1999 Odyssey New Car Test Drive
In the beginning, Honda made its reputation on innovative thinking. From early two-cylinder minicars through clever antipollution technology to the light-alloy NSX two-seater, Hondas were different. In more recent times, however, the company has set its sights on fitting into the automotive mainstream, promoting clean design, high quality and reliability to bring in the customers.
To a large extent, that more conservative strategy has worked. Hondas are perennial fixtures on the best-seller lists in their various classes; with all quirkiness bred out, they represent a safe, surprise-free option for buyers.
Even people who miss the earlier days when Hondas stood apart from the pack will have to admit that the new Odyssey minivan makes a great deal of sense. This is one market where the unusual is not prized. Minivan owners have a basic, well-understood need for passenger and cargo capacity, occupant safety and comfort. The only trailblazing thinking they want to see applied is to details, and only then if such advances lead to increased efficiency or convenience.
Last year's Odyssey was something of an oddity. (It's still available as the Isuzu Oasis.) With four passenger-car type doors and small exterior dimensions, it was more of a transitional vehicle, part sedan and part minivan. Sales were less than anticipated, leading Honda to begin development of a more traditional minivan. Thus the 1999 Odyssey.
In a market dominated by the Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth minivans, GM's Chevy/Oldsmobile/Pontiac trio, Ford Windstar and Toyota Sienna, the Odyssey makes good strategic sense for Honda. The question for would-be customers will be simple: Is the biggest Honda better than the rest, or has the company set its sights on building a mid-pack people-hauler?.