- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2000

The hottest Honda for many shoppers this year is not the sporty S2000 roadster. It's not Honda's trendy sport utility, the CR-V.
It's the Odyssey, Honda's minivan.
The minivan has been posting record monthly sales in the United States. Through the first half of this calendar year, the Odyssey set a torrid rate for sales growth more than 148 percent with 66,717 sold vs. 26,708 in the same period in 1999.
Executives at American Honda Motor Co. Inc. were clearly on to something two years ago when they talked about pent-up demand for a Honda minivan as they introduced the redesigned Odyssey.
The Odyssey is the biggest Honda vehicle ever built, designed to compete with DaimlerChrysler's long-wheelbase minivans and General Motors Corp.'s minivans. And despite stiff competition, the Odyssey keeps winning praise.
Consumer Reports and automotive researcher J.D. Power and Associates both rank the Odyssey better than average in the number of defects reported by buyers. And the federal government awarded Honda's minivan five of five stars for performance in both front and side crashes. The only other minivan to receive five stars in the New Car Assessment Program tests is the Ford Windstar.
Perhaps most surprising as I tested the Odyssey is how Honda known for its nimble, fuel-efficient small cars managed to build a big, solid-feeling minivan that seems more than ready to take on rough-and-tumble duty as a family hauler.
The seven-passenger, 2000 Odyssey EX-Navi test van gobbled up all the stuff I packed into it, including two big closet doors, their hardware and assorted other home project supplies.
I easily folded away Honda's third-row, trademarked Magic Seat into a floor well and then folded down the seatbacks of the middle row to make room for the closet doors. All items, big and small, fit inside the Odyssey so neatly and quickly that I was driving away in minutes.
The Magic Seat's advantage is letting a driver take the third-row seat along for use later, rather than having to remove it and leave it behind.
Honda also was the first to use a novel slide-apart/slide-together second-row seat. It's basically two flat seats that move along tracks on the floor. That allows parents to separate fighting children or provided captain's chair-style seating for adults. The seats can also be pushed together to make a more conventional bench seat.
The Odyssey's maximum cargo space, 146.1 cubic feet, is less than the 155.9 cubic feet of GM's Oldsmobile Silhouette or the 168.5 cubic feet of the Chrysler Grand Voyager, but it's close enough to satisfy most buyers.
Besides, the Odyssey's 41.2-inch front headroom, 41-inch front legroom and 62.6-inch front shoulder room are more than what you find in the GM and DaimlerChrysler minivans.
In the second row, the Odyssey's 40-inch headroom matches that of the Grand Voyager and edges above the 39.3 inches in the Silhouette. That row's 40 inches of leg-room and 64.5 inches of shoulder room surpass the competition's.
In third-row space, the Odyssey again bests its competitors except in legroom, where its 38.1 inches compares with 39 inches in the Grand Voyager.
The Odyssey, moreover, is the only one to include head restraints and shoulder belts for all seven seat positions.
The Odyssey's 3.5-liter, single-overhead-cam V-6 with Honda's Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control is extremely capable, giving this van an unexpected responsiveness.
I was impressed with how well the engine powered the almost 4,300-pound Odyssey. On highway ramps, for example, the Odyssey stayed in the lower gears to give me the acceleration I demanded. It was all done smoothly by a four-speed automatic transmission with gearshift on the steering column.
With 205 horses at 5,200 rpm and torque of 217 foot-pounds at 4,300 rpm, the Odyssey has ranked among the top minivans in performance.
The front-wheel-drive Odyssey provides a comfortable ride, cushioning riders over bumps but handling with decent agility.
The two power sliding doors on the test van, however, proved frustrating. Their slowness would prove annoying if you're standing outside in the rain. Tugging on a door manually to hurry things along had no effect on the plodding power system.
DaimlerChrysler's 2001 minivans will include a new kind of power door that lets the doors be operated easily in either manual or power mode.
For the 2000 model year, the Odyssey becomes the first minivan to offer a factory-installed, satellite-linked navigation system.
It works through global positioning satellites, a gyroscope, vehicle speed sensors and a DVD-based database to pinpoint the van's location and give a driver directions on how to get to the destination.
Honda leaves out, however, other features that could boost the Odyssey's appeal. It's one of the few makers of minivans, for example, that doesn't offer a back-seat entertainment system with video and second-choice audio capability.
Ford added the option of adjustable pedals for better driver comfort last year, and DaimlerChrysler plans to offer them in its 2001 minivans. Nothing to compete from Honda.
Neither does Honda offer a reverse sensor that helps a driver know if the minivan is about to hit an object as it backs up. Ford offers this system on its 2000 Windstar, and GM's minivans will offer it on the 2001 model.

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