- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Honda’s 2005 Odyssey isn’t just a people-hauling minivan. Redesigned and re-engineered for its third generation, the Odyssey sets several minivan “firsts,” including having an engine that automatically shuts off three of its six cylinders to conserve fuel.

The new Odyssey also has fun, innovative features such as a storage area, complete with lazy Susan, built into the floor in the middle of the van.

Pricing for the Odyssey has increased. Starting price for the 2004 Odyssey was $24,980, and now, there’s also an upscale Odyssey model — the 2005 Touring — that has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $35,010, which is in the luxury-car range.

Honda officials hope the new Odyssey, which is 2 inches longer than its predecessor and about an inch wider, attracts young, technology-savvy Generation X and Y families.

“In essence, we’ve reset our targets for a new generation of minivan buyers,” said Tom Elliott, executive vice president for automobile operations at American Honda Motor Co. Inc.

No doubt buyers will appreciate that the 2005 Odyssey tops all other minivans in fuel economy.

The rating of 20 miles a gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway, as reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, comes with the Odyssey’s top engine — a 255-horsepower V-6 with Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) that shuts down cylinders when they’re not needed, such as when the Odyssey is cruising city streets or the highway.

The V-6 with VCM is one of two V-6s offered for the Odyssey this year. Both are 3.5 liters in displacement and put out 255 horses and 250 foot-pounds of torque for good acceleration and commendable passing power. Both also are mated to a five-speed automatic.

Honda’s V-6 with VCM is unlike any powerplant in a production minivan because the engine goes from six to three cylinders and back automatically, based on the power needs — or lack thereof — of the vehicle.

Drivers and passengers can’t really tell when there are three or six cylinders working.

The VCM engine is in upper-level Odysseys — the EX-L and above.

These models also are fitted with Active Noise Control that uses the van’s audio system to effectively cancel noise produced by the imbalanced, three-cylinder engine operation. It manages some road noise, too, and it’s another minivan “first.”

Other technology items in the 2005 Odyssey are a DVD entertainment screen that’s 9 inches — bigger than in many other minivans. The navigation system includes voice recognition, which is a minivan first.

The lazy Susan storage space is in the floor of the second row of the Odyssey and can be used as a hidden beverage cooler or food warmer area, thanks to thermal packs sold as accessories.

The test van was the luxury-appointed, pricey Touring model. Every seat is generously swathed in soft leather that has folds and gathers like seats in a luxury sedan.

I liked the more modern placement of the automatic gear shifter. It’s no longer on the steering column. It’s in the dashboard, to the right of the steering wheel.

Second-row passengers delighted in having separate and comfortable captain’s chairs, instead of a traditional bench seat. For 2005, Honda made the Odyssey seatbacks higher and widened the seat cushions for added comfort.

Meantime, third-row passengers have an easier time getting to their seats because the second-row seats in the new Odyssey slide forward in a fashion similar to what’s found in coupes.

In addition, there are 3 more inches of legroom in the rearmost seats of the 2005 Odyssey.

The new Odyssey is the first from Honda that can carry eight people. The eighth person uses a narrow, pull-up middle seat between the two second-row captain’s chairs.

I tried out the middle seat on a midlevel Odyssey EX and was surprised at the good cushioning provided. This eighth seat has a head restraint and three-point safety belt, too.

Too bad the Odyssey’s power, sliding side doors still poke along when opening and closing and beep annoyingly when you try to open them before undoing the locks.

Steering is improved, giving a more direct and precise feel, and the ride is better, too.

There’s less sense that this tall — more than 6.4-foot — van sways in turns and curves, and the larger tires and retuned suspension handle road bumps well. Much of the time, I didn’t feel anything but a smooth, quiet ride.

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