Planned volumes certainly are too low to threatenCorp.'s dominance in the minivan market - or even to put some sales-race heat on the Windstar or GM's front-drive minivans, for that matter.
Set aside volume, though, and the heavily revampedOdyssey is a player in every other dimension. And if Big Three executives aren't glancing over their shoulders a little bit, they should be.
Not only hasgot the product mostly right, it has a built-in audience - family-oriented Accord buyers, many of whom have long been heading over to the competition to purchase minivans. And like Motor Corp.'s new Sienna - and unlike the old Odyssey - the new model is a me-too minivan that blends in with the pack, an attribute most minivan intenders appear to prefer.
Honda says its goal was to bring its renowned level of quality to the minivan segment, while designing in the sort of things buyers gorge on with Dodge Caravans or Chevy Ventures - the functionality that was lacking in the original, three-quarter-size Odyssey. Perhaps more ominously for competitors, the new model also gives Honda a beachhead in the light truck market, executives say.
Although the 210-hp, V-6/4-speed automatic combination moves the Odyssey with the best of the minivan class, Honda emphasizes fuel economy over performance. A lockup torque converter that operates in third and fourth gears should help the Odyssey average a combined 26 mpg (9L/100 km).
Where the Odyssey begins to step away from the pack is in the body and chassis area. The new Honda is among the handling leaders in its class, thanks to the widest track of any minivan on the market, a low center of gravity, and high degree of torsional rigidity in the body and frame.
Plus, there's fully independent suspension - struts up front, double wishbones in the rear - a real rarity in the segment, and a feature shared only with the Sienna.
Dynamically, it adds up to steering that is highly responsive for a minivan and a surprising amount of body control, especially roll.
Exterior styling more or less follows the pack, but the Odyssey is a little more rakish at its nose than most, and its rear hatch has a few sport/utility-like wrinkles that help it stand out in the freeway minivan muddle. And of course, dual sliding doors (power assisted on top-of-the-line EX models) are standard.
More innovative is the inside. For starters, Honda takes an airliner approach, locating individual reading lights and vent controls at each seating position. If captain's chairs are ordered for the middle row, the two seats can slide together to form a quasi-bench.
But perhaps the most groundbreaking feature in Odyssey is the rear seat, which folds neatly into the floor of the van to maximize cargo space. That's a trick Honda employed in the original Odyssey, but the new model performs the feat with a full-size bench. With the rear seat folded into the floor and middle seats removed, the van can carry a 4x8 sheet flat on the floor of its cargo bay.
Pricing hasn't been set, but Honda is targeting the Odyssey in the middle of the pack at somewhere below $24,600. The base LX version will have a $2,000 price advantage over comparably equipped competitors, the automaker says, while the EX will carry a $2,000 to $3,000 advantage.
Only time will tell if this Odyssey's a classic, but it surely is a contender.