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1998 Honda Odyssey
Joyce A. Tucker

Introduction
It seems as though the most logical way to really test drive a minivan is to load it full of people and possessions and take a long trip. Well that does make a lot of sense. But most of us don't take a cross-country trip with the family every day. Most of the time we're heading to work, heading out to do errands, heading home. It's life in the fast lane.

You know the routine: Getting in. Getting out. Figuring creative new ways to slip into a parking space that can barely fit a toothpick, let alone leave enough space to open the door. And just how easy is it to merge onto a highway with traffic moving at speeds far exceeding U.S. speed limits? Or you're in the left lane and notice the upcoming exit is yours. Oops! You've got to move over seven lanes in a relatively short period of space. Then you need to drop the kids off at soccer practice: Get out, get the kids out, get back in. Take the dog to the vet: Get out, get the dog out, get in. Head back home again, jiggity-jig. Running a minivan through this pace is truly the test.

When Honda entered the minivan market in 1995, the competition was tough. Chrysler launched its minivan in 1984. Being the first makes it a tough act to follow. Chrysler is on top of this market, always one step ahead of the rest with newfangled innovations such as 27 cupholders and a driver's side sliding door.

Honda took another direction with the Odyssey. No sliding doors here; they open like car doors. Honda focused on the combination of a car-like ride and the versatility of a van. Also important was a clean, conservative design, both interior and exterior. And Honda has something other car companies envy: a reputation for building reliable, high-quality cars. And they do have ample cup holders for all parties interested. Walkaround
Major exterior changes for 1998 are a revised front bumper and grille, and a redesigned rear bumper. Otherwise, the Honda Odyssey's conservative body styling remains unchanged. In a way it carries through the simplistic, prim design Honda is known for.

At the rear is a one-piece hatch, offering a large access port along with a low lift-over height. Not only does the lower ride height of a sedan platform allow passengers easier entry and exit, it's also a blessing when loading cargo. To protect painted surfaces from scratches, the rear bumper sports a black, ribbed foot step.

Based on the Accord's platform, Odyssey strikes the perfect balance between minivan and station wagon. Honda engineers were able to use the Accord's front-wheel-drive layout and sophisticated double wishbone suspension system to give Odyssey superior stability and ride comfort. Interior
Honda offers two trim levels: the well-equipped LX and the fully-loaded EX. The LX has a choice of six- or seven-passenger seating. Six-passenger versions feature two removable buckets in the middle row, while the seven-passenger offers a folding bench.

Pricing on Odyssey is pretty cut and dried. The LX six-passenger base price is $24,615. Seven-passenger seating costs $410 less than six-passenger seating.

At $26,195, the EX is offered only with six-passenger seating and includes a power driver's seat, a power sunroof, six-speaker AM/FM/cassette stereo, aluminum alloy wheels, keyless remote entry, map lights and body-colored mirrors and side molding.

The interior design doesn't invite criticism, unless it's from adults traveling significant distances in the rear seats. The cabin has a spacious feel, both up front and in back. Seats are firm but comfortable. For 1998, Honda added adjustable armrests for the driver and front-passenger seats.

Honda's Odyssey makes it easy to convert from a people hauler to a moving van or home improvement carrier. The middle row seats pop out easily and weigh about 25 pounds. The rear seat retracts completely and easily into the floor to provide a flat and open cargo area.

One feature we really like on the Odyssey is the well in the cargo area that stores the third seat. When all seating is in use, that well adds seven inches of convenient storage space to the cargo area. That's two more suitcases.

The white-on-black instrumentation is legible and controls are convenient and simple.

Honda has replaced last year's 2.2-liter engine with a new 2.3-liter 16-valve VTEC (variable valve timing and lift electronic control) engine. It's the same engine used in the Honda Accord LX and EX models.

This new engine has eliminated one of our major complaints with the Odyssey-not enough get up and go. Not only has the horsepower been increased from 140 to 150, but torque has improved from 145 pound-feet at 4500 rpm to 152 pound-feet at 4700 rpm.

Odyssey is the only minivan available in 1998 powered by a four-cylinder engine. Toyota replaced its four-cylinder Previa with the new V6-powered Sienna.

Fortunately, Honda's 2.3-liter VTEC happens to be one of the best four-cylinder engines in the world. The 3.0-liter V6, in Mazda's MPV, for example, has an edge of only 5 horsepower over Honda's four-cylinder engine.

Not only is Honda's VTEC engine powerful, it's also fuel efficient, with EPA ratings of 21 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

The Odyssey sits closer to the ground than a traditional minivan and, in many ways, it feels more like a car. Lifting a child into a car seat repeatedly tires quickly. Especially if your lifting the child up an extra six inches.

We really liked its car-like doors. The advantages and disadvantages of swing-out car doors versus sliding doors on minivans is an issue that's debated over and over in the auto industry. Advocates of swing-out doors say they are easier to use and less likely to slam onto small fingers. After all, we spend our daily lives opening and closing swinging doors; very little time is spent sliding doors. Advocates of sliding doors say they take up less room in crowded parking lots, making loading and unloading children and cargo easier. We think it's a matter of preference.

Also new for 1998, is the addition of Honda's proven anti-theft system featured in the Accord and Prelude. With this state-of-the-art system, an "Immobilizer" transmits a digitally coded radio signal to the control unit when the driver inserts the encoded ignition key. The car will start if the code is recognized. The fuel injection and ignition systems are disabled if the car has been improperly started. Driving Impressions
Our test drive in the Odyssey revealed a smooth car-like ride. In day-in, day-out driving, the Odyssey offers more than adequate power. The additional horsepower from the VTEC engine is greatly appreciated. Load it full of kids and cargo, and the lack of low-speed response experienced in the earlier models has now disappeared. The four-speed transmission shifts somewhat abruptly under hard acceleration, however.

The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering was neither as firm as that of imports nor as soft as that of traditional American cars. We were particularly impressed with Odyssey's composure in quick maneuvers. Thanks to its relatively low curb weight, low roofline-almost eight inches lower than Plymouth Voyager for example-and refined suspension, the Odyssey doesn't exhibit much rock and roll when the driver cranks the wheel hard to avoid a problem.

Braking seemed as efficient as that of its European and American competitors. The four-wheel disc brakes with ABS provide well-controlled braking. Summary
While the Odyssey may lack distinctive exterior character, it has a soothing interior, it rides well and it's easy to drive. Odyssey may not be the biggest nor the fastest, but it's an excellent choice considering its high standard feature content.

If hauling lumber is not your second job, whereas grocery-hauling, errand-running and family use is, the Odyssey may be right for you.

Model as tested
EX
Basic Warranty
3 year/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Japan
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
26195
Price as tested
26195
Options as tested

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Safety equipment (standard)
Dual airbags
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
2.3-liter dohc 16v inline 4-cylinder
Transmissions
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
ABS, air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette stereo, power windows, power locks, power sunroof, cruise control, tilt steering, power driver's seat, rear-window wiper/washer, tachometer, dual vanity mirrors, intermittent wipers, folding rear seat, Immobilizer theft deterrent system, aluminum alloy wheels, keyless remote entry, map lights, body-colored mirrors/side molding

Engine & Transmission
Engine
2.3-liter dohc 16v inline 4-cylinder
Drivetrain type
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
150 @ 5600
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
21/26
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc
Suspension, front
Independent
Tires
P205/65R15
Suspension, rear
Independent

Accomodations
Seating capacity
6
Head/hip/leg room, middle
39.3/53.1/40.2
Head/hip/leg room, front
38.9/53.3/40.7
Head/hip/leg room, rear
37.5/40.9/34.0

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
102.5
Wheelbase
111.4
Length/width/height
187.6/70.6/64.6
Turning circle
37.7
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
N/A
Track, front/rear
60.0/60.8
Ground clearance
N/A
Curb weight
3483


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