Considering what's at stake in this segment, Honda's development philosophy for the 2005 Odyssey comes as no surprise. They decided early on that it would be best to build upon the 2nd generation Odyssey's many strengths. How to do that? Let's just say that it's a pretty simple exercise to compare the 2004 Odyssey to some of its newer competitors and figure out where it comes up short.
While a casual glance at the 2005 Odyssey might lead one to assume that it's a modest reskin with a lengthened list of equipment, the differences and improvements are numerous. First of all, Honda waged a campaign against NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness). The improvement in this area is startling. Secondly, Honda's engineers set out to further enhance the Odyssey's chassis dynamics, specifically targeting the feel of a European sedan. In fact, the engineers' benchmark for the 2005 model was to emulate the feel of the BMW 745. In pursuit of this lofty goal (not to mention safety objectives), the chassis was completely redesigned, with convincing results. On the inside of the vehicle, upgrades abound, creating a much more luxurious and convenient environment for driver and passengers. And last, but not least, the Odyssey's safety features are second to none, headed off by Honda's ACE body structure, and continuing the list with standard VSA, dual front airbags, front side airbags, 3-row side curtain airbags with rollover sensors, available run-flat tires, and best in class crash test results put the 2005 Odyssey clearly in the lead of its segment.
From a features standpoint, the current minivan script basically calls for 60/40 hideaway 3rd row seats, dual power sliding doors with windows that roll down, power liftgate, dual front, side, and side curtain airbags, cupholders galore, and more nooks and crannies than once thought possible. The 2005 Odyssey answers these calls.
While Honda introduced the "magic" 3rd row seat (an industry first) 2 generations ago, (on the '95 model Odyssey), it took forever for the competition to upstage this innovation. Eventually they managed to do so by splitting the folding seat 60/40. Sure enough, Honda's 2005 "magic" 3rd row seat pulls this 60/40 trick, but now you can make the seat disappear in a single step. And with the aid of springs, the amount of effort to operate the mechanism has been dramatically reduced (by nearly three-fold). Very handy and a true advance.
Moving up the ranks to the 2nd row seating area, Honda keeps things simpler, choosing not to answer Chrysler's "Stow N Go" fold-into-the-floor seats, nor even Nissan's "tumble foward and sorta flat" design. This decision isn't necessarily a bad thing, as Honda's full-size 2nd row chairs are much more comfortable than the thin-cushioned and down-scaled Chrysler "Stow N Go" units. The Chrysler guys are quick to point out that the "Stow N Go" system creates useful storage space under the floor (where the seats fold into). Honda sort of has an answer for this, in the form of a midship storage well. In '99-'04 model Odysseys, this well housed the spare tire. On '05 Odyssey models, Honda relocated the spare tire to the left wall of the cargo area and in its place (on EX and Touring models) dropped a "Lazy Susan" into it. On Powerpoint slides this seems like it might be useful, but in reality, access to this storage doesn't seem very handy, particularly once the vehicle is underway.
We're not quite done with the 2nd row yet. Here, EX models get a "PlusOne" seat that wedges in between the two 2nd row chairs, providing "8-passenger" capacity. If this 8th passenger happens to be the Keebler Elf, or perhaps a Bichon Frise, you're in luck. Otherwise you'll probably find that the odd little piece just gets in the way. "PlusOne" is far too generous of a moniker - "PlusZeroPointFour" is a lot more accurate, but it admittedly doesn't roll off the tongue quite as well. Clear a spot for it in your garage or attic. Supposedly it will stow into the Lazy Susan well, but that means you have to remove the Lazy Susan, so why bother? If you spring for the Touring model, in place of the "PlusOne", you'll gets a far more useful removable console, which has the added benefit of bumping the cupholder count up into nosebleed territory. Let's pause for a moment and count 'em up: One, Two...[yawn]...Eleven... SEVENTEEN! Yikes! All those cupholders and yet no lavatory. Well, they have to save something for the 2011 models. Oh, one more thing: the 2nd row captains chairs now tilt and slide forward with the pull of a single lever, providing much improved ingress/egress to the third row seats.