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Review and photos by Greg Wilson
The introduction of the redesigned 2005 Honda Odyssey minivan is considered to be a significant event in the minivan world – not because the current Odyssey is a best-seller (its annual sales are not even close to the Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan, Chevy Venture/Pontiac Montana minivans) – but because the Odyssey is rated by many critics as the best minivan on the market, and has been used as a benchmark by other minivan manufacturers in the design of their minivans.
However it’s been six years since the first large Odyssey came off the assembly line in Alliston, Ontario (it followed the smaller Japanese built Odyssey), and three years since the upgraded, more powerful Odyssey was introduced. The competition hasn’t been standing still in the meantime: the recently-redesigned Toyota Sienna, the new Nissan Quest, the redesigned Ford Freestar, the upgraded Dodge Grand Caravan with ‘stow-n-go’ second row seats, and the Mazda MPV have caught up to and surpassed the Odyssey in some respects.
To counter the competition, the redesigned 2005 Odyssey has borrowed a few successful ideas from other minivans (split third row fold-flat seats, sliding second-row side windows, power tailgate) and created a few of its own (V6 with variable cylinder management, under floor storage with ‘lazy susan’). As well, the new Odyssey addresses some of the complaints of current owners, such as road noise, limited 3rd row seat operation, and its ‘soccer mom’ image.
Recognizing that interior space and versatility are a high priority with minivan buyers, Honda engineers gave the 2005 Odyssey a larger interior even though the overall length is unchanged. The cabin is 50 mm (2.0 in.) longer and 25 mm (1.0 in.) wider than before. Most of the extra length has gone into extra legroom for the third row seat, providing adequate kneeroom and legroom (and headroom) for
average-size adults. As well, the third-row seat is now split 60/40 which means that both sides can be flipped and folded flat in the floor. With this new seat, you can have one or two passengers in the third row seat while carrying luggage or cargo on the other side. The effort required to fold these seats is minimal, up or down.
Interestingly, the new Odyssey has more passenger volume and cargo volume than the 2004 Toyota Sienna even though they appear to be about the same size from the outside.
Trim levels for 2005 are LX, EX, EX w/Leather, and a new top-of-the-line Touring model. LX models have 7-passenger seating, but mid-level Odyssey EX and EX w/Leather models are available with a new 8-passenger cloth interior. The 8-passenger model has a removeable centre seat that sits between the second row bucket seats. When not in use, its backrest can folded down to provide a hard tabletop with cupholders for the outboard passengers – or the whole seat can be removed and stored in the cargo area. When it is removed, the centre bucket seats will slide together if desired. The outboard centre buckets tilt and slide forwards for easy access to the rear seat, and they can be removed entirely if desired. However, at 24 kilograms, they are not exactly lightweight, and need to be stored somewhere.
At a preview ride-and-drive in Banff, Alberta this week, I asked Odyssey Chief Engineer, Yutaka Fujiwara, why Honda didn’t design fold-flat second row seats similar to Chrysler’s new stow-n-go seats. He said they looked into it, but “..we wanted the second row seats to be comfortable” he said, “and we didn’t feel that the design of Chrysler’s folding seats made them comfortable enough for the passengers.” He also pointed out that the second and third row seatbacks in the new Odyssey fold flat allowing 4X8 sheets to fit in the cargo area.
For Odyssey passengers, there are plenty of storage areas in the doors and walls of the new Odyssey, up to 17 cup-holders, and a unique new under-floor storage area just in front of the second row seats that includes a circular revolving ‘lazy susan’. It can be accessed from the front or second row seats.
To give the new Odyssey a more car-like driving feel, Honda made the driver’s seat larger and more supportive and changed the angle of the driving position slightly to be more car-like. As well, there are new optional power adjustable brake and
accelerator pedals. The round instruments are larger with bigger numerals and a bright, pleasing back-lit appearance, similar to the Civic Hybrid and Civic. A new stick shift for the 5 speed automatic transmission replaces the column shifter and it’s positioned very close to the steering wheel on the dash. Heater, radio and optional navigation controls are placed closer to the driver as well.
Top-of-the-line models come with a navigation system with bilingual voice recognition (English/Canadian French) and voice operation now includes operation of the air conditioning and audio controls. Touring models also come with a new 360 watt premium audio system with subwoofer, 3-zone climate control, a new back-up camera, rear parking sensors, and a digital information display. A new DVD entertainment system with a larger 9-inch screen, wireless headphones and ‘surround-sound’ is also available.
The power sliding side doors and a new power tailgate can be operated from the driver’s seat, from the door, or by remote key. Each includes a pinch sensor to prevent arms and legs being caught in a closing door. A new feature allows the doors to be closed manually with minimal effort if desired.
The new second row power sliding side windows are handy for letting in some fresh air and sunlight, and in some models, they include a sliding sunshade.
Power is up and fuel economy has improved. 2005 Odyssey LX and EX models still come with a 3.5 litre SOHC V6 engine with VTEC (variable valve timing), but horsepower is up from 240 to 255. Fuel consumption is rated at 12.3 l/100 km city and 8.6 l/100 km highway, slightly better than the 2004 Odyssey. 2005 Odyssey EX w/Leather and Touring models have a 3.5 litre V6 with i-VTEC and a new Variable Cylinder Management system (VCM). Basically, the VCM system shuts off three cylinders under light throttle and runs on six cylinders when more power is needed. The result is a saving of about 7 to 10% in fuel over the regular Odyssey, depending on the trim level and curb weight. Fuel consumption figures are 11.7 city/7.7 hwy. Both engines meet strict LEV2-ULEV emissions standards.
To counter the increased vibration and noise that occurs when the van is running on only three cylinders, the new Odyssey with VCM includes electronically controlled engine mounts to reduce vibration, and Active Noise Control, a noise cancellation system that uses the audio system to emit an identical but out-of-phase sound from the speakers to reduce ‘booming’. As you can see, Honda has really thought of everything.
During my test-drive of the Touring model, I found the change between 6 and 3 cylinder modes indistinguishable – except for a small green ‘eco’ light that lights up in the instrument cluster when running on 3 cylinders. The engine is terrifically smooth and free-revving, and acceleration is quick for a minivan – 0 to 100 km/h takes 8.9 seconds in the EX model – an improvement of 0.3 seconds over the 2004 Odyssey – and slightly longer in the heavier Touring model.
The Odyssey’s ride and handling – which were already great for a minivan – have improved. The Odyssey feels surprisingly manoeuvrable for a big minivan, and it’s very easy to drive – particularly on the freeway where it cruises effortlessly at around 1800 rpm at 100 km/h and 2200 rpm at 120 km/h. The cabin is quiet and generally vibration-free. The steering is precise and responsive and it’s quite stable in the corners. My one complaint, at least initially, was that the second row head restraint blocks visibility when changing lanes.
The current Odyssey has already proven a very safe van in crash tests, but the new one has been engineered to be safer for the occupants, other cars, and pedestrians. The new body structure is expected to receive the highest marks in frontal, front offset, side and side pole crash tests, according to Honda. In addition, the new Odyssey is designed to do less damage to smaller vehicles in a frontal collision, and to better protect pedestrians who might be struck in the front.
Standard on the new Odyssey are dual-stage front airbags, side airbags in the front seats, and curtain airbags for all three rows of occupants – and it offers a new rollover sensor to deploy the curtain airbags in case of a rollover. To help prevent spinouts and rollovers, all Odysseys come equipped with standard traction control and VSA (stability control) which automatically counteracts loss of steering direction in a skid.
In summary, I think the 2005 Odyssey has “the right stuff” to once again lead the pack in the premium minivan segment. Some may not like its new styling – its new larger front headlamps and forgettable taillamps aren’t particularly attractive. And its lack of fold-flat second-row seats may be a drawback for some buyers. But overall, this is an impressive new minivan that’s full of family-friendly features.
Pricing for the 2005 Honda Odyssey hasn’t been announced, but Honda said there will be a “minimal” price increase with 2005 prices ranging in the low $30,000 range to mid $40,000 range. Unlike the Sienna, it will not be available with all-wheel-drive.
The 2005 Odyssey is built in Honda’s new manufacturing plant in Alabama, and will go on sale in Canada on October 4th.