Honda's current Odyssey blew everyone out of the water when it was introduced as a 1999 model. It's been a vibrant seller, but others have since advanced the state of the minivan art. So the company fired up its drawing board and now brings a nearly 100-percent-new Odyssey to market as a 2005 model. Although it casts about the same shadow as the outgoing generation, it finds a few important inches of cargo and people room inside and is brimming with new features and technology.
Among the minivan firsts achieved by the 2005 Odyssey are cylinder deactivation on the uplevel i-VTEC V-6 (resulting in 20/28 EPA ratings), the use of active noise-cancellation technology from the audio system to quiet the cabin, and a nav system that takes address and location commands in hands-free, voice-activation mode. Three trim levels will be offered: LX, EX (with or without leather), and the new, premium-level Touring model.
Ergonomics take a leap forward. The previous column shifter, with which it was always easy to select the wrong gear, gives way to a console-mounted stick managing a five-speed automatic trans. There are now power roll-down windows in the sliding side doors and an optional power-operated rear hatch. The high-tech nav screen is large and mounted high for easy viewing. EX models have seating for eight. Although the 2005 Odyssey doesn't have the innovative foldaway second-row seats recently introduced on the Chrysler vans, it makes use of that area for hidden under-floor storage.
The driver sits lower than in other minis, the leather seats in our Touring model were supportive and grippy, and the more structurally rigid chassis proves a solid foundation for a suspension tuned for better control than is minivan-typical. Honda's 3.5-liter SOHC V-6 family has never caused complaints and doesn't now. We sampled the standard 255-horse variant and the new i-VTEC (with Variable Cylinder Management) V-6; the latter garners the same power rating and switches from six- to three-cylinder operation so silently and seamlessly that you need to watch the light on the dash to know which mode it's in. Both engines do their thing on regular gas and earn ULEV ratings.
Our drive confirmed that Honda has no intention of giving up its position as a minivan leader.