Home » Unusual Little Vans: 1996 Honda Odyssey vs 2007 Mazda 5

Unusual Little Vans: 1996 Honda Odyssey vs 2007 Mazda 5

Sbsd 2 23 2024
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Happy Friday, Autopians! Boy, am I glad to see the backside of this week. I didn’t feel like doing a shootout this week, so instead, I’ve just got a couple of strange little minivans for you. They’re just the thing for a quick weekend getaway with five or six of your closest friends.

But before we hit the road, we should see who won yesterday’s ’80s battle of the bands. It looks like the L7 ran away with it. I can see the appeal, but personally, if I’m going through all the trouble of freshening up an ’80s BMW, it’s going to be a stickshift. I’ll take the “slow” Camaro instead… and peel off the cringey bumper sticker before I even drive home.

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Oh, and by the way, at least one of you understood what the best music video ever to feature a square-body Panther was. For the rest of you: listen all y’all, it’s a Sabotage. (Quick aside, speaking of “Sabotage” and bumper stickers, since it’s Friday, and what else have you got to do? One of the best bumper stickers I ever saw was on a Mitsubishi Mirage, right above the nameplate on the back. It just said “OH MY GOD IT’S A”. I wish I could have gotten a photo; it was glorious.)

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We like minivans around here, as you may have noticed. Mostly, we like cheap beat-to-hell minivans. But sometimes, a mere Caravan or Astro just won’t do. Even a stickshift Aerostar is too plebian. Sometimes you need to get weird. But, you know, good weird, not Vanagon weird. Don’t worry; I have just the thing. Or things, rather. Here they are.

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1996 Honda Odyssey – $2,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.2 liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Oregon City, OR

Odometer reading: 184,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives great

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Honda was late to the minivan party, and from what I’ve read, upper management had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the market. The first Odyssey was developed by an “underground” team, and what they came up with was nothing like any other minivan on the market. Based on the Accord, and featuring four regular front-hinged doors rather than sliding rear doors, the Odyssey was a bit of a flop. The people who love them really love them, and tend not to put them up for sale, making this a rare listing indeed.

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The first-gen Odyssey shared its drivetrain with the contemporary Accord, meaning a 2.2 liter four-cylinder paired with an overdrive automatic, column-shifted in a slight nod to more traditional vans. This one runs and drives well, and recently had its valve cover gasket replaced. The seller says the air conditioning still works fine, which is a nice bonus in a cheap car.

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It’s in nice condition inside, especially for the mileage. Minivans this age are often trashed inside, but this one looks pretty good. The carpet is a bit discolored, but the seat upholstery is in nice condition. In fact, the middle seat hardly looks used at all. The rear seat on these folds into the floor, for additional cargo space; I imagine it’s pristine as well.

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Outside, it looks pretty good. There’s a little bit of clearcoat peeling, but it’s mostly shiny, and more importantly, not rusty. Honda still had a nasty rust problem into the 90s, and it’s not uncommon to see Accords of this era with significant rust in the rear wheel arches. I don’t see any signs of that here, but a look underneath is not a bad idea.

2007 Mazda 5 Sport – $2,450

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.3 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Portland, OR

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Odometer reading: 153,000 miles

Operational status: Doesn’t say, but I’m going to presume it at least runs and drives

Mazda marched to its own drummer in the early days of the minivan as well. The first-generation MPV was rear-wheel-drive, and had conventional doors like the early Odyssey. Later MPVs followed the transverse V6/two sliding doors formula established by the Dodge Caravan and copied by everyone else. But minivans grew throughout the 1990s and early 200s, and weren’t so “mini” anymore. There was room in the market for a smaller offering. Enter the Mazda 5 (or, officially, Mazda5, but I hate how that looks).

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Officially a “wagon” according to Mazda, ane meant to compete against other tall wagons like the Toyota Matrix, the 5 has sliding doors on both sides, as well as three rows of seats. I’d call that a van. It’s powered by the ubiquitous MZR four-cylinder engine, in this case powering the front wheels through a five-speed automatic with a manual gate on the shifter. But who ever bothers? If you want a stick, get a stick. For this, just throw it in D and be done with it.

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This 5 is for sale at one of the dozens of used car lots up and down Southeast 82nd Avenue here in Portland, and this particular dealership is going out of business. You could probably throw a lowball offer at them and score a deal on this car, if you walk in and wave cash in their faces. However, don’t expect any maintenance history; assume the worst, and give it a good going-over when you get it home.

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It looks OK, both inside and out, but the hubcaps are missing in action. I appreciate the fact that they didn’t slap some ugly plastic Wal-Mart wheel covers on it; honestly I’d rather have the plain steelies. It also comes with a Thule roof rack, which I personally would immediately remove and sell; I’m not a fan.

So that’s it for this week! For next week’s showdowns, I’m open to suggestions. Are there particular cars you’d like me to look for? Specific cars I should feature? Places I should look? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Grey alien in a beige sedan
Grey alien in a beige sedan
3 months ago

The Odyssey, named after the epic poem by Homer (NOT the one that says “D’oh!”), gets my vote. What is the 5 named after? An episode of Sesame Street? This was the Mazda too heavy for Zoom-Zoom back in it’s day, so my money is on the Honda.

Sarah Blikre
Sarah Blikre
3 months ago

It’s 2 more Mazda than 3 and one less Mazda than 6

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
3 months ago

If I were to actually purchase a version of either of these it would have to have a manual transmission and that would eliminate the Odyssey as they never did. However, as this competition stands, the Mazda5 looks to have been used harder — and it’s white. The sliding doors are its only plus (to me). If I’m forced to choose, have to take the Honda, today, and it would take force.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
3 months ago

This is a tough choice.

The 5 is newer, and on the west coast it isn’t rusty. It has a timing chain. Same suspension as the Mazdaspeed 3.

The 90s Ody is legendary and awesome. However, it is a bit older and has a timing belt. No indication of when it was last serviced.

The biggest unknown is the timing belt on the Honda, so I vote for the 5.

Frank Wrench
Frank Wrench
3 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

Same suspension as the Mazdaspeed 3″ is the main problem with the 5. I learned a bit late to buy only the best replacements parts as even those were barely adequate. We had a cargo rack and loaded it like a Sherpa so YMMV

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
3 months ago
Reply to  Frank Wrench

You can get Bilstein or Koni shocks for that Mazda 3/5 tho, and maybe downsize to smaller wheels with bigger sidewall tires, and you’ll have better ride quality 🙂

Sarah Blikre
Sarah Blikre
3 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

The only problem is the first few years of the 5 can have issues with stretched timing chains and worn out VVT actuators. I just had my VVT replaced and it’s not cheap. Other than that they’re good engines but the I’d say the Honda F-series is just a little more reliable.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

Same suspension as the Mazdaspeed 3.

Which is a bit of a fixable problem.

1) Replace the tire chewing rear fixed angle upper control arms with adjustable ones out of a Ford Focus. Don’t worry, they bolt right in. Adjust the camber to 0. Done.

2) If you hear knocking and banging from the front suspension check the torque on the strut nuts. They tend to loosen over time such that the struts come unloaded under compression and on rebound make noise.

They do have a few other known issues like chewing up passenger side motor mounts and a sometimes rough idle but those are cheap and easy fixes too.

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
3 months ago

I like the hinged doors on the Honda. My ’05 Odyssey has sliding doors and they are nothing but trouble. The sliders break a couple times a year and I disconnected the power motors as they’re broken and replacements are $800/each.

Otherwise a fantastic car. I’m contemplating a 6-speed manual swap from an Acura to make it a little more interesting. VTEC, yo!

World24
World24
3 months ago

It shouldn’t have taken me a literal day to realize the reference that BMW had yesterday, considering the song is one I love to listen to in GTA:SA.
That’s a little bit embarrassing tbh.

Memphomike
Memphomike
3 months ago

Had to put my $0.02 in on this one cuz I’ve owned both for long enough to test their reliability.
Traded Odyssey after 10 years because birds had done a number on the paint, but it was still going strong mechanically. Wife still waxes nostalgic about “her van” that we never should have gotten rid of.
Dumped Mazda5 on a dealer for minimal value during trade for Subaru after the suspension and axles failed, hydraulic engine mount puked its fluid, transmission burned the control module up and fried internally. Exact opposite of the Honda as body and interior were still perfect, but mechanicals were rubbish. I honestly thought it was the coolest minivan configuration made as it looked good and drove like a sport sedan, but the reliability sucked.
Odyssey for the win.

Outofstep
Outofstep
3 months ago

I voted Mazda mostly because I miss the MPV.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
3 months ago

Go with the Odyssey as your cargo pig because Hondas of that era are damn near bulletproof. The more American market appropriate Odyssey that followed it is notorious for transmission problems. Go with the Mazda for moving passengers because it has modern safety features to keep those passengers alive. I voted for the Mazda, but it’s nearly a toss up to me.

Last edited 3 months ago by IRegertNothing, Esq.
Forbestheweirdo
Forbestheweirdo
3 months ago

The problem with using the Mazda for passengers is that it only seats 6. All three rows are only 2 seaters. If they had a middle row that sat 3 I would own one but with 3 kids it means no storage space at all since I’d need all three rows

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
3 months ago

Mazda. Decent little ride, useful, okay driver.

Given that the dealer is going away, I’d be very careful about things like title transfer and any statements related to condition. A good candidate for a Carfax, I guess.

Both being automatics means somewhat diminished interest. I’ve driven a boatload of manual Hondas and Mazdas, and would prefer to shift for myself as a result.

DDayJ
DDayJ
3 months ago

Going w/ the 5 for two reasons. I had a new one as a rental back when this one was new and remember my initial reaction was “aw man, a minivan”, and then being pleasantly surprised w/ how fun it was to drive. Second, my neighbor has had one for close to 10 years and it’s given them minimal problems. And they aren’t nice to it.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
3 months ago

I’ll go on an Odyssey, but I will avoid Scylla and Charybdis.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
3 months ago

Odyssey van. It’s like an Accord wagon, except more useful.

Data
Data
3 months ago

Ah yes, front hinged rear doors on a minivan. Nice long doors that would make a 70’s Cadillac weep. Perfect for the kiddos to throw open with abandon into the adjacent vehicles. I’m going to go for the decade newer Mazda.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
3 months ago

Neither one comes with sonar, so I flipped a coin and ended up with the Mazda5

Frank Wrench
Frank Wrench
3 months ago

Still have our 2010 Mazda 5 with a 5 speed manual, still love it, though it’s pretty rusted out and too small for our family of 5 plus big dog now. I went on a rant the other day about its high maintenance suspension so I won’t repeat it here.

It was the only new car we ever bought and only $16k.

Last edited 3 months ago by Frank Wrench
Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
3 months ago

Back when we were shopping for a minivan, we looked at the Mazda5. We found one with a 5-speed manual, which is the preferred transmission of my wife (she’s a keeper), but unfortunately as fun as it was to drive, it was just a tad too small inside for our growing family. We ended up with an Odyssey which has been serving us faithfully for many, many years now. I still voted for the Mazda5.

Jbavi
Jbavi
3 months ago
Reply to  Squirrelmaster

We have a pretty parallel story here, had “decided” on a 5 until we saw how cramped the third row would be when the 3rd kid arrived and took over the middle row. So we ended up with an Odyssey and have zero regrets, but will always be happy to see a 5 on the road (and on here to earn my vote)

PresterJohn
PresterJohn
3 months ago

The 5s with the manual are way more fun to drive than they have a right to be. Even with the auto, I’ll take the 5. However, a thorough rust inspection is also in order for the 5 along with the front suspension components which are somewhat overstressed in this vehicle.

Protodite
Protodite
3 months ago

Odyssey all the way. When my family got ours in 1997, it was sold as a Tall Car. It was family duty for years until we didn’t need the space and branched out, but it is still around. I used to not like it for a while, but since reaching true, conscious adulthood I have realized how absolutely perfect the car is. I use it regularly to haul stuff around, pick up and transport furniture for work, take my bike out to meet up for a ride, honestly anything. I have developed a deep understanding and appreciation for what 90s Honda did with it, and it’s just perfect.

Keith Hunt
Keith Hunt
3 months ago

Went with the Honda as it looks like it has had an easier life but really either would be appealing – this particular Mazda5 does give a mild vibe of deferred maintenance. But if it were a 5 speed manual on the Mazda…might just have swayed me

Totally not a robot
Totally not a robot
3 months ago

I have a hard time calling the Honda a van with its boring, normal front-hinged doors.

But I also like the Mazda more. There’s something so perfect about a small vehicle with ginormous doors and interior volume.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
3 months ago

We had a Mazda5 for several years to transport my wife, myself, and our 3 young kids. It was great, but a little tight for road trips and runs to Sam’s. The kids loved it, and my wife, who is NOT a car person, still talks about it fondly.

I’d gladly have another, so I voted Mazda5!

Scone Muncher
Scone Muncher
3 months ago

Tech question: I never see the vote button on these articles. I have uBlock disabled for this site… not sure what’s up. Firefox 122.0 if that helps.

ANYWAY – Mazda 5. I was thiiiiis close to buying a manual one in ~2012 but I got scared off by the fact that the model was on the chopping block. I have some ragerts.

David Smith
David Smith
3 months ago
Reply to  Scone Muncher

You might have to scroll down in the vote module to see the vote button.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
3 months ago

That Honda is the well cut, quiet-pattern flannel shirt of minivans.

And I don’t even need to try it on.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
3 months ago

They’re both good dogs, Brent, but I’m almost always going to vote for the Honda in any SBSD. Besides, the extreme limo tint on the Mazda5 makes me worry about what all happened back there. We’ll take the Odyssey and name it “Argo.”

Beasy Mist
Beasy Mist
3 months ago

I have always wanted a Mazda5 since they came out. Just not this one. There’s something about that microvan that just appeals to me.

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
3 months ago
Reply to  Beasy Mist

I’ve always liked the 5 as well. Perfectly sized, IMHO, and available with a manual (though not many of those were made). And, honestly, I liked the two MPVs before it. I voted for the 5 here.

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