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Behind the Wheel

Honda's Odyssey Minivan Vaults Straight to the Head of the Class of '99

November 19, 1998|PAUL DEAN | Times Automotive Writer

At the controls--thanks to a four-wheel independent suspension, with double wishbones at the rear--the feel and view from the bridge are about the same as if you were driving a compact sport-utility. There is absolutely no awareness of 14 feet of seats and space back there. Lowered seating, and an even lower center of gravity, erases that sense of being part of a pole-sitting contest.

Low-rate, long-travel springs soak up all the gullies and thumps of Broadway between 2nd and 4th streets, which is the worst stretch of street since the first grading of the Appian Way. Clearly, this is not the type of vehicle for hot-lapping Willow Springs International Raceway, but the engine is strong, mid-range acceleration is slightly better than par, and that makes the Odyssey eminently freeway friendly.

But here's its real threat to its entrenched rival:

Chrysler has never been able to break a habit of selling cars with irritating glitches and weevils in the plastic.

Honda, on the better hand, continues to live up to its reputation for building super-reliable cars that for their first years seem to render warranties superfluous.

There, in the minivan long haul, could build the serious siege and initial uprooting of Town & Country.

*

Times automotive writer Paul Dean can be reached via e-mail at paul.dean@latimes.com.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

1999 Honda Odyssey EX

Cost

* Base, $25,800. Includes automatic climate control with front and rear ducts, four-speed automatic transmission, anti-lock brakes, traction control, dual power sliding doors, alloy wheels, six-speaker sound system with CD, dual air bags, cruise control, steering wheel radio controls, eight-way power driver's seat, tilt steering, theft deterrent and power windows, locks and mirrors.

* As tested, $26,364. Adds floor mats and destination charges.

Engine

* 3.5-liter, 24-valve, V-6, developing 210 horsepower and 229 pounds-feet of torque.

Type

* Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, seven-passenger, full-size minivan.

Performance

* 0-60 mph, as tested, in 10.3 seconds.

* Top speed: 110 mph (estimated).

* Fuel consumption, city and highway, with four-speed automatic: 18 and 26 miles per gallon (Environmental Protection Agency estimates).

Curb Weight

* 4,288 pounds.

***

The Good: Bigger and better than Chrysler, the minivan marque it must now attack. All the room but none of the soggy ride of most family buses. Priced well for equipment offered, with two power sliding doors, plus adjustable, folding, removable and hideaway seats designed by Houdini. All this and Honda's legendary quality and reliability.

The Bad: No leather interior for non-vegans. External styling indicating nobody dared to be different.

The Ugly: Hey, it's a van.

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