All Odyssey models are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine with a five-speed automatic transmission, and it's a good powertrain. Four trim levels make it affordable to a wider group of buyers, yet all deliver car-like ride and handling and a comprehensive set of safety features, including electronic stability control and side curtain airbags for head protection.
Now in its fourth year of production, the current generation Odyssey still seems fresh. The base LX starts at about $26,000 and includes most of the features that make family travel easier. The line-topping Touring has as many bells and whistles as a good luxury sedan, and it comes with Acura pricing.
For 2008, the Odyssey receives several updates. On the outside, the front grille and front fascia get a new look closer to that of the new Honda Accord. Under the hood, Honda's Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system is updated. Standard on EX-L and Touring models, the new VCM system allows the V6 engine to run on six, four, or three cylinders, depending on driving conditions. The last version used only six or three cylinders. Also for 2008, the Odyssey gets an audio auxiliary input jack and a CD player that can play MP3 or WMA files. Finally, four new premium features are offered: Bluetooth cell phone link, a four-way power passenger seat becomes standard on EX-L and Touring models; a rearview camera display is integrated into the mirror on the EX-L, and the Touring gets memory-linked side mirrors with reverse tilt-down feature.
Honda Odyssey LX ($25,645); EX ($28,695); EX with Leather ($31,095); Touring ($36,895)
All models come with two sliding doors, manually operated on the LX and electrically operated on all other models. The power windows in each of the side doors can be opened in the same fashion as in a car. The tailgate is electrically operated in the top-of-the-line Touring. We found the power doors seemed a bit reluctant to operate at times and were less responsive to key fob commands than were the sliding doors on the Toyota Sienna.
The Odyssey boasts Honda's Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure. The vehicle's crush zones have been engineered to provide good protection for occupants while minimizing damage in a collision with smaller vehicles and pedestrians. Its body structure is rigid, which contributes to crisp handling and a smooth ride. A low drag coefficient helps improve fuel economy and high-speed stability.
Up front, the driver's seat is designed to hold the driver firmly and is positioned in a car-like setting. The tilt/telescoping wheel and the various manual/power adjustments create a comfortable driving position, which is even easier in the Touring model thanks to power-adjustable pedals. The shift lever is mounted on the dashboard, and while it looks odd at first, it's easier to use than a column-mounted shifter. A handy drink tray is provided between the front seats, and it can be folded down to allow walkthrough access to the second row. There is no center console. Two glove boxes are provided, which are more awkward for storage than one big one.
The second-row bucket seats are roomy and comfortable.
The third-row seat splits 60/40 and folds easily into the well provided for it, and the headrests do not need to be removed before folding.
Cubby storage includes a useful storage area hidden under the middle of the floor, accessible from both the front and middle-row seats. Originally designed to house the spare tire, Honda engineers moved the spare tire to a location in the rear. Instead of removing the round space under the floor where the spare used to reside, they've turned it into a hidden storage compartment with a rotating compartmentalized bin, like a Lazy Susan. A small panel in the floor between the two front seats lets front passengers access the bin while and another panel is provided in front of the second-row seats. Front and middle-row passengers can turn the Lazy Susan and access whatever is stored inside.
Eight people can fit in the Odyssey with the available PlusOne seat that fits between the two captain's chairs in the second row. If it's not needed as a seat, it can be turned into a table or stowed in the floor in place of the Lazy Susan bin. If the PlusOne seat is not being used, the right-hand seat can be slid across to allow easier access to the third-row seats. This flexibility makes the Odyssey a versatile people hauler.
For cargo, the third-row seats fold (a fairly easy task) and the second row can be removed (not so easy) to offer 147.4 cubic feet of cargo space, more than most minivans and any SUV.
The navigation system is one of the easiest to operate using its on-screen menus and includes Zagat restaurant data. The large eight-inch monitor is positioned high on the dashboard for easy viewing. The system also responds to voice commands, and we found it responds effectively. It's capable of responding to more than 600 voice commands and is smart enough to understand different accents and find locations without any need for input other than by voice. Apart from navigation, the system can be used to operate the radio and climate controls.
The rearview camera makes parallel parking easier and also functions as a safety feature: By displaying what's behind the car on the navigation screen, it can show the driver unseen hazards such as a small child possibly preventing a tragic accident. We find rearview cameras very useful in crowded shopping center parking lots where people are walking behind the car after we've shifted into Reverse.
The DVD entertainment system features a large nine-inch widescreen display that folds out of the ceiling for viewing by second-row passengers. The wireless headsets turn on and off automatically as the ear pads are rotated.
The Odyssey belies its size on the road and handles like a sedan. It's not as dynamic as a European sports sedan, by any means, but it handles better than a traditional SUV. It's best compared to any of the newer crossover SUVs. We found it pleasant around town or for long drives.
The Odyssey offered a perfectly pleasant ride during a test drive along country roads in Alabama. It was neither too firm nor too soft. Granted, there is some road vibration. And there is some slack in the steering on-center: You can turn the steering wheel a few degrees in either direction before the vehicle starts to move. It was no worse than in a Chrysler Town & Country, however, and it's a common trait of many large cars and most SUVs. All in all, the Honda Odyssey is a good vehicle for a long-distance drive.
A few laps around a race track showed the Odyssey to be stable at high speeds. We were surprised how much we could chuck it into corners. We could drive hard enough into a sharp corner to feel the tires slip without any drama. While the body leaned in corners, it wasn't as bad as most minivans. In fact, an Odyssey lapping in front of us looked remarkably stable for a tall vehicle.
Parking is easy. The turning radius is among the tightest of any minivan, making it an easy to make U-turns and maneuver in parking lots. The park-assist system, with beeping tones that warn the driver of other bumpers front and rear, helps considerably when parallel parking.
Acceleration is better than that of most other minivans. Honda claims 0 to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, which is very quick indeed. Yet even when it has all 244 horsepower pulsing through its front wheels, the Odyssey is almost devoid of torque steer (a tug on the steering wheel that accompanies hard acceleration in front-wheel-drive cars), an impressive feat.
Honda's 3.5-liter V6 engine is smooth, powerful, clean and fuel efficient. The iVTEC V6 (intelligent Variable Timing and Electronic Control) that comes in the EX-L and Touring models gets an EPA-rated 17/25 mpg City/Highway. That's slightly better than the fuel economy of the standard VTEC V6 that comes on the LX and EX: 16/23 mpg. The advantage the iVTEC engine has is its VCM system, which deactivates two or three of the six cylinders whenever the Odyssey is cruising at a steady speed. We were never able to discern when the engine was running on three cylinders as there is no obvious stutter or change in engine note, although a green dash light illuminates to tell you the system is working.
The base version of the engine generates 244 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, while the iVTEC version makes 241 horsepower and 242 pound-feet of torque. We were unable to tell much difference between the two engines. In short, the Honda VTEC V6 is a great engine, and the iVTEC version is just a little better.
The brakes work well. Every Odyssey comes with anti-lock brakes (ABS) and Vehicle Stability Assist, Honda's electronic stability control system. This VSA system works in conjunction with the drive-by-wire accelerator and ABS to modulate the brakes while managing the throttle and ignition. If the vehicle starts to lose grip on a tight turn on a slippery surface, the system automatically slows the engine and gently applies brakes to help keep the vehicle from skidding out of control. In a test on a soaking skid pad we found the system works well. It only works in emergency handling situations so it's not distracting during normal spirited driving. It can be turned off, though we recommend against doing so.
We had no complaints about noise while driving any of the Odyssey models. The Touring model
Honda Odyssey has it all: great road manners, easy passenger and cargo flexibility, a full array of safety equipment and better fuel economy than most SUVs. The Touring model in particular will appeal to buyers seeking the versatility of a minivan with the accommodations and features of a luxury sedan.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie filed this report after his test drive of various models in Alabama; Kirk Bell contributed to this report from Chicago after his test of the 2008 iVTEC engine.