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27 September 2012

An American Odyssey | 2012 Honda Odyssey 3.5L V6 AT

Words by Niky Tamayo | Photos by Ken Tamayo 
Fans of the brand and the car in the Philippines have been clamoring for the Odyssey for decades. Well, it’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally here. Strangely, this isn’t the Odyssey any of us pictured coming in. Don’t be fooled by the Japanese logo, this one’s an American mini-van through and through. Designed, built, and sold in America. While this American focus has reaped it great sales and accolades in the US, the concept and execution are radically different from the Odyssey’s Asian market competitors. Well, if you can’t have a market segment all to yourself, sometimes it pays to make your own.
If Lamborghini built minivans, they’d probably look a little like the Odyssey. It’s long, low, and as wide as a bus. Body lines are sharp, and are offset nicely by muscular fenders wrapped around huge 235/65 R17 tires. Unlike the previous Odyssey, which was sharper and sleeker, this new one is a bit more square-ish. While the styling is a bit restrained, the Odyssey drew its fair share of compliments. Even those unfamiliar with the model recognized it as something special.
American Chic
The Odyssey’s subdued interior exudes an aura of quality. Materials are top notch, and the dashboard and control layout are ergonomically perfect. Some might quibble over the lack of a touch screen console, but the intuitive command dial is easier to use than most fiddly touch-screens. True to its “soccer mom” roots, the Odyssey features extra wide rear benches instead of the more typical captain’s chairs and a trunk big enough to fit a weekend’s worth of sports equipment, plus one or two more kids. 
All benches are wrapped in durable yet amazingly, comfortably supple leather, though the cargo-friendly fold-flat backrests recline at an awkward angle. Suffice to say, the family driver won’t be sleeping inside the car, not unless he lays out on the rear bench.
Mighty Motorvation 
This big van’s headliner is its big heart. That 260 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 is powerful and full of character. It’s gentle when you feather the gas pedal and brutal when you throttle it. The VCM (Variable Cylinder Management) system turns off up to half the cylinders to save gas. When the green “ECO” light is on, the big lump sips gas like a 1.8 liter engine. Unfortunately, you’ll only feel the benefits of VCM on the highway. In traffic, fuel economy is only marginally better than other big sixes, thanks largely to the Odyssey’s considerable weight and the long-geared five speed automatic. Expect 3.5 to 6 km/L in traffic and 10-14 km/L on the highway. Perhaps 16 km/L is possible on the NLEX, but it’ll take a very light right foot to get there.
The Light-footed Leviathan
If Lamborghini built minivans, they’d probably drive a little like the Odyssey. Or maybe not, as the North American Odyssey doesn’t get all-wheel drive. Still, it’s pretty darn good. The steering is light yet responsive, and despite some initial body roll, it corners with confidence. While it initially feels more stodgy and lumbering than the Alphard, it drives better when pushed hard. It even drives better than some sedans. 
The van’s heft helps smother road imperfections on the highway, making it a superb long distance cruiser. Unfortunately, while this fat man can dance a lovely jig, Philippine roads are a crowded dance floor. The corner parking sensors were going off non-stop in traffic, as the Odyssey is wider than what the MMDA laughingly considers a “lane.” It’s a good thing those sensors come standard, otherwise it’d be impossible to make it out of the mall parking lot alive.
Going the extra mile
While GPS navigation and HIDs are sorely lacking, and the featured cruise control is redundant on Manila streets, Honda tries hard to justify the price tag. Things like power sliding doors, parking camera, and Bluetooth tethering are expected here, and the Odyssey doesn’t disappoint. There’s a sunroof up front, a cooler box and more cupholders, and power sockets than you can shake a stick at. Perhaps the biggest tick in the pro-box is the commendable performance of the sub-woofer equipped sound system. 
There’s the overwhelming feeling that unlike its Asian-made rivals, the Odyssey is made for the self-driven family man. It’s perfect for munching away the miles at high speeds in perfect comfort, whether on the interstate or down a mountain road. At P2.8 million, it’s on the pricey side, but it exudes an air of quality that transcends class. That it was mistaken for an Infiniti or an Acura by curious onlookers speaks volumes for its curb appeal. Honda probably won’t sell many of these vans this year, but those lucky few who take the plunge won’t be disappointed.