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First drive: Homely new Odyssey jazzes up

Van-ban: Honda hopes to lure non-people-mover types with the new Odyssey's more wagonoid appearance.

Honda's gen-III Odyssey brings keen pricing, slinky styling and spicy driving

10 Jun 2004

HONDA has ushered in value-for-money and hurled out van-like styling and V6 engines in its latest people-mover.

Starting at $38,790, the base Odyssey's opening price plummets $7200 from its $45,990-plus predecessor's.

Only one engine in two model variants (there's also the Luxury at $45,290) of this third generation, four-door, five-speed automatic, six-light-design, seven-seater station wagon is available.

It's the 2.4-litre twin-cam, 16-valve, i-VTEC, in-line four-cylinder unit also found in the Thai-built Accord sedan.

The power output is 118kW at 5500rpm, while the 218Nm torque top tapers from 4500rpm.

This compares to the old 2.3-litre four-cylinder Odyssey's 110kW at 5800rpm and 206Nm at 4800rpm.

The discontinued 3.0-litre V6's output was 154kW at 5800rpm and 270Nm at 5000rpm.

There are currently no plans to offer a V6 version, which accounted for up to 40 per cent of sales of the outgoing Odyssey locally, as no such model is produced in Japan.

Nor will we see the high-output 2.4-litre four-cylinder unit fitted to the Honda Accord Euro. That engine puts out 140kW at 6800rpm and 223Nm at 4500rpm.

Honda says the new Odyssey's 2.4's i-VTEC feature, a marriage of its Variable-valve Timing and Electronic-lift Control (VTEC) and Variable-valve Timing Control (VTC) devices, benefits efficiency, response and fuel economy.

Like the previous edition, the only gearbox available is a computerised sequential-shift automatic with a lever placed high on the dashboard beside the driver.

And as in the old V6, it is a five-speed unit - a first for a four-cylinder Odyssey.

This motor is also EURO04-compatible and scores an LEV low-emission rating. It also returns an ADR 81/01 figure of 9.4L/100km combined.

Oddly enough, fuel - or rather its storage flexibility - has played a part in the Odyssey's interior layout and outward appearance.

Looking at the inside first, which is easier to access thanks to wider and three-stage-opening side doors, the Honda is longer and wider with a marked cab-forward passenger cell that again allows for three rows of seating in a 2+3+2 arrangement.

By flattening the existing 65-litre capacity fuel tank to 150mm high, Honda has liberated space for the middle row of passengers as well as increased cargo room.

The 60/40-split second row has a single-operation double-folding mechanism so it stows flush with the floor. Head restraints do not need removing and the seat slides 320mm for easier access to and from the third row, which also folds into the floor, much like before.

It operates electrically in the $45,290 Luxury model, which also includes a powered driver's seat, curtain airbags, heated front seats, leather trim and upholstery, a sunroof, wood trim, six-CD player and alloy wheels.

That's above the base Odyssey's dual front and side airbags, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock and brake-force distribution devices, climate control air-conditioning, power windows, keyless entry, a CD player, power mirrors, cruise control and adjustable front armrests.

There's also a deep two-tone dashboard with a titanium-effect finish and blue-translucent-illumination analogue instrumentation that Honda describes as futuristic.

15 center imageThe Odyssey's appearance is that of a smaller vehicle compared to its four-year-old predecessor.

Honda hopes the low-slung look lures consumers that have been put-off by boxy or van-like people-movers.

Stylistically, Honda's Japanese designers have created a sort of amalgam of the acclaimed Jazz light car and Accord Euro wagon (unseen in Australia), by creating a lower floor for more space inside and mixing that with a stubbier nose and slightly lowered and elongated roof for a sleeker overall silhouette.

Aerodynamic efficiency is a bonus, which in turn lowers fuel consumption and noise intrusion.

Although it is smaller than before, the new model retains the outgoing Odyssey's 2830mm wheelbase.

The Accord-derived platform sits 11mm, and roof 80mm, closer to the road respectively. Although it's 65mm shorter, Honda says there's more space for passengers inside.

Honda says a lower centre of gravity is the downsizing upshot, helping out the Odyssey's dynamic abilities to make it more appealing to drivers seeking a sportier experience.

As before, suspension is by Honda's traditional double wishbone arrangement, although most of the components and their applications are new.

Honda says the front suspension's A-shaped lower-arm and large-diameter compliance bush benefit stability and comfort, aided by an anti-dive angle that also assists in control when accelerative or braking forces are applied.

Honda says a lower centre of gravity is the downsizing upshot, helping out the Odyssey's dynamic abilities to make it more appealing to drivers seeking a sportier experience

Greater space efficiency is the payback out back with the Odyssey's better-performing and stronger compact reactive link set-up. Handling responsiveness, stability and overall comfort are also virtues.

The latter is helped out in the steering department thanks to a Variable Steering Gear Ratio dubbed VGR.

While maintaining the Odyssey's three turns lock-to-lock, VGR reduces the car's minimum turn radius by increasing the wheel's turn angle when the driver twirls the wheel.

Honda says this is for smoother, steadier and more linear handling at higher speeds while providing greater assistance during low-speed manoeuvres. Feel and fuel consumption also improve.

More efficient stopping performance is the result of a rigidity rise in the front ventilated disc brakes.

Using more high-strength and high tensile material in the body frame components has reduced the body-in-white weight (although overall it climbs by 17kg) as well as noise, vibration and harshness transmission, while overall rigidity and strength increases. The engine is also lighter than before.

Honda also claims advances in both active and passive safety systems, particularly in the areas of pedestrian and other vehicle impact severity.

But price is still the smaller Odyssey's biggest news.

Even the more expensive $45,290 Luxury is $700 below the old base model and $8700 under its outgoing $53,990 V6L equivalent.

The Odyssey's opening ask puts the heat on the conceptually identical $43,100 Toyota Avensis Verso GLX ($4310 more) and $45,710 Mitsubishi Grandis ($6920 extra), while it's $11,865, $13,410 and $14,700 cheaper than the admittedly larger $50,655 Mazda MPV, $52,220 Toyota Tarago GLi and $53,490 Chrysler Voyager SE respectively.

Only the smaller, small car-based Holden Zafira, from $32,690, is cheaper, by $6100. But according to Honda that gap narrows to less than $200 when the Odyssey's longer features list is included in the price of the Holden.

And against the new-wave seven-seat SUV/MPV crossovers the Honda is $1700 less than the base $40,090 Ford Territory TX and $6200 under the $44,990 Toyota Kluger CV.

But the top-selling Kia Carnival LS V6 manual, at $29,990 for the manual or $2600 extra for the auto, humbles the Honda's price.

Nevertheless, the Japanese company is deadly serious about snaring more buyers from the segment's established sales leader, even though Honda Australia director Lindsay Smalley described the Kia as "... such a poor representation of a motor vehicle" and "... as an unsafe car to drive built down to a price."Mr Smalley later issued an apology and retracted these comments.

Mr Smalley points to far more favourable currency exchange rates as the reason for the hefty price drop.

Just 92 Odysseys have been sold this year to the end of May, compared to 326 over the same period in 2003. The Carnival is the category star, recording 2221 sales to the end of May 2004, way up on the same period in 2003 when 700 examples of the Kia were sold.

Honda hopes to shift around 150 units monthly, with the majority being the Luxury variant.

The year 2000 was the outgoing Odyssey's most popular, with 1723 units sold.

Since then sales have declined as prices have risen, newer versions of the Voyager and Tarago were launched and smaller mini-MPVs like the Holden Zafira and Renault Scenic have eroded some market share. Only 649 Odysseys found owners in 2003.

The original Odyssey was released to rave reviews in early 1995 as the six-seater alternative to the US-built five-seat Accord wagon.

Even though they shared many platform and drivetrain components (both were based on the 1993-1997 fifth-generation Accord sedan), the Odyssey's larger body and more space-efficient seating also won it a legion of fans.

Seven seats arrived from early 1996, while a V6 engine inside a larger body heralded the second-generation Odyssey from March 2000.

A smaller, Civic-based cousin to the Odyssey, known as the Stream, is sold elsewhere.

Earlier this year Honda in Japan announced the Elysion, a larger people-mover with eight seats and sliding side doors in the style of the Toyota Tarago.

It is not expected to arrive locally.

2004 Odyssey pricing:
Odyssey: $38,790
Odyssey Luxury: $45,290New v old Odyssey dimensions:
Length: 4780mm (-65mm)
Width: 1800mm (same)
Height: 1550mm (-80mm)
Wheelbase: 2830mm (same)
Ground clearance: 119mm (-11mm)
Floor to ceiling: 1220mm (+5mm)
Interior length: 2790mm (+50mm)
Interior width: 1535mm (+6mm)
Kerb weight: 1610kg (+17kg)

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