During a recent visit to Japan, I once again I had the opportunity to sample some of Honda's finest hardware on the winding road course at their R&D facility in Tochigi. This time around the menu was a little abbreviated: Integra Type R, Civic Type R, and the sharp new minivan/wagon Odyssey Absolute. Since we've already reported on the Civic and Integra Type R experience, this account will focus on the Odyssey.
The "Absolute" is currently the sportiest version of the Odyssey available in Japan. Combining aggressively stylish 17" wheels with relatively low profile 215/55-17 tires and a tasteful ensemble of exterior styling enhancements, the Absolute strikes a more masculine stance than your average minivan. The sleek styling and low height (the Odyssey Absolute is only about 3 inches taller than the Japanese-market Accord Wagon) lend the vehicle quite a physique.
The sporty theme continues inside the vehicle, where an upscale cockpit coddles occupants. The (optional) Recaro front seats are nicely bolstered and quite comfortable. The gauge cluster is reminiscent of the US-market Accord Coupe V6 6-speed's, with LED-illuminated red markings - definitely designed to create a sporty ambiance. Key controls fall readily to hand, with the dash-mounted shifter a short reach to the left of the relatively meaty 3-spoke steering wheel. In the rear of the vehicle, you'll find two more rows of seats, with accomodations for 3 in the middle row, and another 2 passengers in the last row. These seats tumble and fold to create a relatively flat cargo area. Of particular interest is the power operated third row seat, which at the push of a button folds itself neatly into the floor (see video clip below)
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The Absolute is motivated by a 2.4L DOHC i-VTEC motor, generating 200ps@6800 rpm and 23.7Kg·m (171 lb-ft) @ 4500 rpm. The sole transmission choice is a 5-speed automatic with sequential sport shift function. This combination is smooth and revvy. On the track I played around with the sportshift briefly but due to the nature of the circuit's layout and the unnatural feel of "shifting" left-handed, the automatic mode remained the best choice for me. The transmission was quick to respond and always found the appropriate ratio but the fairly steady speeds around the circuit didn't present much of a challenge. Acceleration was reasonable, but power-hungry shoppers in the US might not be too impressed. A rough estimate would peg the 0-60 time in the upper 8-second to lower 9-second range, or about a second slower than the much larger US-market Odyssey.
From a chassis dynamics standpoint, the Absolute is quite good, but it won't likely be confused for a sport sedan. Body roll is moderate and grip is pretty impressive, with nicely weighted steering. Tochigi's winding road course really only has two sections with quick transitions, and the Odyssey's 4-wheel double wishbone setup responded nicely in these segments, though you could certainly sense its added mass when compared to the Integra and Civic Type Rs that were also sampled. In the one segment where speeds approached (and possibly exceeded) 100mph, the Absolute remained stable at the limit, although a family-friendly dose of understeer was the name of the game. The first time I experienced this understeer, it caught me a little offguard, but fortunately there was just enough tarmac to keep from going off.
The Odyssey Absolute is an interesting vehicle and it would be a nice option to have in the US, but I imagine it would not be a volume seller. There have been reports that Acura is considering adding a "premium people mover" to their lineup, and as it sits, the Absolute is already trimmed and styled to Acura standards. However, it needs a little more power and I'd like to see a more aggressive suspension calibration.