Greg A. Godsell
As of press time, the 1999 Honda Minivan is without a name. Don't be fooled, this will be no anonymous player in the minivan market. Honda has designed an all-new minivan with many distinguishing characteristics:
New performance standards are set with the inclusion of a 200hp+ V-6, four-wheel independent suspension, large tires and a wide stance.
The utility content is high with generous dimensions, four doors, clever 2nd and 3rd row seating, and the ability to haul plywood.
A distinctive new look is utilized that follows the styling lead of the all-new Accord.
Honda's current minivan, the Odyssey, is a niche vehicle that bridged from the passenger car market that Honda knew well into the unfamiliar territory of the light truck. The often-criticized Odyssey was never a major player in the market. However, it did find a home with Honda customers who also were tentatively entering the minivan market.
The unnamed minivan (word has it that Odyssey is likely to stick) will go on sale this fall as a 1999 model. Assembled in Alliston, Ontario, Honda's 7 passenger, front-wheel drive minivan will be offered in one long wheelbase, four-door body configuration with two trim levels, LX and EX.
The base LX model is equipped with standard equipment such as powered windows/locks/mirrors, dual air conditioners, privacy glass, and intermittent wipers. The EX adds powered actuation to the sliding doors and a keyless entry system in addition to color/upholstery changes.
Honda maintains that the V6 powering the minivan will be the most powerful on the market. This puts Honda in contention with the current leader, Windstar, somewhere in the neighborhood of 200hp. The V-6 will only be mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 complies with California's light truck low emission vehicle (LEV) standards.
The front-wheel drive minivan features standard anti-locking brakes and Honda's usual four-wheel independent suspension. Tires are 215/65R16. The front and rear tracks measure 66.1 and 66.2 inches respectively. This is exceptionally wide compared to the next closest vehicle, the Windstar, at 64.3/63.0. Given the engine and suspension attention driving dynamics should be exceptional for a vehicle of this type and size.
The minivan features 7 passenger seating with some nice touches in seating ergonomics. Front buckets are standard. Second row seating consists of two independent chairs that can either be mounted in the outboard positions as captain's chairs or in the interior position to form a bench seat. This allows mounting of child safety seats in the middle of the 2nd row seating. Similar to the current Odyssey the minivan features a third-row 'magic' seat that can fold flush into the floor of the cargo area. All 7 seating positions feature 3-point belts and headrests.
As is typical in most minivans, there are 9 cupholders, individual lighting and climate controls with central control. The interior arrangement and dimensions are generous enough to allow a 4x8 sheet of plywood to be carried either on the floor or on top of the folded seats.
This minivan is deceptive in size looking much smaller then its dimensions reveal. In fact, it is the largest vehicle that Honda has ever sold. Comparisons of the specifications show a vehicle that equals or bests the dimensions of every vehicle in the class including the Ford Windstar, the long-wheelbase Chrysler minivans and the long-wheelbase General Motors minivans.
The minivan is handsomely styled and as promised looks nearly identical to the MV-99 concept vehicle shown at Detroit in January. The overall shape favors the chiseled appearance of the Accord rather than the rounded organic shapes of other minivans on the market.
Four doors are standard equipment. The EX model receives dual power sliding doors that can be activated by key fob, interior controls or by using the handle. Door tracks for the sliding doors are on the fenders rather than the integrated into the windows as is typical with the latest models. The center windows are fixed, and the rear windows flip out by electric control.
The Honda Minivan seems poised for success. However, its fate rests upon two other factors yet to be revealed: crash test performance and pricing. If Honda can avoid the price premium of the Toyota Sienna and duplicate the safety record of the Windstar, this minivan will sell very well. This is one minivan we are anxious to drive.