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1997 HONDA ODYSSEY Review - Base Price $23,955

A minivan that expands the species.


Honda is reknowned for design and technical innovation, and that's why it calls its Odyssey "the Honda of minivans."

The Odyssey is a different kind of player in the minivan game. Different can be risky in a mainstream market like minivans. In fact, it can be disastrous. You could ask General Motors.

Chrysler, of course, defines the segment. Other manufacturers are faced with either following Chrysler's lead or getting out of the way.

Typically, Honda chose to do neither, and built the Odyssey.

Chrysler, and more recently, GM made headlines when they came out with four-door minivans. But the Odyssey was actually the first minivan to feature four doors, rolling into showrooms just before the latest generation of Chrysler vans.

And, of course, Honda took a different approach: the Odyssey's rear doors open like those on a sedan. This requires a wider parking space, but dispenses with the sometimes troublesome door track of sliding doors. On balance, we think the arguments for conventional doors such as this are good ones.

Unlike Toyota's zoomy-looking Previa, Honda elected to be conservative in its design. Like Chrysler, Honda decreed user-friendliness to the dimensions, inside and out. Unlike Chrysler, Honda had a hot-selling sedan--the Accord--whose sales it didn't wish to disrupt, which led Honda of America to keep its Odyssey sales projections low compared to mainstream U.S. minivans.

A more significant factor in the Odyssey's U.S. sales picture is its huge popularity in the Japanese domestic market, where it's a best-seller. Honda can barely keep pace with demand at home, let alone fight for a bigger share of the U.S. minivan market.

So modest sales volumes are deceptive here, and unless you need max capacity we think the Odyssey warrants a closer examination. It's full of clever design touches that lend versatility out of proportion to its size, and in last year's J.D. Power customer satisfaction study it posted the highest score the company has ever recorded for a minivan.


The four sedan doors and a low step-in height make getting in and out of the Odyssey as easy as getting in and out of--that's right--a sedan.

Bucket seats provide a comfortable chair-height driving position. Gauges are placed directly in front of the driver, though there is no tachometer. The stereo and ventilation controls are immediately to the driver's right. All controls, save for the column-mounted automatic transmission lever, in typical Honda fashion, set the standard for ease of operation. And the Odyssey offers a plethora of storage compartments and beverage holders.

In back, the Odyssey's two variants, LX and EX, diverge. In the less expensive LX, there's a choice of six- or seven-passenger seating. Six-passenger versions feature two removable buckets in the middle row, while the seven-passenger offers a folding bench. Seven seats, with a base price of $23,955, cost $410 less than six.

The $25,945 EX is offered only with six-passenger seating and includes aluminum alloy wheels, power sunroof, a power driver's seat, six-speaker audio system, keyless remote entry and body-colored mirrors and side molding.

Clearly, the EX qualifies as loaded, but the LX has plenty of standard equipment too. That's in sharp contrast to many other minivans with low base pricing followed by trim levels that can vary the price on the window sticker by as much as 50 percent.

Front and rear air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette audio and ABS are all included in the base price of any Odyssey. Not to mention a fourth door, which is optional at Chrysler and GM.

At the rear is perhaps the Odyssey's nicest touch. Rather than removing the rear seat with the old heave-ho, one simply folds it into the floor. What's left is a flat expanse providing almost 46 cubic feet in storage. Given the ease with which this is accomplished, cargo is accommodated readily, without a lot of pre-trip planning.

All seating positions offer an adult-sized area, though three is a crowd in the middle bench. For that reason, we think we'd be happiest with the six-passenger arrangement installed in our LX test vehicle, which includes the added convenience that comes with the removable bucket seats.


From the front, the Odyssey's low hood rises quickly to a steeply raked windshield, affording excellent forward sightlines, a standard Honda design priority. And since the hood is relatively short, you don't have to worry about some long, invisible proboscis ramming the vehicle ahead during parking maneuvers.

The Odyssey seems to strike the perfect balance between a minivan and a practical station wagon. It's large enough to carry family members and family things, but small enough to garage, even in garages crammed with bikes, trikes and other family detritus.

At the rear is a one-piece hatch, offering a large access port along with a low liftover height. Not only does the lower ride height of a sedan platform allow passengers easier entry and exit, it's also a blessing when loading cargo.

Unlike truck-based minivans, the Odyssey was built up from a much-modified and strengthened Accord sedan chassis. Honda engineers were able to use the Accord's front-wheel-drive layout and sophisticated double wishbone suspension system to give the Odyssey superior stability and ride comfort.

The net result is a unique blend of minivan usefulness and sedan maneuverability.


As noted, the Odyssey benefits from the Honda Accord's unitbody platform, extensively stiffened for this heavier-duty application. Stiffer is better in chassis development, allowing the suspension engineers to dial up the desired blend of ride and handling without worrying about making the suspension components compensate for chassis flex.

The Odyssey's blend is near the top of the heap--a firm but compliant ride and nimble when nothing less than nimble will do.

The speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering is light and precise--perhaps a little lighter than we might prefer at around-town speeds, but with satisfying feel on the highway.

We were particularly impressed with the Odyssey's composure in quick maneuvers. Thanks to its relatively low curb weight, low roofline--almost eight inches lower than a Plymouth Voyager, for example--and refined suspension the Odyssey doesn't exhibit much rock and roll when the driver cranks the wheel hard to avoid a problem.

Stopping is provided by four-wheel disc brakes, with antilock standard for all models. Like the rest of the Odyssey's behavior, we found braking to be well-controlled, especially when compared to larger minivans.

If there is one criticism of the Odyssey, it's in the area of power, provided with a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine from the Accord family. With 140 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque, the engine is remarkably efficient, and its one of the more refined fours in the business. But it lacks the low-speed response of V6-powered minivans.

In day-in, day-out driving, the Odyssey offers more than adequate power. Load it full of kids and cargo, however, and you might find yourself wishing for a little more muscle.

But with EPA ratings of 21 mpg city, 26 highway, the Odyssey also lacks the thirst of the V6 engines.


The Odyssey isn't the biggest or brawniest of its breed, but its unique blend of features make it one of the most likable of all minivans. And considering its high standard feature content, it also stacks up well in terms of value.

If king-size hauling chores are part of your regular driving regimen, the Odyssey might not be right for you. But for commuting, errand-running, grocery-hauling and all-around family use, this is an innovative and engaging variation on the minivan theme that's worth a long look.

Find more reviews at New Car Test Drive. The wolrd's leading provider of Automotive Reviews.

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