2001 Honda Odyssey EX
2001 Honda Odyssey EX. Photos: Honda. Click image to enlarge

By Grant Yoxon

When Honda set out to replace the Odyssey minivan for the 1999 model year, its goal was not simply to improve what it had, but to build the best engineered minivan in North America. Not only did Honda succeed, but the Canadian-built Odyssey became the standard by which all other minivans would be measured.

Not only were consumers impressed, the Odyssey’s competitors took notice too. The Odyssey raised expectations. Consumers demanded equal size, power, safety, and features, and other manufacturers soon found out that if they couldn’t match the Odyssey, they just weren’t in the market.

Other manufacturers scrambled to adopt features – like the Odyssey’s disappearing third row ‘magic seats’ – and fought back the only way they could, beating the Honda on price. Ultimately the winner would be consumers who got better designed and safer minivans from all manufacturers.

The new for 1999 Honda Odyssey was nothing like the Odyssey that preceded it. The 1995 to 1998 Odyssey was a small van with four conventional doors that tried to be both a car and a minivan, but failed at being either. It didn’t fit what North Americans expected in a minivan and was quickly (for a car manufacturer at least) replaced by the all new and much larger 1999 version.

1999 Honda Odyssey LX
1999 Honda Odyssey LX. Click image to enlarge

The Honda Odyssey was the longest minivan at the time – stretching the meaning of the term – nudging the Windstar by half an inch and nearly two and half inches longer than the Dodge Grand Caravan. It had the most power in the class; its 3.5-litre V-6 was rated at 210 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque.

It was the first minivan to run on a four-wheel independent suspension which contributed, along with its relatively low step-in height and low centre of gravity, to give it the best handling in its class.

It set new standards for safety, receiving five stars in both front and side impacts for all passengers from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Dual front air bags, anti-lock brakes and electronic brake force distribution were standard, while Honda’s traction control system was optionally available. Three-point seatbelts and head restraints were fitted to all seven seating positions.

The Honda came with dual sliding rear doors, while many other minivans had only one passenger side sliding door. A deep cavern behind the third row of seats could hold plenty of cargo, even when the minivan was full. When additional cargo space was needed, the third row – a single, non-splitting unit – could be dropped into the cavern providing a flat loading space and large cargo area.

1999 Honda Odyssey EX
1999 Honda Odyssey EX. Click image to enlarge

Second row captains chairs, that could be slid together to form a bench, were standard. Other standard features on LX models included dual front/rear airconditioning with separate rear controls, tinted privacy glass, tilt steering, cruise control, power door locks, windows (including power rear vent windows) and mirrors, intermittent wipers, two 12-volt power outlets and AM/FM/Casette audio system.

EX models added dual power sliding rear doors, power driver’s seat, body-coloured door handles, keyless remote entry, alloy wheels, traction control, a CD player and steering-wheel mounted audio controls.

In 2001 Honda added child seat-tether anchors and an intermittent feature for the rear window wiper. Traction control became standard on LX models and a height adjuster was added to the LX driver’s seat.

By now the competition was in full assault mode on the Odyssey and the minivan came under criticism for not being available with leather seating and for a lack of low-end torque from the 3.5-litre V-6. Both issues were addressed in the 2002 model year.

2002 Honda Odyssey EX with leather
2002 Honda Odyssey EX with leather. Click image to enlarge

2002 marked big changes for the Odyssey. The 3.5-litre engine was bumped up to 240 hp and 242 lb.-ft. of torque and the 4-speed transmission was replaced with a new 5-speed unit. Rear drum brakes were replaced with discs and standard side air bags were added. A new leather seating option became available on EX models, as well as a factory installed rear DVD entertainment system.

Among its many awards, the Honda Odyssey was named best new van and truck of the year in 1999 by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. The Odyssey also won AJAC’s best new minivan award in 2002. It is a perennial Consumer Reports recommended buy, except for the 1999 model year, when the magazine’s surveys recorded problems with power equipment. The Odyssey has had its share of recalls (see below), but these have been relatively minor. Generally, the Honda Odyssey has proven to be very reliable.

The biggest knock against the Odyssey is its firmer-than-most-minivans ride. It is a trade off for the excellent-for-a-minivan handling. But while the Odyssey’s firm suspension and responsive steering are a plus, they also contribute to unexpected interior noise levels. Over the years, Honda has made efforts to improve this problem and each year the Honda gets quieter, without sacrificing its handling ability. But the issue wasn’t definitively addressed until the current, again all-new, 2005 Honda Odyssey.

Naturally, prices for this minivan have held up very well. A five year old 2000 Honda LX still holds 57% of its value (for comparison: Dodge Grand Caravan – 39%; Ford Windstar – 40%; Toyota Sienna – 58%). Even with this price premium, the Honda Odyssey is a good used car buy, if reliable and safe transportation are priorities.

The 1999 to 2004 Honda Odyssey was built in Canada at Honda’s Alliston, Ontario assembly plant.


1999: Transport Canada Recall Number 2003276. Units affected: 44032. On certain vehicles, the ignition switch may wear excessively and prevent proper interlock operation, making it possible to turn the ignition key to the off position and remove the key without shifting the transmission to Park.

1999, 2000: Transport Canada Recall Number 2000047. Units affected: 14424. wire harness, located within the engine compartment, may be damaged by contact with a metal pipe, possibly resulting in a blown fuse.

1999, 2000: Transport Canada Recall Number 2000167. Units affected: 11930. (EX models only) A dash light dimmer circuit, mounted in the multiplex control unit may be damaged by heat build-up if the dimmer circuit is operated at a setting that is less than full intensity. This would cause a transistor in the module to fail resulting in loss of instrument cluster lighting.

1999: Transport Canada Recall Number 1999130. Units affected: 5694. On manual sliding doors, insufficient clearance between the lock ratchet mechanism and the plastic lock body may interfere with the ratchet’s motion and prevent proper latching. On power sliding doors, excessive grease in the remote control actuator could cause a slow return of the activation lever to the proper latching position.

1999: Transport Canada Recall Number 1999129. Units affected: 6279. In extremely cold, wet weather, water in the resonator’s front and rear subchambers can freeze and plug the “through holes” that allow drainage to the centre subchamber’s drain hole.

2002, 2003, 2004: Transport Canada Recall Number 2004143. Units affected: 86331. Certain operating conditions can result in heat build-up between the countershaft and secondary shaft second gears in the automatic transmission, eventually leading to gear tooth chipping or, in very rare cases, gear breakage can occur. Gear failure could result in transmission lock-up.

2002: Transport Canada Recall Number 2002155. Units affected: 2011. On certain vehicles, the water pump castings are not within specifications because of a manufacturing die problem. As a result, the timing belt tensioner pulley is misaligned.

2003: Transport Canada Recall Number 2003007. Units affected: 1166. On certain vehicles, the fuel tank has surface imperfections that could allow fuel to leak.

2004: Transport Canada Recall Number 2004314. Units affected: 3874. On certain vehicles, a small amount of water may have been left in the fuel pump electrical connector after fuel tank integrity (leak) testing at the factory. This residual water may cause the fuel pump to fail due to corrosion.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.thecomplaintstation.com or www.lemonaidcars.com.

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