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Among Great Minivans, It's Fit to Be Tied

2005 Honda Odyssey minivan

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 3, 2004; Page G01

The auto industry is fond of superlatives, most of which are misleading.

Take the matter of the 2005 Honda Odyssey minivan, whose various characteristics are described by Honda's marketers as "class-leading" and "unmatched" and "first minivan to use" and "first minivan with."

2005 Honda Odyssey minivan (Honda)

Nuts & Bolts

Acceleration, ride and handling: The new Odyssey gets excellent marks for ride and handling and good marks for acceleration. The EX-L's 3.5-liter, 255-horsepower V-6 is the most powerful in a minivan. But it doesn't move that model any faster than lower-horsepower engines in the Sienna or Town & Country. They are minivans, after all.

Head-turning quotient: My neighbor Ria is right. Externally, the new Odyssey is not spectacularly different from her 2003 model. The interior is warm, comfortable and laden with cup holders -- 15 in the tested version.

Engine/transmission: It is equipped with a 3.5-liter, V-6 VTEC engine developing 255 horsepower at 5,750 revolutions per minute and 250 foot-pounds of torque at 5,000 rpm. The engine is linked to a five-speed automatic transmission. The optional Variable Cylinder Management system in the i-VTEC engine saves fuel.

Safety: Honda offers a raft of standard safety equipment in the new Odyssey, including side air bags, three-row curtain bags with rollover sensor, traction and stability control -- and a child-minder mirror that gives the driver a panoramic view of what's happening in the back seats.

Capacities: The Odyssey has seating for up to seven or eight people, depending on the model. Maximum cargo volume is 147.4 cubic feet with third-row seats folded and second-row seats flipped or removed. Cargo volume is 38.4 cubic feet with all seats upright. The fuel tank holds 21 gallons of regular unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: We averaged 23 miles per gallon in a week of city/highway driving.

Price: Base pricing for the 2005 Odyssey will range from $24,995 to $38,295 depending on model and equipment chosen, according to Honda. Some dealers may seek premiums for this high-demand minivan.

Purse-strings note: The new Odyssey is a buy, but not a "must-buy." It has strong competitors. Bargain accordingly.

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The point here is not to contend that the new Odyssey is a bad or marginal minivan. That would be silly.

What is arguable is that, as Honda's marketers claim, the new Odyssey minivan is better than the rest.

Look at the "class-leading" boast, as in "class-leading utility" and "class-leading third-row legroom." Honda uses the term to refer to minivans as a uniform class, as if all minivans were the same size and same configuration, built for identical families with identical needs. Used that way, "class-leading" ignores the reality that families with taller, more robustly built people probably will find more space for their bodies in the larger Toyota Sienna or Chrysler Town & Country minivan.

In my review of the Odyssey EX-L -- it stands for the EX with Leather, second only to the top-of-the-line Touring model in the four-model Odyssey line -- I enrolled members of a Northern Virginia family, owners of a 2003 Honda Odyssey, to help me form an opinion.

I'm not related to the Odyssey test family. I chose them because of their loyalty to Honda and their devotion to their Odyssey. As I often do, I also sampled opinions from my wife, Mary Anne, and some of her elementary-school teaching peers. It was interesting to see how their real-world assessments stacked up against the marketing hype.

Selected Honda marketing claim No. 1: "Class-leading third-row legroom -- up three inches from 2004 model."

The Odyssey test family disagreed, with the family's two teenagers and a sibling in his 20s saying that their 2003 Odyssey seemed to offer more space.

The test family was wrong on that score. But perception is reality in the consumer world, and no amount of factual cajoling could get them to change their assessment.

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