This article first appeared in the November 1998 edition.

There have been numerous iterations of the minivan ever since it was first introduced by Chrysler in 1983. This is due to the fact that automakers have been attempting to discover the optimal proportions of size, versatility, and look in order to attract a larger number of new customers.


It is very clear that Chrysler’s minivan formula is still at the top of the food chain as we approach the model year 1999. Not only have vehicles manufactured by Chrysler outsold all others, but in the past two years, every new minivan that has been introduced to the market has been an exact replica of Chrysler’s offerings.

The first clue that the vehicle had been duplicated was when Toyota decided to discontinue its one-of-a-kind Previa minivan, which had a mid-mounted engine, in favour of a more normal front-engine layout. The Japanese automaker Honda is the most recent to join the fray with its own take on the Chrysler drivalike.

The most significant shortcoming of the previous generation of Odysseys was their diminutive size. It is now common knowledge that Honda’s previous family hauler, which was built on a four-cylinder Accord, did not provide sufficient room or power for modern families. The Honda employees also discovered that owners of Accords and Civics were committing a cardinal sin by purchasing Chrysler minivans rather than Odysseys.

Because Honda did not already have a platform in its range that was larger than that of the Accord (remember, folks, that the Passport sport-utility vehicle is a repackaged Isuzu Rodeo), the company had no choice but to develop an entirely new platform for the Odyssey in 1999. The engineers started with a blank sheet of paper and conceived huge thoughts.

The new Odyssey has a wheelbase that is 118.1 inches long, which is 6.7 inches longer than the previous Odyssey. The height increased by 5.1 inches to 69.7 inches, the width increased by 5.0 inches to 75.6 inches, and the length increased by 13.6 inches to 201.2 inches. These measurements are quite close to those of a Grand Caravan, falling short by only two inches.

A bigger outer equaled a bigger inside. There is at least as much space available inside as there is in a Chrysler vehicle across all three seating rows, and there is an additional 19 cubic feet of space behind the third seat. Behind the third seat, there is a deep depression that the rearmost seat may fold into to create a flat cargo space, similar to what was found in the previous generation of the Odyssey. We were able to place 19 of our usual beer case crates behind it if the third seat was folded down. This was one more than we could store in a Dodge Grand Caravan.

As a result of the fact that the depression for the folding rear seat takes the space that is generally intended for the spare tyre, the Odyssey’s spare tyre is located underneath the floor between the first and second rows. In the previous generation of the Odyssey, the spare tyre hugged a rear side wall. While we’re talking about the second row, it’s important to point out that there are two different bucket seats, each of which can be adjusted to one of two positions. There are two different floor anchor configurations for the middle bucket on the right side. In one set, it is situated behind the passenger’s seat and approximately 12 inches apart from the other centre bucket. The other set positions it so that it forms a bench by being placed next to the bucket on the left.The four-cylinder engine in the Accord is replaced with a 3.5-liter version of the aluminium SOHC V-6 found in the Odyssey, which results in a rise in the Odyssey’s power output. Despite the fact that it utilises Honda’s VTEC system, the engine makes use of an intake-valve layout that hasn’t been seen since the VTEC-E engine used in the 1992 Civic VX. When the engine speed is lower than 3,300 revolutions per minute (rpm), only one of the intake valves is allowed to fully open, while the other intake valve only allows a very small amount of gasoline to pass through it. According to Honda, this increases intake swirl, which leads to greater combustion and fewer emissions (the engine now qualifies as an LEV for use in light trucks). Above 3300 revolutions per minute, both intake valves open to provide for improved airflow. The output is 210 horses at 5200 revolutions per minute, and 229 pound-feet of torque at 4300 revolutions per minute. A four-speed automatic gearbox is responsible for transmitting that power to the front wheels. On the test track, the Odyssey EX reached 60 miles per hour in a time of 10.0 seconds, which was 0.1 second faster than the Grand Caravan ES but 0.6 second slower than the Ford Windstar LX and Toyota Sienna XLE that we examined in February of last year.

According to Honda, tremendous effort was put in to ensuring that the centre of gravity of the Odyssey was kept low and that the minivan was able to be handled with confidence. Despite having a strut suspension up front and a multi-link configuration in the rear, the Odyssey doesn’t have the impression of being as tall as it actually is. The ultimate grip, at 0.74 g, is higher than the 0.71 g that every vehicle in our previous comparison managed to reach.

senior writer JEFFREY G. RUSSELL

There will be two different variations of the Odyssey available: the LX and the EX. Anti-lock brakes, dual sliding middle doors, a folding third seat, a nifty moveable middle seat, front and back air conditioning, and shoulder belts for all passengers are standard equipment on every Odyssey. You can receive traction control, dual power-sliding doors, alloy wheels, and a CD player if you upgrade to the EX trim level of the minivan. Although prices have not been disclosed, we anticipate that the LX will cost approximately $23,500 and that the EX will be priced at approximately $26,000.

To summarise, the Odyssey possesses a commanding view of the road, superb quality, and docile and confident handling, all of which are characteristics that we have learned to admire in Honda automobiles. The Odyssey now boasts a more adaptable and spacious inside, giving it a better chance of unseating the Chrysler Town & Country as the best minivan on the market. It’s not something we would gamble against. Keep an eye out for an upcoming comparison that will include all of the most recent minivan players.

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