This encounter feels a bit like LeBron James meeting the australopithecus called Lucy. Science tells us that Miami's "King James" is likely descended (as we all are) from Lucy and her 3.2-million-years-ago bipedal peers, but, good heavens, look how much bigger he is! The earliest known example of Honda's people-carrier dates to Minivandom's Pliocene era, circa 1995-1998, when the overarching design dictum was that it fit through the machinery that built the (then much smaller) Accord. Sure, it was smaller than most minivans of the day and offered only a 140-150-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder, but it was lithe, maneuverable, and highly flexible. (Today's de rigueur disappearing third-row seat originated in the Odyssey.)
The well-loved 1997 example pictured here has covered a quarter-million miles as my sister's mount for the past decade. Laura bought it used when the original owner's teenagers outgrew it. Around that same time, the Odyssey experienced a growth spurt of its own. It ditched its Accord underwear and grew 13.6 inches longer, 5.0 inches wider, and 800 pounds heavier to better accommodate the next generation of basketball hopefuls. Sales more than tripled.
Honda R&D has remained on the American Plan ever since, with the shell of each successive Odyssey expanding as if to form a set of Russian matryoshka nesting dolls, though the third and fourth generation skins fit way more snugly over their predecessors. This latest van adds just 0.8 inch in length and 2.1 inches in girth while dropping 0.4 inch in height and 50-100 pounds in weight (hallelujah!).
In pursuit of benchmark fuel-economy figures, the slippery new skin boasts a far more rakish windshield, reviving the first-gen's triangular peepholes ahead of the front doors. That angle is echoed at the rear by a similarly swooping window line at the D-pillar. Along with deleting the luggage rack (it's now a dealer accessory), the drag coefficient reportedly drops by 5.5 percent, with overall aerodynamics of the wider, lower van improving by 3.9 percent. That "lightning bolt" window line is meant to improve third-row visibility and make Odysseys easier to spot in the soccer-field parking lot. Why not tuck those unsightly sliding-door tracks up under that lowered window line? The structure behind those tracks would have eaten up a reported 4 inches of crucial rear-seat shoulder room, and let's face it: Minivans are more about inner space than outer face.