Classic CARmentary: 1999 Honda Odyssey EX

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

By 2000, all of the other manufacturers had given up thinking that they knew what customers REALLY wanted in a minivan (Rear-wheel drive!  Mid-engine layout!  Futuristic styling!  Conventional forward-hinged rear doors!  Smaller dimensions!) and just copied the Chrysler formula.  The minivans from Ford, GM, Nissan, Honda, Mazda and Toyota were now all cut from the same cloth and had far more redeeming qualities than those earlier misfires.

The last truly useful innovative feature (if you can call it that) on a conventional minivan was the second sliding door, which was introduced on the 1996 Chrysler minivans.  Honda smartly took the one truly innovative feature from the first generation Odyssey – the disappearing third-row seat – and wrapped it in an utterly conventional package.  And thus a legend was born.

The following review was written on February 14, 1999.

In the search for a minivan, you can literally draw a name out of a hat and end up with an excellent product that will suit your needs. One minivan, however, will usually have a specific feature that the others don’t have that makes it, in the buyer’s eyes, rise above the rest. For me, it was the Honda Odyssey and its ingenious fold-away third seat.

The Odyssey debuted in 1995. The public’s underwhelming response to the four-cylinder anti-minivan that looked more like a tall station wagon convinced Honda that the next Odyssey should follow the successful Chrysler formula, with sliding rear doors, et al. Once again based on the platform of the Accord, the 1999 Odyssey is substantially larger than the previous iteration, about the size of a Dodge Grand Caravan or Ford Windstar. Unlike those “sleek” minivans – and I do use the term loosely – the Odyssey is boxy and somewhat reminiscent of the Volkswagen Eurovan.

At least it has guts, though. The 210-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 is more than adequate for its 4,200+ pounds of mass, and actually makes the Odyssey the most powerful minivan available in the U.S. A smooth-shifting four-speed automatic transmission and traction control are standard. Handling is Honda-excellent (for a minivan).

Let’s get back to that folding seat, however. I had to pick up my new La-Z-Boy recliner, and a van with a removable third seat was not an option since I live in a multi-story apartment building and have no place to put it. Remove the head restraints, fold the seat, flip it into the floor, and you’re left with a cavernous area with a flat floor that swallowed the recliner, in the box, without removing the second row of seats. Other trick Odyssey features include dual power sliding doors and an Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) system that senses the amount and placement of cargo and compensates for it during hard braking to avoid rear wheel lockup. Also, the Odyssey is currently the only minivan with headrests and three point seatbelts for all seven passengers.

Overall, the new Odyssey has made choosing the right minivan a little harder, and a little easier, for American consumers.

For more information contact 1-800-33-HONDA ext. 737


Type: Five-Door Minivan
Engine: 210-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6
Transmission: Four-speed Automatic
EPA Mileage: 18 city/26 highway
Tested Price: $26,364