Although Honda claims a major update for its 2008 Honda Odyssey minivan, the results look to us like a minor facelift, just a little work around the eyes and mouth but the same old body. The front of the car exhibits some modern touches around the headlights and grille, but the bulk of the car looks at home in the '90s. For the real updates, we have to look in the cabin electronics and under the hood. This new Odyssey gets Honda's Bluetooth hands-free cell phone system and a new rear seat DVD screen. Likewise, the engine gets added fuel savings from a refined cylinder deactivation system, which can cut the six-cylinder engine down to three cylinders when loads are low.
Test the tech: The Odyssey
"Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy."
Based solely on a loose name reference, we decided to take the 2008 Honda Odyssey on a heroic quest. Then we realized Quest is the name of a Nissan minivan, so we opted for an epic journey. We set a course in the navigation system for Ithaca, but found that the trip from California to New York would cover 2,797 miles and take 39 hours of solid driving. Fortunately, we found an Ithaca Street much closer in Union City, Calif., just about an hour's drive south.
"...on the tenth day we reached the land of the Lotus-eaters, who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower."
Attempting to follow the classical route, we found an address just south of San Francisco for the Purple Lotus Society. We entered it into the navigation system using the car's voice command, which proved tedious as we had to spell out the street name, and the voice command had trouble recognizing our pronunciation of each letter. But after some tribulation, the navigation system guided us to our lotus eaters in about 20 minutes, rather than the 10 days in the original epic. Not finding any flowers to eat, we continued on.
Our journey took us past the mighty Cyclops, which we saw on a distant hill, although it might have just been a big radio telescope. Either way, we escaped it by driving fast down the freeway, where the Odyssey offered a very comfortable ride. It also proved economical, with the trip computer showing mileage on the plus side of 20 mpg. The car has a green Eco light that shows up on the speedometer when cylinder deactivation kicks in. This system can shut down two or three cylinders depending on the driving conditions. Active noise cancellation and a special engine mount system make the engine transitions transparent in the cabin.
"...when they had drunk she turned them into pigs by a stroke of her wand, and shut them up in her pigsties."
Looking for our crewmen-turned-pigs, we went to Deer Hollow Farm, located in the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, for which we found an address in the navigation system under the Recreation category. Unfortunately, the location it directed us to, while on the edge of the preserve, wasn't an official entrance and had no parking. We got the name of the road that leads to the Preserve's parking area from a map, then found that road on the Odyssey's navigation system. We input our destination directly on the navigation system map using a little joystick-enter button, our least favorite way of using navigation systems. When we found the pigsties, there was one of our crewmembers looking contented as he drank from a hose.
We left him and drove on to Ithaca. The navigation system guided us unerringly to this final destination on our journey, and there was much rejoicing. The Odyssey did in just a couple of hours what took Odysseus 10 years, although we found similar tribulations on the way.
In the cabin
Our skepticism about the update of the 2008 Honda Odyssey's exterior continued in the cabin when we got a look at the navigation and audio systems. Where the new Honda Accord got a controller similar to what we've seen in models from Acura, the Odyssey is saddled with an interface from older Honda models. The navigation system is controlled by voice command, touch screen, and a joystick-enter button. The audio system can be controlled with the touch screen as well, or with the duplicate controls further down on the stack. These audio controls get their own ugly green and black radio display. Although we like being able to glance down and see the current track playing while the LCD shows navigation, the design makes the LCD look like an afterthought, as if the radio controls were already there and Honda shoe-horned in the navigation system later.