CC Capsule: 2004-08 & 2008-13 Honda Odyssey – World’s Sexiest Minivan

No, I’m not talking about the North American market Odyssey when I apply the “World’s Sexiest Minivan” label. As you can see, the featured Odyssey looks entirely different to the one sold in the US and Canada. After the first generation model, the Odyssey nameplate was applied to two different lines: one sold in North America, and one sold in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Americans and Canadians got a bigger body and a V6 engine, we got style. Who was the winner?

Minivans have never enjoyed the same level of popularity here in Australia as they have in North America but the Odyssey has been a consistent podium finisher in this small segment for many years now.

Today, the latest global Odyssey is a homely, chrome-laden, tall-and-narrow box that looks like any number of Japanese vans you’d see in your nearest gray import lot. Still a good car, mind you, but one with absolutely no style.

The previous two generations, however, have style in spades. Just look at how slinky these are. A minivan, slinky? Yes! At just 61 inches tall, the international Odyssey was a full eight inches shorter than a Dodge Grand Caravan. Crossovers tower over these, as you can see.

While it seems counter-intuitive to make a family-focussed vehicle so short, ingress and egress with the Odyssey is actually a cinch. You step down ever so slightly into a well-appointed cabin with seating for seven. It not only feels spacious, it is spacious.

While the second-generation “international” Odyssey had an optional 3.0 V6, both the third- and fourth-generation models offered only a 2.4 four-cylinder, sourced from the Accord and CR-V, mated to a five-speed automatic transmission; a CVT was available in some markets. The 2.4 produced 158 hp and 160 ft-lbs.

The four-cylinder didn’t make the Odyssey a rocket ship but it was peppy enough (if lacking somewhat in low-end torque) and achieved good fuel economy. The lower center of gravity also made the Odyssey handle better than its taller rivals, with less body roll and lean in corners; steering was a tad light, but this was a minivan after all.

The fourth generation kept all of the third’s hallmarks and added a touch more interior room and power. The mandatory 2.4, still mated to a five-speed auto or CVT depending on the market, now produced 177 hp but no more torque.

Stylistically, the proportions were much the same but the detailing a little more up-to-date. It’s not quite as memorable but it still looks sharp. The fourth generation still measured just 61 inches in height, 1 inch taller than the subcompact Fit/Jazz.

The Odyssey’s claim to fame was that it could appeal to people put off by minivans, with their mediocre handling and utilitarian styling. In a way, the Odyssey was a crossover of a different sort: part van, part car. At least in Australia, the Odyssey sold well even as the market began to really embrace crossovers and finally beat the dominant Toyota Tarago (Previa) in the sales race.

We’ve seen minivans festooned with badges like Sport and R/T but the Odyssey is the only van that could have convincingly pulled that off. Can you imagine a Type R Odyssey? I can. I’m frankly surprised there was never one offered in the Japanese market, considering how full to the brim they are with niche turbo and AWD derivatives of everything. The closest they came was with the JDM Absolute, with a slightly more powerful version of the 2.4 four (up around 30 horses) as well as four-wheel-drive, ground effects and sporty alloy wheels. Tuning house Mugen has also modified Odysseys.

Sport variant or no sport variant, the Odyssey was cool enough to be made in remote control children’s car form. How many other minivans can you say that about?

Related Reading:

Curbside Classic: 1997 Honda Odyssey – Not All Americans Can Get Used To Sushi

COAL: 2006 Honda Odyssey EX-L – Ridden Hard And Put Away Wet