Quick Look :
New Honda Odyssey

The new Odyssey was launched in Japan towards the end of last year and is now making its way to various countries around the world. Honda Malaysia was one of the first countries in Asia to launch this upgrade. As usual, part of the launching promotions included a media preview and I was pleased to receive an invitation from Honda Malaysia to attend this function. It was a 2 days event, held at a 5-star hotel in PutraJaya. The event includes a technical briefing, test-drives along a pre-approved route and a follow-up Q&A session. After my brief look at this vehicle in my coverage of the launch event at the 1Utama shopping mall, this media preview was just perfect for me to get a good close-up look at the new Odyssey including impressions from driving it.

In many ways, the new Honda Odyssey gave MPV fans a sort of a 'culture shock' when it was launched. The vehicle do not follow the standard 'mould' one has gotten used to expect from an MPV - that of a large, tall and boxy vehicle, often with many mechanisms from the common commercial van thrown in. The new Odyssey is much lower than almost all MPVs on the market, with a sleek aerodynamic-inspired look. During the media preview, Honda's R&D engineers from the Odyssey design team conducted a technical briefing where they explained the design approach of the new Odyssey. This was presented as being a 'car + MPV' concept. I.e. the desirable characteristics of each type of vehicle are selected and implemented on the new Odyssey. From the car, the characteristics selected are listed as dynamic performance and style and from the MPV, the characteristics selected are listed as space and utility.


Bearing this in mind, checking out the new Odyssey gives me the impression that its re-design is centered along making it less van-like, veering away from a tall and boxy chassis to a sleek and sporty design, i.e. the 'style' element from the car. The body is made physically shorter (in height) and flatter while the external styling is veered towards an aerodynamic stylish design more common for sporty cars rather than an MPV. I personally feel this new design is intended to turn the Odyssey concept from being a generic people mover into a stylish and sporty machine, in both looks and feel as well, i.e. the 'dynamic performance' aspect. This is not meant to say the old Odyssey is a sterile or boring vehicle, just that it's design was emphasized more on its functional aspect whereas the new Odyssey puts equal emphasis on the function as well as the owning experience. Both the driver and the passenger are targeted in this. For the driver, the driving position and the whole driving environment has been designed to enhance the driving experience. This includes the driving 'feel' of the Odyssey, i.e. to remove any sense of being it a 'chore' and make driving actually enjoyable. For the passengers, the riding experience is enhanced, via comfortable seats comparable to luxury cars including car-like seating positions, a plush quiet ride and also the cosy comfortable environment. So the approach is to retain the people mover and flexible utility features of the MPV but presented in a more interesting and enjoyable car-like package with the emphasis on the human experience.

Besides the looks aspect, one of the main objective in lowering the Odyssey's overall vehicle height is actually because of height clearance considerations for covered car-parks in Japan. Living space in Japan is well known to be extremely constrainted and the japanese are in fact the pioneer in trying to extract more space by looking at the so-called third dimension, i.e. height. In this case, multi-storied car-parks are built with lower ceiling heights so as to squeeze more floors out of the same building. To maximize parking space, vehicles are parked inside moveable 'trollies' which allows rows of vehicles to be parked front to back with a small number of fixed exit paths. The tall design of the original Odyssey (and actually of the current 'La-Great' variant) prevents them from even entering many newer car-park buildings but this is no longer a problem with the new Odyssey.

However, using the same design approach as the newest generations of Honda models especially the likes of the Honda Fit/Jazz, the lowering of the roof does not interfere with the interior space. This is acheived by lowering the floor as well. So while the overall external height of the Odyssey has been reduced by 80mm (~3 inch), the internal height of the cabin space is actually taller by 5mm ! Indeed all dimensions of the interior cabin has been increased, the width also by 5mm and the length by 50mm (~2inch). The new lowered floor do not reduce ground clearance which is still the standard (Honda) 155mm (~6inch). This is acheived by using new, flatter designs for the items influencing ground clearance underneath the vehicle, like a flatter fuel tank, a wider but flatter silencer, etc.

Technical Specs

Let's take a quick tour of the technical specifcations of the new Odyssey starting with the engine. Continuing along their streamlining for the new generations of engine, the new Odyssey is now fitted with the 2.4l DOHC iVTEC K24A engine, similar to that used on the local 2.4l Accord but again not the same. Again, it has revisions to cater for the Odyssey, in this case, the most prominent being the use of a special resonance chamber for the intake piping to further reduce engine noise. So the different intake cover used on the Odyssey is not for nothing as it covers the elaborate resonance chamber which sits right on top of the engine. This design is very effective as during WOT runs, the engine roar is nicely muted and will not intrude into the cosy atmosphere of the interior cabin. The engine itself is mounted at a different angle than a normal car, tilted quite a lot towards the front. I couldn't see the intake manifold very clearly, it being quite hidden below the resonance chamber but I do believe that again it is a similar but not the same design as that on the 2.4l Accord, i.e. long runners fanning out from a short plenium, tuned for low-end and mid-range torque. During the test-drives and especially during WOT runs, the engine certainly did not feel like it lacks power !

Specs-wise, the engine is rated for max power of 160ps at 5,500rpm and a max torque of 22.2kgm at 4,500rpm, identical to that of the 2.4l Accord's K24A. But while the bore & stroke is the standard 87.0mm X 90.0mm for the K24A for a displacement of 2354c.c., the dead giveaway that the engine is not the same is the compression ratio; 9.7 on the Odyssey vs 9.3 on the Accord. This drives the Odyssey via a 5-speed automatic gearbox fitted with a 'Sports Shift' option, i.e. a manual sequential shifting bypass mode. The wheels are 16" size with 215/60 tyres.

In the suspension side, Honda says the new Odyssey is the only MPV on the market which offers a full double wishbone suspension at the front and back. The front is the Honda trademark double-wishbone whereas the rear uses a newer 'reactive' double wishbone system which takes up less physical space and is key to the larger interior. As is the norm, the Odyssey comes with 4 wheel disc brakes, ABS, EBD and a full SRS airbag system. This include dual 'front' and side airbags for driver and front passenger and for the rest of the passengers, a 'side curtain' airbag is also fitted. This 'curtain' airbag inflates to fill in the window glass area in the event of a side impact. The chassis is of course the new generation 'GCON' design. For a welcome change, the headlights are HID Xenon type.

The new lower, flatter body gives the Odyssey a lower center of gravity. The design is of course more aerodynamic in shape and this also contributes to a better coefficient of drag. The chassis itself is 20% stiffer than the old design and is considered to be right at the top of its class (large MPV) and quite near that of the Accord actually. All these can only help to contribute to much better handling as compared to the tall, boxy design of the older model (or of the 'alternate' La-Great variant). High speed performance was also said to be much improved. Given this, I was actually quite impatient to take the new Odyssey out during the test-drive preview, despite this being an MPV.

Driving Impressions

For the media preview, Honda Malaysia hosted it at the Shangri-La hotel in the new government administrative center of PutraJaya. The area around PutraJaya features a lot of relatively empty highways and has the added advantage of being connected to the district of Sepang, near the KLIA airport and the Sepang International Circuit by some trunk roads. The route given by Honda is a mixture of highway and trunk roads and each Odyssey is shared by 4 journalists, each of us taking turns to drive part of the way. I checked the route and asked to drive the 2nd stint and was lucky that my 'co-drivers' agreed. So from the flag-off at the Shangri-La hotel in Putrajaya, I took the middle row of seats, the intention being to judge the Odyssey from the perspective of a passenger and also to have a good vantage point to observe the speedo and tacho on the dash. For a change, the unit given to us had clocked over 1,300km in mileage so from the 'book' point of view at least, the engine is 'run-in' though it still won't be producing its peak performance.

Personally, the impressions from the middle passenger seats was very nice. Ride was very comfortable and noise (outside noise, tyre roar, engine sound) was very muted. As a result, I could sink back into the seats and relax to the music coming out of the audio system. The suspension set-up however was clearly on the 'firm' side as road undulations could be felt but small bumps and holes were nicely soaked up. Initially I felt the first driver was pushing the Odyssey quite a bit too hard as I could feel the cornering G-force even from my passenger seat but I changed my opinions when it was my turn to get into the driver's seat.

The new design approach of the Odyssey from the driver's point of view is clearly targeted at the 'driving experience'. I.e. instead of making the driver feel like he or she is doing work driving a van, Honda tried to make driving a pleasure instead. This is felt through all sorts of little attention to details, from the position of the driver's seat (relatively low-slung and car-like) to the steering feel, the position of the gear shifter and the provision of a sequential shifting mode. I love the sleek solid feel of the gear shifter when doing manual 'sequential' gear shifting and I really wish Honda had fitted this system into their Civic and Accord, especially the sporty Civic 2.0 i-VTEC as it enhances the driving experience significantly. Of course an actual owner of the Odyssey will not be using it anywhere near as often as I did during my test drive but the point is like the spare tyre, when not in use, it can be left aside unobstrusively but when in use, it will be highly appreciated indeed. As a driver too I understood first hand why the guy before me (and the 2 after me too) seemed to be pushing the Odyssey too hard. He couldn't help it and similarly I too couldn't help it. It is not that the Odyssey encourages speeding or reckless driving. Indeed over casual driving, the very heavy bodyweight of the Odyssey is clearly felt from dulled response to stabs at the throttle - there is a lot of weight to lug around and consequently the inertia of the Odyssey is felt when we want to get a move on quickly. On the other hand, once up to speed, the Odyssey feels so stable and solid and it gives such a misleading slow impression of speed that we often end up cruising at 140kph and thinking we were obeying the speed limit (110kph) !! This is especially obvious when we come up to a tight corner. At the beginning, driving simply based on 'instinct' and 'feel', I find I always ended up entering into a corner way too fast (compared to my original intention), i.e. after jabbing at the brakes, I would intially thought the Odyssey would've slowed to a sensible speed, say 60kph, but when I check the speedo (a precaution I always adopt when driving an unfamiliar vehicle), it would be showing 80kph instead !! Way too fast compared to what I intended to be taking the corner at. So at the beginning I always ended up braking, checking the speedo, and then doing a second round of braking again. However I need to highlight that it wasn't because I needed to slow down more but that I wanted to slow down more. My opinion of the new Odyssey is that it is a sporty MPV but still, it is not intended to be driven as a sports-car (despite the marketing slogan). So I intentionally took corners at speeds that I felt were 'appropriate' for the Odyssey. Nevertheless I couldn't resist the temptation to test the cornering ability of course and I find that it could take corners almost as well as the Accord, i.e. even if I entered corners at 80kph when I had intended to do so at 60kph, the Odyssey still took it without excessive drama other than a slight squealing of the tyres and some body roll. Eventually as I settled down towards the end of my 'stint' where I was simply testing its cruising ability, I had to constantly remind myself to 'brake extra hard' and 'this is an Odyssey, not a sports car' every time I approached a tight corner.

When the 3rd and 4th drivers took over the Odyssey, I passed the Odyssey over to the 3rd driver at the KLIA airport itself, I went back to the 3rd, last row of seats. Long time TOVA readers might know that I am a six-footer and seated in this last row of seats, I had no problems with head-room, the top of my head just clearing the roof when I sit absolutely upright and with ample head-room when I sink back and relax in the comfortable rear seats. So, given that I belong to the 'tall' category of Asians, I would think that complaints about lack of head-room will be rare with this new Odyssey. Location-wise, the rear seats are more or less riding right on top of the rear wheels as well. Initially I had expected that this would make the ride quality from the back seats a bit bumpy but it wasn't the case. Reactions to road imperfections were felt a bit more than from the middle row or even the driver's seat but they are nicely damped and it was actually possible to fall asleep there.

Quick Performance Check !

As usual, I had my GTech Pro with me during the test-drive. As the test route took us to the KLIA airport itself, we detoured for a short while to the access roads of the Sepang circuit which were quite nice for a quick bout of acceleration tests. I tested both full automatic mode and manual sequential shifting mode. With a relatively heavy 5 persons load, I couldn't get the tyres to hook up properly during the launch and that of course was detrimental to the timing. Still, the Odyssey managed to pull mid-11 seconds on the 0-60mph runs which to me were quite impressive !

On the next morning, one of the journalists and I managed to get the keys to the Odyssey again. Our original intention was to just open up the bonnet to take additional photos of the engine bay but being the car fanatics, we quickly ended up taking the Odyssey for another quick spin. PutraJaya is physically located near to CyberJaya where I usually conduct my performance checks. So we made a quick drive over to CyberJaya for another quick round of performance checks. So this round it was with a single person on board. It was still not possible to hook up the tyres to get them to squeal but the engine doesn't bog anymore in the launches. Quickly checking through the different shifting modes, I found that best results are obtained (as expected) using the manual sequential mode but shifting at the last possible moment (when the tacho needle hits the red-line mark). Ramming the shifter up, the tacho would bounce against the rev-limiter briefly before the gearbox upshifts. The results were very impressive because I was able to return an average time of 10.35 seconds for the 0-60mph (0-96kph) standing start runs ! In fact, I was even able to dip below the 10.3 sec mark for two of the runs (my best is actually 10.16sec but I think that would be a 'fluke') while the worse run was 10.50sec. The quarter-mile results were consistently around high-17s, between 17.71 to 17.83 sec with a terminal speed of around 82mph (~140kph). For a vehicle the size and bulk of the Odyssey, I personally find these results very impressive. Based on them, I would certainly say Honda Malaysia is justified in calling it a 'sporty' vehicle.

Conclusion

SPECIFICATIONS
2004 HONDA ODYSSEY (JDM Version)

LAYOUT
FF (Front Engined, Front Wheel Drive)
ENGINE
Inline-4 16V PGM-Fi DOHC iVTEC
displacement : 2354c.c.
bore x stroke : 87.0mm X 99.0mm
CR : 9.7
max power : 160ps at 5500rpm
max torque : 22.2kgm at 4,500rpm
GEARBOX
5speed automatic with Sports-Shift
Torque Converter with Lock-up clutch
ratios not published
STEERING
Rack & Pinion
ratio : 14.6
turns lock to lock : 3
BRAKING SYSTEM
F : Ventilated Disc
R : Solid Disc
SUSPENSION
F : Independent double wishbone
R : Reactive Independent double wishbone
DIMENSION
(L x W x H) : 4765mm X 1800mm X 1550mm
wheelbase : 2830mm
ground clearace : 155mm,
tyre : 215/60/R16 95H with rim size 16 X 6.5 JJ
Others
kerbweight : 1675kg
fuel tank size : 65litres
seating capacity : 7 pax
Source : Honda Malaysia

The new Odyssey offers a fresh unique approach to MPV-based motoring and personally it has left a very good impression on me. While I would not agree with the Honda Malaysia marketing slogan that the new Odyssey is 'sometimes a sports car', I would agree with my friend YS when he wrote in his review of the Odyssey that 'sometimes it's a car'. Yes, the new Odyssey has broken the mold of the 'typical' MPV, taking away the chore that has come to be associated with driving one. Continuing the path taken by the original Odyssey, this new Odyssey is no longer a sterile van derived vehicle and now even has both looks and the 'go' to back it up. Thus I was not surprised at all when Honda Malaysia told me that over 100 units have been sold and delivered to customers here in Malaysia even with the relatively hefty price tag.

To cater for those who prefer the original MPV 'formula' of a large and tall vehicle, Honda has also launched the 'La Great' in Japan. This model is more faithful to the 'typical' MPV design and looks quite like the original Odyssey with an update look. While Asia has generally accepted the JDM Odyssey design, selected countries, most notably the U.S. has adopted the La-Great model as their next Odyssey. This clearly continues the trend started by the Honda Accord of offering two quite different designs of the same model though based on the same platform. For those who are curious, I did ask the Honda R&D where the La-Great is designed and was told both the JDM Odyssey and the La-Great / US Odyssey are designed at the Tochigi R&D Center in Japan.

For the more hard-core Honda enthusiasts, the Odyssey is a most significant vehicle. Even for the non-MPV fans, pay special attention to the design approach and styling cues on this new Odyssey because it is indicative of the direction Honda is taking as a whole for their next generation models. I.e. whatever models is 'next in line' for a generation change, the approach taken for this new Odyssey is indicative of the one taken for the new design. And what is shown by the Odyssey certainly bodes well for the future.

Wong KN
October 2004
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