I'm start regretting now...
TOVA QUICK LOOK
RB1 HONDA ODYSSEY ABSOLUTE
The current Honda Odyssey is a design based on a Car+MPV concept, merging the desirable characteristic of the car ('dynamic performance and style) and the MPV (space, utility, versatility). It delivers an MPV which has the people moving capability of a good size MPV but the sleek looks of a car (or rather a large wagon) and it even drives like a car. Powered by the 160ps 2.4l K24A from the first production (outgoing) Honda Accord 2.4 i-VTEC, the Odyssey is also fitted with a 5AT equipped with sequential shifting mode. Like the Accord, Honda retained the double wishbone suspension for both front and rear suspension. The result is an MPV that gives those Honda enthusiasts who have to switch to MPV ownership for domestic reasons, a vehicle that feels more car than MPV. Suddenly an MPV feels and drives like a sedan/wagon and with similar performance as well, albeit a large and heavy one. Driving is no longer a chore, now it can sometimes even be fun.
Nevertheless, the Odyssey is still a big and heavy vehicle. On the Accord, the 160ps K24A delivers plenty of performance. But the Odyssey has over 200kg extra kerb weight. So while the K24A still manages to deliver reasonable grunt for normal driving, when the time comes for that last bit of performance, like when overtaking faster moving vehicles, it do run out of breath. The K24A's torque starts to roll off drastically after its max torque point and power delivery is sustained to only 6000prm before it too drastically drops off. Consequently on the road, the Odyssey feels sluggish in hard driving. Add to this a suspension rated highly for its performance potential (double-wishbones) but instead tuned for comfort over handling, it ultimately leads to mild disappointment for those performance-biased owners who had to covert over from Honda car ownership. This then is where the Odyssey Absolute comes in.
Honda's Absolute Concept
In the Honda line-up, the Absolute variant in their MPV/SUV is similar to the Type-R concept for their sporty models. The use of the Absolute label instead of the 'R' label is an acknowledgment of the fact that in order to extract a high enough level of performance out of an MPV or SUV to warrant the 'R' badge, it would incur way too much compromise, i.e. a true Odyssey Type-R for e.g. would be so hardcore that it would not be very much streetable as an MPV/SUV. And it also wouldn't make much sense as well. On the other hand, Honda still wishes to acknowledge that there are performance enthusiasts whom for domestic reasons, have to settle for an MPV like the Odyssey for their 'primary car'. For these enthusiasts, Honda presents the idea that driving an MPV does not necessarily have to be a dreary chore but can be fun as well. So the 'Absolute' badge signifies the Odyssey for the performance fan, to whom even when having to drive a large people moving MPV, he can still go for the 'absolute' in performance - in relation to the MPV of course.
Actually to long-time Honda fans like me, the Odyssey Absolute is more representative of another iconic Honda performance badge - the SiR badge. Thus the Odyssey Absolute is in many ways, more similar to the Civic SiR of old, a base model 'factory modified' for higher performance yet still retaining the luxuries of modern driving. For the Odyssey Absolute, this modification comes in the form of a higher-powered version of the base engine - a 200ps K24A that revs to 7000+rpm in place of the standard 160ps K24A revving to 6300rpm. To handle this power, the suspension too has been modified for better handling.
When the then new Odyssey was launched here in Malaysia back in 2004, to emphasize its MPV+Car concept, Honda Malaysia had a rather over-ambitious marketing tagline for the Odyssey - Sometimes it's a Sports Car. While the standard Odyssey do drive with a level of performance unexpected from a large MPV, of course it is nowhere near as fast as a sports-car. I remember some of the media journalists taking an exception to the tagline and then modifying it to Sometimes it's a car instead. I pointed out to Honda Malaysia that they do have a solution for that tagline problem. And that is to introduce the Odyssey Absolute into the local line-up as well. The first thing they did was to acknowledge that they know about the Odyssey Absolute, and apparently they considered it as well. Unfortunately there was one huge problem. In their infinite and utterly incomprehensible wisdom, Honda R&D has again decided to make the Absolute variant the annoying for JDM only. It was totally incomprehensive, at least to me. But that's how Honda have been with their best designs for so many years. They only finally opened up with the FD2 Civic Type-R last year.
But regardless of whether it's JDM-only or not, the Odyssey Absolute still represents a very interesting vehicle for me. During my trip to Singapore on October last year, besides meeting up with Ben to experience his Euro Civic Type-R FN2, I also met up with TOVA reader Jireh. Jireh drives a JDM RB1 Honda Odssey Absolute. Having driven and liked the standard Honda Odyssey that forms the 'officially approved' model in countries outside of Japan, the chance to experience the Odyssey Absolute was another highlight of that trip.
To understand how the Absolute fits in with the standard Odyssey, it's useful to take a look at the Odyssey line-up in Japan. In the Odyssey line-up for the JDM, Honda markets a regular version in four 'types' and the Odyssey Absolute as the top-of-the-range variant. The regular version is fitted with the 160ps version of the 2.4l K24A DOHC i-VTEC engine and mated to either a torque-converter equipped CVT gearbox, or a 5-speed automatic gearbox with sequential shifter. As normal, there are both FF and 4WD versions. The regular Odyssey is availabe in four 'types', called the Odyssey Type B, S, M and L, differing only in equipment and option. Most of the types are also optionally available with an standard bodykit, the same bodykit as that on the Absolute, in which guise they are known as 'Aero Package'. Thus Honda markets both an Odyssey M and an Odyssey M.Aero-Package, the main differentiation factor being the fitment of the bodykit.
The range-topping Odyssey Absolute on the other hand, comes in only 1 variant. The aero package bodykit is standard. It also features larger 18inch wheels fitted with 225/45 tyres. The model code is slightly different from the standard Odyssey - ABA-RB1 vs DBA-RB1 (for the FF). The official specifications for the ABA-RB1 Odyssey Absolute is listed in the table on the right. This table is derived from the official Odyssey page in the Honda Motor Co. Ltd. website (for the JDM).
Comparing the Absolute to the regular Odyssey, the biggest difference is in the engine specs. While they both carry the same 2.4l K24A engine, the one on the Absolute has been modified for higher power. VTEC is now used on both intake and exhaust cams and a 0.8 points higher compression ratio amongst other changes delivers an extra 40ps from the same 2.4l displacement. The Odyssey Absolute comes with only the sequential shifter equipped 5-spd auto. The gear ratios however remains the same as the normal version. The Absolute weighs a hefty 1,700kg while the regular Odyssey weighs between 1600kg to 1700kg, depending on option, with the Odyssey L.K-package coming in at the same weight as the Absolute.
Close Up Impressions
Jireh's Odyssey Absolute is one of the 'parallel import' units in Singapore. I.e. it is one of the many JDM units which was imported into Singapore by a parallel importer. These are sold as an 'un-official' Honda model there, against the standard Odyssey from the 'official' line-up of models from Kah Motors, the official distributor for Honda in Singapore (Honda does not have an official office in Singapore).
At first sight, the Odyssey Absolute offers a heavy and substantial look as the standard bodykit adds significant 'weight' to its looks. The large standard 18inch wheels further reinforces that look. I am used to the standard 'bare' look of the Malaysian market Odyssey so the visual impact was quite big for me. In Singapore however, Kah Motors who is the official distributor for Honda equips the Aero-Package bodykit as a standard option so in Singapore, the visual difference between the Absolute and regular Odysseys is a lot less. In fact, the only visual clue for an Odyssey Absolute would be the larger wheels as the standard 'official' Odyssey comes with 17-inch wheels. And the Absolute badges of course. These are placed at the front doors and the rear hatch gate.
Interior-wise, the Odyssey Absolute comes standard with the black-dark blue combination interior and half-leather seats. The seats are the same as those on the standard Odyssey. While the standard Odyssey comes with various options of wood finish trimmings to the interior, the Absolute comes with a blue opal based trimming.
On the dash, the steering wheel has been changed from the standard 4-spoke to a three-spoke design, still fitted with the cruise control buttons on the right hand-side. Kah Motors however fits the regular 'official' Odyssey with the same steering wheel so now the difference is only found in the instrument panel. On the Odyssey Absolute, the tact reads up to 7,100rpm, compared to 6,300rpm on the standard version. The speedo of course stops at just over 180kph as Absolutes are JDM-spec vehicles parallel imported from Japan. Other than that, the Absolute really does not project a much different look compared to the standard version, at least in Singapore.
Under the bonnet/hood, the K24A engine offers a similar look compared to the standard 160ps unit. The large black valve cover has been replaced with a white-coloured one of identical size and design. The 'i-VTEC 2.4 DOHC' plate is now in red-colour lettering instead of black. The intake manifold, partially hidden by the huge valve cover is clearly a different design, spotting much shorter runners and a larger plenium, obviously tuned for greater high-rpm air-flow. The air-filter box assembly however is the same though I didn't actually open the filter box up to see if the filter is the same or not. The Absolute's K24A is DBW (Drive-By-Wire) as well. Overall, not a very much different look considering the 40 extra horses.
Checking the larger 18" wheels, the brake rotors and calipers seems to be identical to those on the standard Odyssey. So based on just visual judgement, it would seem that Honda did not change the braking system for the Absolute. Similarly, although the suspension components have been stiffened, the ride height looks the same as well.
Jirehgenerously offered me a chance to drive his Odyssey Absolute and so I was able to get a quick impression of how the Odyssey Absolute drives. On the road, it was immediately obvious the Absolute rides quite stiffly, quite similar to as if it has been fitted with aftermarket sports springs, e.g. Eibach Prokits. Cornering therefore is much better than the regular Odyssey. The Absolute leans less and feel more stable in corners and the wider tyres also give a more planted feel. I intentionally took several corners at a higher speed that I would have with the regular Odyssey and the Absolute handled them very well, to the extent that the passengers ended up being thrown around a bit too much in their seats. So from the short drive, the upgrade in handling seemed quite significant. Interestingly, according to the specs, the Absolute has the same ground clearance as the standard Odyssey so it would seem that the Absolute wasn't lowered. So it was the combination of the re-tuned suspension coupled with the wider 225 tyres (which were also lower aspect ratio) that significantly improved the handling of the Absolute over the standard Odyssey.
In terms of engine and gearbox feel, in normal driving, the Absolute drives almost exactly like the standard Odyssey. It actually feels just that tad more sluggish compared to the standard Odyssey, probably because of the extra kerb weight (50kg heavier than the Malaysian spec'ed standard Odyssey) and the inertia from the larger wheels. The difference comes however in hard driving, where now the 200ps K24A comes alive. That extra 700+rpm in the rev range makes a huge difference when it matters. During sustained WOT runs, like overtaking for e.g. 700+ extra in rpm can be very drastic indeed, especially when in the taller gears, like 3rd gear. The engine feels like it will pull forever and with that extra 40ps is able to sustain the pull, unlike the standard engine which clearly loses breath at 6000rpm. It is exactly the kind of characteristic that endears Honda's VTEC engines to its huge army of fans.
At full throttle, the K24A delivers sonically as well. To Honda enthusiasts, a good sounding engine is an important aspect of 'performance' driving, even when in an MPV and the Absolute's K24A does not dissappoint in this case, eventhough the nice sound has been muted by quite a bit (remember, Absolute means performance with luxury, not outright hardcore performance like the Type-R).
But other than the better engine omph at high rpms and the firmer suspension and much better handling, the Odyssey Absolute really feels very similar to the standard Odyssey. Honda did not do the weight lightening exercise on the Absolute as they did with their Type-Rs so the Absolute is as quiet as the standard version. The seats are sits similarly and even the steering did not feel significantly different. In many ways, what Honda has delivered with the Odyssey Absolute would be similar to what the performance enthusiast would do when mildly modifying a standard version. Only that this one is done by Honda.
Overall, the brief experience gives me the impression that the Odyssey Absolute performs quite significantly higher than the standard Odyssey, which it should given the extra 40 horses and a sports tune suspension. Comfort of course will be compromised but then the person who opts for the Odyssey Absolute should be attracted exactly by its sporty tuning and so would know what to expect.
I think the Odyssey Absolute would be a great addition to the Odyssey line-up in all of the countries which features the Odyssey in their domestic line-up. It offers the performance enthusiasts who are 'forced' to drive a large people mover for domestic reasons a choice where they have the people moving capability and yet still get more than decent performance as well (for a big SUV).
It's a great pity that Honda has in their infinite wisdom again decided to make the Odyssey Absolute one of the many annoying 'JDM-only' models. I suppose this is not going to go down very well with Honda but I have to point out that even if Honda decides to keep the Odyssey Absolute to themselves in Japan, many of us do have the option of the parallel importers. So if you have to get a people mover for domestic reasons but still have the performance fire burning inside you, and if you have the budget for it, the Odyssey Absolute might be something worth considering.
© Temple of VTEC Asia