It's been quite a while since the last time i put together a Gran Turismo car review. So, here's one, with our beloved mommymobile Honda Odyssey!

EXTERIOR and HISTORY

.....Cruising from the local shopping mall where we pick up the gang, then it's off to the ALL YOU CAN EAT special pizza bar at Bennigan's......
.....Rolling from freeway to interstate with the cruise control set at a cop-safe 68 mph, and the air-conditioning on full-blast to eradicate a summer's day.......
.....Parked at numerous locales: swimming pools, middle schools, sporting fields, and (finally) the trusty garage....

These are the typical scenes you'd most likely find the Honda Odyssey dutifully playing a part at. Am I right? Yes of course. Some of you may think I've gone mad...devoting precious internet-space and time—to test, drive, and race a MINIVAN! And yet, as soon as I saw it, I had to try the Odyssey. My curiosity was peaking. What would it be like to race a minivan instead of the typical GT coupe? Is it even POSSIBLE to drive at anything more than pedestrian speeds????!

Lately, the automotive world is full of surprises. Cars that use both electric motors in tandem with gasoline engines for power...SUVs that handle like sports cars...stuff like that. But the Odyssey takes all this a step further. I mean, LOOK AT IT. I've driven some pretty frightening vehicles in Gran Turismo. But the Mazda Demio and Honda Accord Wagon come NOWHERE CLOSE to the abomination we're about to discuss.And yet, this vehicle surprises. I mean, it REALLY surprises. Hey....it's a Honda. Just because it's rated as a 7-passenger bohemoth doesn't mean it doesn't possess typical Honda traits (accurate steering, phenomenol grip, etc); after all, it is a Honda. Then again, here we are....with a rather odd choice (to use a well-played pun) of a vehicle to have around. And once again, the questions arise—those questions some of us love to ponder. Like, what the HELL is a MINIVAN doing in our game fer crissakes? Does it have any actual use as a racing vehicle? Most of all: Can it WIN?

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Well, firstly, let's quickly dispel a bit of an illusion. There is nothing "mini" about the Honda Odyssey, nor most any other modern minivan! I mean, let's be real here. Back in the mid-'80s when Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge released their Town & Country/Voyager/Caravan models, there was an actual difference between these lighter, smaller vans and the unfriendly full-size wagons they replaced...wagons like the Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser and Ford LTD. These wagons were built on truck-like frames, sometimes based on '70s technology, while the minivans which replaced them were built with unitary construction. Even the first-generation Odyssey was significantly smaller than the one in our game (more on this in a minute).

But slowly over the past 20 years, the "minivan" has gotten bigger and heavier, often loaded with extras like dual-air climate control, automatic electric-powered doors, creature comforts formerly found only in full-size vans, and seating for 7+. And that's not to mention the all-wheel drive, traction & stability controls, and lord knows how many pounds of safety equipment & steel used to make the Odyssey more rigid.

Rated at 4,378 pounds in America (but much less in the game), the Odyssey is equipped with a 4-cylinder engine (oddly) rather than the stronger V6 3rd-generation Odyssey buyers can opt for. Perhaps since this is the Japanese version of the Odyssey, they don't get a V6 as an option? Let's find out.

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...Turns out the V6 was an option. There's a Japanese car specs site I visit which says this van could be had with a 3.0 liter V6, same as what's in many an Accord. Why don't get this in our game? As I said earlier, there's nothing "mini" about the minivan anymore. The original Caravan (with basic options) weighed in at just over 3,500 pounds folks, and had dimensions similar to a typical mid-size sedan of the times (just taller, of course). The first-generation Odyssey was even smaller & lighter. The word "minivan" is simply used to describe any vehicle with that classic Town & Country/Caravan shape (in effect, boxy, but with a sloped windshield).

"Minivan" also carries massive stigma. Like, it conjures up all sorts of modern images. Soccermoms with that "can-do" attitude. Lazy, spoiled, noisy kids in one of the back seats, fighting over the PSP. Dad sweating as he tries to figure out the damn GPS system so he can get off the damn turnpike and locate that damn Ramada Inn. Stuff like that. Nothing to do with racing. And so my questions...the same questions I've asked again and again in previous car reviews....can we race? Can we win?

Well, the first issue (and you won't need a PowerPoint presentation to realize this) is weight. As we shall see, buying Stage 1 takes care of many of our problems. 450 pounds are gone in an instant as we unbolt those rear seats (2 entire rows of them!) and remove what must be nearly an acre of material including upholstery, side-impact safety equipment, and lord knows what else. At the least, an Odyssey will weigh just 3,110 pounds, should you venture further and buy the next 2 stages. That's actually not bad. And it's just the beginning, of course. Since the Odyssey is loaded with a puny 4-cylinder (rather than the 230 hp V6), there are other issues.....

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Engine and Drivetrain


I think it's unfortunate that the Odyssey has a 2.4 liter 4 under that hood instead of the larger 3.0 liter V6 it could have had. With just 166 BHP after oil change, the inline-4 places all sorts of limits right off the bat, and makes the Odyssey unable to participate in anything other than the Sunday Cup until you heavily modify the engine. Honda's larger V6 powerplant conjures up imagery one might not think of at first: NSX-type imagery. 500+ horsepower, perhaps. Wouldn't that be fun? But forget that. We're stuck with an engine that plods weakly off the dealer's lot instead leaping away from it more proudly. Not sure why Polyphony Digital (or Honda) didn't allow us the six instead of the four. Perhaps the four (in real-life) is easier to modify when in its minivan setting? Hmmm.

The good news (well, it's sorta good) is that there are some aftermarket power-kits to be had: three naturally-aspirated kits and three turbos. The bad news? I won't waste your time: 374 horsepower with 339 foot-pounds of torque are what can be achieved at most in GT4. In a Civic or an Accord, there's a lot we'd be able to do with this; but in the Odyssey, this power is just meager...even the Clubman Cup and Japan Championship can be major struggles. After the Sunday Cup and 4-Wheel Drive Challenge, there just aren't many avenues you'll be able to take your Honda Odyssey, even after spending tens of thousands.

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GT5 cramps this one's career even shorter. The Sunday Cup and World Compact Car Challenge are far too easy for this van, whose horsepower will simply slaughter. Only during the Clubman does the Odyssey feel appropriately challenged. Good thing it's not a super-expensive vehicle, right? Furthermore, there's the transmission, which (coupled with that torqueless 4 engine, 6,000 rpm redline, and designed for fuel-pump satisfaction) is a bit on the tall side. 2nd gear in particular often bogs below 3,500 rpms just as you're scooting from many a corner. And the best solution unfortunately happens to be a full-custom racing transmission! Close gearing is way too short...even at a track like Apricot Hill or Twin Ring Motegi, 5th gear easily comes and maxes out....an extra gear is desperately needed.

GT5's situation is even worse than GT4. At least in the 4th game it's possible to hold down the 'shift' button, which keeps the car's transmission in gear. We have a choice of letting the engine now creep into its redline area, causing better acceleration. Since we can't do this in GT5, this is why the van in the previous game was significantly faster. So that's that.

Chassis and Handling

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So, how is this review going so far? Let's review. :)

1. We've got a heavy vehicle.

2. We're not sure if it truly belongs in our game.

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3. And it's also underpowered.

4. Upgrades kinda suck.

5. And the transmission (stock) is problematic.

Hmph!

Well, here's (finally) some surprising info.

Real-life car-reviewers typically LOVE the Honda Odyssey. Think I'm lying? Look up some back issues of Road & Track. Car & Driver. www.Edmunds.com. Early 1st-generation Odysseys (similar to the Isuzu Oasis) were nothing special, but the 3rd-gen version in our game is perhaps the best minivan ever built, according to many. For this generation, Honda set out to make sure the Odyssey drives with a car-like maneuverability; and in everyday settings (like on that turnpike mentioned above with the frustrated dad & his family) it mostly does drive & handle like a car, I can say this because I've driven several real Odysseys. Accurate, responsive steering, stable maneuverability....traction and stability controls eliminate most of the worry drivers used to experience as they drove thru rain, snow, and amongst cell-phone talking birdbrains. But what about in the game?

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GT4

First the good stuff. The all-wheel drive drivetrain. It is never at a loss for traction. This traction is partially aided also by all that weight + lack of power, but whatever....it's still a plus. Also, there is some understeer, but (compared to some other all-wheel drive autos) it's actually manageable. Weight transfer in corners is something to pay attention to, yet it actually takes some real lead-foot activity before the Odyssey loses it all towards the expected spin.

I have to admit, at times the front-end enters corners a bit vague with a question mark, and it'll be a struggle to keep the Odyssey pointed where you want it at these times. But remember, we're piloting a MINIVAN thru Gran Turismo! Things could be much much worse. Honda has therefore topped itself, and done the unthinkable. Also, the driven rear wheels will never become an issue...they simply aid the van out of corners; mostly you'll never notice the much-needed traction and stability they provide. Don't forget to thank them for all they silently do.

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Okay, now the bad stuff. You WILL need to brake heavily and early, otherwise, that vague understeer I mentioned above will suddenly occupy ALL of your time. The Odyssey doesn't recover well from bad driving, no surprises here. When leaving corners, understeer (although not heavy) still dominates...meaning the throttle will need to be let in carefully at times when you want to plant it. Also, the Odyssey, even though it's pretending to be a race-car, is still just a minivan. Do not forget this! Its weight will be felt as it slogs around. Stock, sports, or semi-racing suspensions are calculated with better-than-average coils, and the body-roll & diving you'd experience in a Caravan is miles away, but despite its "chuckability" in and out of corners, the Odyssey does get clumsy at its limits, just as we'd expect.

And when we go beyond those limits, things can get ugly FAST, especially if all 3 weight redutions have been applied. The front-end simply understeers; but the back-end suddenly gets prone to a very dangerous zone, for the rear will want to swing wide into a full spin once those rear tires lose their usual ho-hum grip on the road's surface. This can actually be fun at times—as the Odyssey also starts to trail-brake somewhat aggressively if you are good at approaching corners at warp speed. And then I was even able to get my mommy-wagon to get almost fully sideways at the end of some straight sections at Route 246 and Fuji in the Japanese Championship. Once the driver gets good at power sliding into those corners, the Odyssey's all-wheel drive will crawl out of them with a very high success rate. ;-)

GT5

Here I decided I'd do one of my little experiments. In this game, the Odyssey comes stock with medium radial tires instead of sports, so guess what? That's what I drove upon as I pretended to be a typical soccer mom, and not a bad-looking one if I do say so myself. Odysseys for this year did not have stability control, but they did have traction control, so this was also turned on. Everybody ready for a laugh? As I prepared the Odyssey I did so while playing the game's default classical and bossa nova music, the type of music soccer moms seem to gravitate towards, judging by what I've heard while driving their vehicles. Aren't you jealous? Only thing missing was some Christian rock, or perhaps a 'book on CD' for the kids. :)

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Drove this one around Tsukuba as I prepared for the Clubman Cup, and then switched to Route 246. Even though Cape Ring Periphery is the third track featured during the Clubman, I did not prepare for this place at all; the Ai screws up here so bad it's not worth it. First thing that's noticed is: yea, this one doesn't seem to like the turns very much. During Tsukuba's hairpins the Odyssey crawls through. Try a stab at the throttle, and you'll soon wish you hadn't as understeer is all we'll get. Sometimes it's moving so slowly here, the automatic transmission winds up dumbing down to 1st gear!

Leaving those turns, the poor minivan now struggles to make any sort of numbers. Once again, it's a shame we can't get our hands on that V6, even mom agrees. The only thing good we've got to say at this point is the fact that the Odyssey's traction is just as exemplary as it was in GT4. Despite reaching desperately down to 1st gear at least twice per lap, from here I could always drop that gas pedal like a stack of barbells, having no fear of wheelspin (not even a hint of it) showing up. If this one were a front-drive, would we still have this ability? Perhaps so, but as power is raised, we'd also lose the AWD's safety.

At Route 246, mom decided to get a little funky, and fired up Cana do Brazil on the van's CD player, making the kids cringe "not again!" And again, it was the understeer, that now relentless understeer, which caused the most pain. Brake-tap after brake-tap, re-calculation after re-calculation. The engine struggles, the van leans heavily like a one-and-a-half ton mall-shopper's nightmare, while the pit crew's best technicians wonder how in hell they're gonna get this titan-mommymobile to actually win. About the only thing good to say here in Tokyo is that brake distances aren't quite as long as they are in many other cars, but this is because this van's too slow to make them longer! Towards the end of the long Route 246 straight, I was amazed to find I'd actually cracked 100 miles per hour!

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But soccer moms are rarely perturbed. They are rarely upset by bad news. "C'mon, turn that frown upside down, you can do it!" she cheered.

.... and she's right. Soccer moms are always right, doncha know? With her pep and her cheer, the crew chief decided he'd better just follow suit ('cause mom is fucking annoying the hell out of him), and worked on mom's minivan well into the night with his crew, while mom looked forward to driving a more-powerful version of her everyday vehicle. Honda's stock suspension was traded for shocks and springs from Koni, and a closer-ratio Mugen transmission (plus better clutch & flywheel) was installed as well. Looks like mom just might have a chance. Finally, the Michelin all-seasons were tossed for some Toyo medium-grade sport racing tires.

During the race the odds (there's another pun ) were looking slim. Several strong contenders were on the grid at Tsukuba including a rear-drive Skyline and a front-drive Civic, both well-reputed races here in the Clubman Cup. But the Odyssey, and Soccer Mom persevered, despite the fact that her daughter Princess and son Anthony came along for the ride. With the two of them (plus her own self) the minivan now weighed 252 pounds more than usual, for a total of 4,000 altogether. ;-)

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Despite this, the Odyssey did quite well. It braked later into turns, and could hold better lines. Not once did it truly push in or out of Tsukuba's three hairpins, although there was some light understeer here and there. Amazingly, mom managed to catch the leading Nissan Skyline GTS-t type M being driven by S. Gaudin, but could not pass him, and it was not due to this car's handling nor its sluggish uptake. It was actually due to its size. There were several times the Odyssey could have passed some other smaller car, but it had to wait for the right moment because it's too big to squeeze through.

But overall, handling was vastly improved. Not only did mom make second place, the van itself now leans half as much as it did while turning hard. Leaning, pitching, and squatting are all much more controlled with the sports suspension in place. At Route 246, the van now had more probs with understeer, though I would rate the pushing the van exhibits somewhere between mild and average. Nothing too drastic, especially with the sports tires in place. Forced to occasionally squeeze by others with unorthodox turning lines (...the Odyssey hates unorthodox turning lines!) it was really a struggle at times. The van was driven on rumble strips several times, and also made to take outside cornering lines to get by an odd Nissan or Alfa.

But the thing is, once the traffic is clear and the Honda is able to make some classic out-in-outs, here is where it begins to shine, like a soccer ball making its goal. Steering directions are taken seriously by this van (just as they are in a CR-X or Civic), and it's easy to hold a line if there is no need to spontaneously manipulate it. There was some small body-swaying during Tokyo 246's larger switchback curvy areas, meaning that the van gets a little wide, then winds up possibly smacking a wall with its rear. Traffic could also be difficult to deal with. On the other hand, if the heavy Honda gets side-swiped or punted by another car, such actions barely make a dent. There was a moment when a competing MR2 tried to pit-maneuver mom's van, only to find it had (instead) wound up losing this battle.

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But 1st place the Honda did make, amazingly! ... passing by a front-drive Peugeot early in Lap 3, mom managed to keep the van well ahead of this hatch towards the very end, where the Pug's better power almost caught up to the behemoth Odyssey. Bu such was not to be. So....full of surprises this one is...and not all of them are bad.

PROS

1). The novelty of racing a minivan in a game packed with sports cars! The delight you may experience as you whup some ass in an Odyssey makes up for all its lacks.

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2). Power upgrades available. 3 stages each of both NA and turbos in either GT4 or 5.

3). All-wheel drive. Most of the time, it's saving our ass and keeping the Odyssey from being too ordinary. More traction than you'll ever need.

4). Maneuverability that ain't bad for a minivan. Treat the Odyssey right, and it'll turn-in & lock into corners like any typical sporty auto. Once you get used to it, the Odyssey can drive & win races with all the flair of a steroid-driven fullback in a football game, assuming the right tires and parts are equipped.

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5). 637 pounds can be removed...450 gone with Stage 1 weight reduction. in GT4

6). Limited-slip differentials? We won't need 'em. Money saved is money earned. Or money earned is saved. Something like that.

7). GT5: a decent amount of visibility available through all that glass.

CONS

1). Be sure to give plenty of brake-time. The Odyssey doesn't like surprises, and will pay back with all the understeer you'd expect if brakes aren't applied enough. Oversteer (in the form of sudden spins & back-end goofyness) happens suddenly when needing to bring this 5½-foot tall vehicle to a stop from high speeds. This is truer in GT4, oddly. ;)

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2). Sluggish acceleration & top speed. Always. ALWAYS.

3). Even with full upgrades, the 2.4 liter DOHC 4 feels gutless.

4). Heavy. Too heavy for this lack of power (even after full upgrades).

5). Stock transmission is tallish; not geared for racing. Close & super-close transmissions are both useless for 90% of racing after the Sunday Cup. Why are they 5-speeds instead of sixes?

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6). Short-career syndrome. Because of the lack of power upgrades, there aren't many races to tackle in an Odyssey. GT5 is worse than GT4, even with this one's easier set of Beginner and Pro Series races.

7). A rather low redline (6,000) considering this is a Honda we're talking about. And it's a 4 cylinder. The RPM limit also doesn't allow much action past the redline. Perhaps I'm spoiled by all the car-Hondas I've driven. GT5 won't allow us to keep the automatic tranny in gear, meaning that acceleration in this game is even worse than before.

8). Any fantasies we may have had of creating a supervan to capture the World Cup (like the Renault Espace F1 of GT2) shall be quickly squashed once we visit the parts sales department!