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
$41,002 adjusted for inflation.
As compared to $35,190 for a new 2020 Odyssey EX.
*Spare transmissions not included.
Every one of my friends who bought an Odyssey went through multiple transmissions. I believe among the three of them, they went through seven transmissions. Then there was the cost of each. Honda charged a lot for them. This was when all of us guys at work had newborns, toddlers and school-age kids, a decade ago.
Three of us bought new Hondas. One bought a new Town and Country. Being stuck with a GM loyalist – we ended up with a Saturn Relay 3. The first to be sold off as unreliable and costly, (and they were the most expensive by far), were the Hondas. Six years later, the T&C was replaced. The Saturn held on for a total of seven years.
GM, with their crude engine and crude transmission, kept that Saturn going and looking good and completely functioning with every crude option, ended up being the turtle that beat the hares in their own race.
My aunt had the same experience, three transmissions in three years.
I never learned what the failure was, specifically. Was it an issue that got fixed by the end of this generation, or did Honda just ride it out until the next model? It certainly made them a lot of enemies in my family, it’s very disappointing for Honda to whiff something so hard.
Everything else about this model is pretty appealing, I’d like to drive one even today if the transmission issues could be sorted out.
Just this past weekend I was helping a gentleman unload 3 full size bicycles for donation from his 2000 Odyssey. Having a neighbor who had one with the standard glass transmission, I inquired about his experiences. One owner minivan that was free of major issues since new. He was embarking on a 5 hour trip the next day in this well used example. Lucky?
Maybe all of his driving was downhill in both directions!!
Deeper into the conversation he also related to me he was born in the house he built with his own two hands.
No – he wears out bicycles. He must rarely use the Honda.
He’s giving them away since he never used them as the Honda had no faults and always got him to where he needed to go without fail.
You are correct! Three were hardly used, his kids were off to college and his wife lost interest in biking. How Honda blew it on the vast number of these is beyond me.
They finally got it right. 2010 models and newer seemed to be the turning point. I have 218k and original tranny. I do chg the fluid every 60k. Car has been great.
We bought a ’99 Odyssey new, even though it was the first model year (traditionally a bad idea), because I had faith in Honda reliability.
Big mistake. The first problem was an incessant squeak in the driver-side power sliding door, which once you heard (every time you went over a bump or rough pavement) you could not ignore. At least I couldn’t. It took six months and multiple trips to the dealer to finally get it fixed.
As for the transmission. I had heard that the failure one began at or near 60k miles. Sure enough, at , we got TC and Check Engine warning lights simultaneously – the calling card of the failure. What Honda did was give us (and others) remanufactured transmissions and an extended warranty to 120k miles. We traded it in 2008 at 110k, partly because our daughters were mostly out of the birthday party/soccer team stage, but also because I had no desire to tempt fate twice, on a repair that would cost 5k after 10k more miles.
Honda auto transmissions were a known issue during the 90’s, across a couple of models.
“sure enough, at 58k miles”
And, Honda did not charge us for the repair at 58k; I’ll say that for them.
Around here these are common in junkyards and still relatively common to see them driving around though some look to be on their last legs. There are about 4 in my neighborhood alone including one that looks like the one in the photos. Do these Odysseys rust more than other cars of the same era?
They rust notably LESS. When they finally do start to rot its mostly around the gas filler door. Not sure how subframes hold up, but on my ’03 Pilot, the body was very clean in 2017 after a life in Michigan/Indiana with no visible rust, but it needed a bit of structural welding on the unibody where the rear subframe bolted on (a dirt trap on Pilots specifically apparently).
The curious thing to me is how inspite of the (very real) transmission issues, I still see a boatload of these around my locale, and really anywhere I go in the US. One thing they got right was corrosion resistance: vastly more rust resistant than earlier 90s Hondas, and much better than the minivan competition of the time, aside from the Sienna which is also incredibly resilient in this sense. I can only assume most of these 99-04 Odysseys got a “good” reman. IIRC the factory fix the second time around was a ATF squirter spraying onto a known weak part of the gear “stack”, said squirter was retrofitted in a way where it sat over where the ATF fill plug was. I owned a 2003 Honda Pilot with this same transmission (187k on original trans when I sold it in good health and clean fluid), and it had this squirter setup right from the factory. Aside from that Achilles heel these are fantastically robust vehicles: J series V6 is a tank (just change that t-belt once in a while), the interiors and electrical systems seem to hold up great, as well as the body as I already mentioned.
The Gen1 Odyssey was quite good against rust as well. Actually, the 96-00 Chrysler vans were decent against rust with the 01-07 being the really bad one.
I agree on the transmission assessment. I knew of several people who owned these who had multiple failures. The secret was getting a good reman unit – the problem was knowing if the one the dealer just put in was one of those or not.
I know I’m weird, but I would take the 95-98 version with the hinged doors over one of these.
My relatives in Moscow had a German-market gen 1 (Honda “Shuttle”) and it was a very nice car. Even with a full load of passengers, that F22 4cyl can move it along briskly if the driver is willing to really cane it (my uncle is a bit of a hot shoe) Honda engines can take the high rpms all day long. Also farther East past the Urals you’ll see a decent amount of the Japanese market gen 1s, often in an AWD configuration.
I had a 2008 Odyssey for 10 years, and it was only OK. I had major problems with the CV joints, the infamous ABS braking debacle, and later a power steering leak and rack. The thing went through brakes like crazy. I lost respect for Honda. I replaced it two years ago with a 2017 Pacifica CPO at 16k miles, and it is light years better in terms of quality. People complain about the Chrysler transmission, but the Honda’s was TERRIBLE. I’m at 50k trouble free miles in the Chrysler – by this time I had a huge list of problems with the Honda. As a CPO, I saved $15k off list. A bargain actually.
Proof you can’t base your expectations of reliability off of a manufacturer’s cars 20 years ago, on platforms that already had 10 or 15 years of optimization. I also have a 2015 Accord 6-speed, although trouble free, it has lousy brakes, and the interior quality is piss poor. I actually can’t wait to be rid of it. The engine is loud and raspy, and the power delivery non-linear, making stick shift driving more of a chore.
It’s an interesting contrast to the 2018 Jeep Renegade 6-Speed I bought for by daughter. I find the Jeep superior in many ways – it is quieter, the Fiat engine is smoother, and the Infotainment is way superior – especially the phone integration. The Jeep is even fun to drive. That car is a total surprise, and has been completely trouble free since we bought it, I never even went back to the dealer. The interior quality is better than the Honda.
I grew up in an all J-car household, cut my teeth on and still adore 1980s/1990s Honda products, then moved onto Toyotas. Went minivan shopping two years ago and came home with a…. lightly used ’16 Town&Country. Like you, I couldn’t ignore the fantastic value. We love our van two years in. It has a few features the newer Pacificas lost (manually selecting a lower gear for engine braking, removable front center console), but at the same time I kind of regret not ponying up for a Pacifica: they are indeed fantastic driving cars with great high quality interiors IMO. I was just a bit leery of buying a first year car at the time of us shopping.
Nice looking vans. Our friends’ 03 went through two or three transmissions. They have a Sienna now.
Funny thing, the banner ad that just came up for the new Odyssey reads “Minivans don’t have to be a mess”. It’s to showcase the onboard vacuum cleaner, but that may be a great epitaph for this 1999-2004 generation.
We had friends who moved from a 95 Windstar (3 transmissions) to one of these. At least Honda took care of them when the trans failed.
My problem with these vans was the twisty-creaky structure. A friend had one of the later versions of this generation when I had my 99 T&C – mine with 200k miles on it was far stiffer in its structure than his with maybe 100k.
I will agree with others that once you got beyond transmissions and problematic power sliding doors these tended to not give much trouble. I preferred lots about the Chryslers, but there tended to be a tradeoff in terms of minor bits needing more work.
All the Honda vans (as I recall) have an “off” switch to turn the power doors off, i.e. making them manual affairs. But it’s an easy fix if they do wear out with a fairly cheap assembly inside the door.
We had the manual doors on our 2000 Odyssey, the only one in the kid’s carpool group without the automatic doors. All the kids would hop in, and then sit there and wait for the doors to shut. My wife had to train them to reach over and actually shut the doors themselves. 103k was when the transmission died, BTW.
Our experience with Odyssey transmissions was far better than some of the other commenters have noted.
2001 Odyssey LX: purchased new, kept to 140K miles. The original transmission started flaring between shifts at about 90K miles, but our dealer said that it was still OK. At that point I began driving it a lot more aggressively, and eventually the warning lights appeared at around 95K. The local dealer cheerfully replaced the transmission with a minimum of fuss, including a free loaner for a week. The new (rebuilt) transmission worked perfectly up until the point that I traded it at 140K.
2007 Odyssey LX: purchased new at the very end of the model year (with a massive rebate), and kept to 175K miles. The ’07 Odyssey was probably the best and most reliable vehicle our family ever owned — zero problems or repairs other than routine maintenance for the entire time we owned it. We sold it to a family member of a friend, and it’s still going strong with the original transmission at well over 200K miles.
The key to not having issues with power sliding doors is to get the bottom of the line model with manual doors.
The mid-later years of the third gen (2005-2010) Odyssey in the lesser-trims (didn’t get Honda’s VCM cylinder shutoff) seem to be the sweet spot for being completely mechanically sorted and generally bulletproof cars. They’re automotive whitenoise on the street but pay attention and they’re EVERYWHERE, and not going anywhere soon I think.
I had any number of friends with small children and second generation Honda Odysseys. I didn’t even know about the transmissions being an issue until I started spending time on general automotive interest forums years later. I have also worked with some great factory-trained Honda techs who spent the early 2000s swapping out Odyssey transmissions, but it isn’t like the majority of the transmissions failed as some would have you believe. VCM is actually more likely to cause problems if you don’t use a defeater.
The J32A3 2005 Acura TL my parents had munched it’s transmission as well, not long out of mileage (59k?) but time. Honda bent over backwards and fixed it, free of charge. They were thrilled. I’ve been on the record before I was not a real fan of that car, and it wasn’t the transmission issue. The bizarre electrical stuff around 8 years in soured me. Randomly opening windows while shut off isn’t ok when it happens on a parked street. That, Acura couldn’t figure out…
My roommate in Vancouver had one of these. She spent three years paying off the $6,000 transmission repair. She moved on to a used Prius as soon as she could. The door was balky and needed manual help when closing. I refuse to get an automatic Honda as it sucks the life out of what is usually an excellent engine.
Meanwhile Chevy Astros keep going and going…
Seems like early generation minivans (of most manufacturers) had major transmission issues. Like the Mopar Ultradrive. Toyota’s early ones reportedly weren’t bulletproof either.
Was it because the original transaxles were just not able to take the heavy use that these family haulers experienced, and the manufacturers weren’t able to foresee that, as a new vehicle?