Review
Comment

1996 Honda Odyssey

  • Driver

Now hear this! The Odyssey is not slow. Repeat after me, The Honda Odyssey is not slow.

Somehow, a folk myth describing Honda's first attempt at a minivan as a dull, unresponsive beastie has spread through the motoring populace like wildfire. This, when very few individuals

have actually driven the thing.

I have, and let me tell you the Honda Odyssey is quick! In fact, it's probably the quickest of the minis short of some 3.8 L Chrysler Magic Wagons.

To wit: with fewer than 1400 klicks, not really broken in, Wheels' test Odyssey made it to 100 km/h in under 11 seconds. Quick.

Further, the Odyssey does not restrict its jackrabbitry to stoplights. How can you fault a vehicle that will downshift at 120 km/h, pulls strongly to 140, and hold that gear to over 160?

REDUCED FUEL USAGE

Most critics, including myself, would find that fault in the importunate buzzing of the inline four-cylinder engine. When the 2.2 L 140 h.p. four is working hard to serve you, it makes its presence very much felt. And that, I believe, is the source of the "slow Odyssey" stories.

Those who have driven it briefly would have heard the engine's efforts but might not have a sense of the effect. The rest have made the prejudiced assumption that a four couldn't provide that

level of performance.

I question whether it should in a minivan. Both power characteristics and engine sound are more acceptable for a sports sedan and one wonders whether the rev ruckus will wear thin over time.

To give the Odyssey its due, highspeed cruising noise levels are unobtrusive, well within the acceptable range. Plus, the efficient four provides the benefit of reduced fuel consumption.

Transport Canada says: 11.7 L/100 km, city; 8.9 L/100 km, highway.

Nevertheless, we can question the impact a full load of passengers and gear might have on the little motor. And, we can, point out the fact that Honda has available V6 technology. All in all, I'd rather have the quiet smoothness and deeper reserves of a V6.

I will say the Odyssey's road dynamics are more than a match for the sporty enthusiasm of the engine. Hard use of the four-wheel discs results in the most positive stop of any of the

minis, with minimal nose dive.

The optional ABS is subtle, no great grindings and pedal poundings, and it does not come on too soon allowing the skilled driver more control over the braking process.

The chassis is a real treat. Everything derives from the Accord's talented underparts, including the fully independent rear suspension. The Odyssey turns in, takes a line, and carves

a curve in most unminilike fashion.

The inside is done up Accordingly. Not the same, but crafted in similar style, with quality textures and fabrics. Accordness can be a mixed blessing. The seats, while properly shaped, mimic the Accord's skimpy seat cushions: barely wide enough, and too short.

The dash is generic Japanese: pleasant shapes, convenient and efficient controls, readable gauges. There's a pair of gloveboxes, one in the dash panel and one in the apron below.

Five gripes: The wiper smartstick is dumb. Hidden behind the steering wheel, it requires too much groping to operate, particularly for the rear wiper. Plus, there is but one intermittent setting.

The auto shifter detents are vague, far too easy to go from reverse to first with no sense of what went by in between. An overdrive lockout push-button would also be useful.

Given the rev-happy powertrain, the absence of a tach is odd. If the engine and transmission are going to act that way, it might be nice to watch.

The open area between the front seats is wasted. The smallish Odyssey doesn't need a walk-through, and the presence of a parking brake lever interferes with other uses. How 'bout a

console?

There is no power outlet, just a cigarette lighter. How retro.

Honda engineers do score big in the cargo area. When the third seat is up, a deep well adds to the load volume — made possible by mounting the full-height, half width temporary spare inside against the right wall.

4 SWING-OUT DOORS

Pull the head restraints off the seat; then one flip, one fold, and the whole chair disappears into the well, leaving an almost flat floor. Plus, when up, the seat reclines enough to form a bed (!) with the second row seat.

What are we to make of four swingout doors? Four "sedan-style" doors according to Honda. Operating counter to market demands for sliders, as confirmed by all the other manufacturers, may be foolhardy.

However, the lines of this vehicle owe more to the station wagon than to the van, and the Odyssey is sufficiently unique in size and vehicle dynamics that Honda might know something the

rest don't.

The Oddyssey is a true alternative to the traditional minivan. We'll soon find out who the buyers will be.

In that regard, may I debunk another myth?

Honda ads noting a starting price of $27,495 have led some to assume that the figure continued from there to the stratosphere. Wrong. The top dollar Odyssey is only $1,000 more — a range

plunk in the middle of current minivan MSRPs.

*

Freelance journalist Cam McRae, who writes on light trucks and vans, prepared his assessment based on week-long driving experiences in a vehicle supplied by the manufacturer or importer.

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