controls are available for all three rows, along with fully adjustable vents. Materials are top-grade, and the interior color scheme is attractive. The 2000-2001 models already offered an array of cup holders and map pockets, but Honda has added more for 2002, along with handy bag hooks and grab rails.
Odyssey drives and rides like a minivan. It accelerates briskly, as quickly as many sport-utilities. Fuel economy is average. Honda's V6 is smooth and quiet, though it makes its presence known under full acceleration. The automatic transmission works well, but the column-mounted shifter feels a bit funky, as it travels an elliptical path when you push it through the gears manually.
In most situations, the Odyssey delivers a smooth, comfortable ride. On a bumpy road into Washington, D.C., however, the suspension seemed to lack sufficient damping. Potholes are felt and heard as rattles emanating from the rear of the vehicle. Odyssey is easily maneuvered in close-quarters, better than most SUVs.
Big, well-designed mirrors are easy to adjust and provide good rearward vision. The view from the inside mirror is obscured a bit by the rearmost headrests, but they are removable. Sound quality from the premium six-speaker stereo is mediocre. It has difficulty reproducing any music with a broad range. Distortion occurs at higher volumes and the system lacks the efficiency to reproduce low-volume segments well.
Last year, we wrote that the 2001 Odyssey equaled the efforts of DaimlerChrysler and other leading competitors. For 2002, more power (with no loss in economy), better brakes and upgraded interior features move Odyssey even closer to the top of its class. Its magic third seat is a neat trick. Add to that Odyssey's strong value and Honda's proven quality.
Overall, the Honda Odyssey is a solid minivan, one that owners of other Honda products can trade into with confidence. It delivers a load of convenience and is easy to live with. The Odyssey is a great choice for a family of five or six, and a smarter choice for most families than a sport-utility vehicle.
LX ($24,250) (RL1852); EX ($26,750) (RL1862).
Alliston, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
EX ($26,750) (RL1862).
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