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2018 Honda Odyssey Test Drive Review
Honda debuts the 5th-generation Odyssey for 2018 with a slew of upgrades to an already successful formula.
It’s everything you want from a redesigned minivan: more features, better handling, improved versatility and more power. For its 5th generation, the Odyssey brings the usual evolutionary improvements coupled with some revolutionary innovations Honda hopes will open the eyes of a whole new generation to the benefits of the van life.
Look and Feel
The Honda Odyssey has always been a slightly unconventional choice in the minivan segment. Originally based on the Accord, it has continually offered a more engaging ride than the competition. Of course, that’s not a terribly difficult bar to hurdle for a minivan, but that’s never dissuaded Honda from trudging up that particular hill, and 2018 is no different. With improved handling, more power and some exciting updates in the convenience and capability department, the Odyssey remains a top choice, as long as you don’t need all-wheel drive (AWD) in your van.
While it rolls on the same 118-inch wheelbase as the last generation, this year the Odyssey is 0.3 inches longer, 0.7 inches narrower and 1.2 inches taller, while curb weight has dropped 75 pounds. Honda attributes this to the use of additional ultra-high-strength steel, aluminum and magnesium in construction, which is claimed to improve structural rigidity by 44% at the same time. Additionally, new steering and suspension designs aim to build on the increased rigidity to improve handling and precision while cornering.
With an MSRP just $10 short of 30 grand, the base LX is as simple an Odyssey as you can get but still offers 18-inch alloys, push-button start, auto climate control, power front seats and a reversing camera. There are the usual add-ons here like Bluetooth and USB input for the infotainment system, which is centered around a small, 5-inch screen, and every Odyssey gets the same 3.5-liter, 280-hp V6, with either a ZF 9-speed or new, Honda 10-speed automatic. But in 2018, I think most buyers will start with the EX trim to take advantage of some of the features that are quickly becoming an assumption, even for base trims.
With the EX, an extra 4 grand gets you a plethora of pluses, including some you’ll be surprised aren’t standard. Power-sliding rear doors, keyless ignition and entry, Android Auto/Apple Carplay and satellite and HD Radio are all features many would assume would come with every Odyssey, but they appear here only at the EX trim level. An added bonus is the impressive suite of safety features, encompassing blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic, lane-departure warning and intervention, forward-collision warning and mitigation, and adaptive cruise control. I’d love to see these as standard, especially on a family vehicle, but offering them outside an add-on package at this low level still deserves praise. Additionally, the EX offers convenience features like remote engine start, heated front seats with a power driver's lumbar, 3-zone auto climate control, second-row sunshades and the much-lauded “Magic Slide” second-row seats. If you haven’t already, check our video for a demonstration.
The $3,500 jump up to the EX-L trim pushes the Odyssey's MSRP to $37,460 and adds leather upholstery, a power liftgate with adjustable height, a power moonroof, a memory system for the driver’s seat and the power side mirrors, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, USB chargers for the second row and an acoustic windshield. That doesn’t seem like a lot of extra content for the price, but it also allows access to the satellite-linked navigation system ($1,000) and the rear entertainment system ($1,000) for a 10.2-inch overhead display, Blu-ray player and HDMI input. Adding these features also adds a 110-volt/150-watt outlet up front and an in-cabin PA system that allows you to interrupt the audio of whatever your rear passengers are currently listening to through the rear entertainment system. Impressive, but $5,500 is an expensive privilege.
At $44,610, the Touring trim includes all of the above and adds some fancier features like LED headlights, a hands-free liftgate, and on-board 4G LTE with a Wi-Fi hotspot, as well as rounding out the safety suite with parking sensors front and rear. This is also where the start/stop system is included, plus a new rear-cabin camera to allow you constant passenger peeping. This is also the trim where the transmission jumps from 9 to 10 speeds, adding paddle shifters as well. Finally, the Touring is where you’ll find the Odyssey's now-iconic integrated vacuum system.
For my week with the Odyssey, Honda was kind enough to send the top-tier Elite trim. This builds on the Touring by adding 19-inch alloys, additional acoustic glass throughout the cabin, ambient lighting, ventilation for the front seats, a wireless phone charger, rain-sensing wipers and a 550-watt, 11-speaker stereo. All told with a $940 delivery charge, the drive-away price for the Odyssey Elite I tested came to $47,610.
With an extra 32 hp and 12 lb-ft of torque this year, the 3.5-liter V6 in the Odyssey now produces a total of 280 hp and 262 torque. Couple this improvement with two new transmissions, and the “driver’s minivan” has only gotten better. I’ve sampled only the 10-speed here, but it’s an impressive transmission and a big improvement over the outgoing 6-speed. Fast and smooth, it avoids the habitual gear hunting that can plague double-digit gearboxes. I have heard complaints about the ZF 9-speed being a bit slow to shift and rough when it does pick a gear, so watch out if you’re looking at anything other than the Touring or Elite trims. Regardless of transmission, the Odyssey will hit 60 mph in less than 7 seconds—a best-in-class figure—and still deliver 19 mpg city, 28 highway, 22 combined. This is helped by cylinder deactivation and a slightly inelegant stop/start system that I habitually deactivated. Despite this I still came close to the 22-mpg combined rating, even though I gratuitously indulged in the extra power we were gifted with for 2018.
Handling has been improved as well, via the increased structural rigidity and changes to the steering and rear suspension to improve responsiveness and precision. In short, it works. Drive the Odyssey with your eyes closed and you might even think you’re behind the wheel of a sedan. The one caveat is with braking. At a 124-foot distance to stop from 60 mph, it’s about average for the class, but several competitors including the Kia Sedona outclass it.
Form and Function
Beyond Honda’s refusal to offer AWD, Form and Function is the most contentious area for the Odyssey. Chrysler’s “Stow ’n Go” second row has become the clear fan favorite over the years for modular seating in the minivan segment. This year, Honda introduces the “Magic Slide” second-row seating, which allows you to slide either outboard seat fully left or right after removing the middle jump seat. As I mentioned above, there’s a full demonstration of this in our video, but this new innovation—impressive and useful as it is—doesn’t address the main complaint people have with anything that isn’t “Stow ‘n Go.” Namely, those second-row seats don’t fold flat.
With that being said, the Magic Slide second row is much more comfortable than Chrysler’s chairs, and the ability to quickly and easily move the Honda seats out of the way to access the third row or put some much-needed space between quarrelsome kids is a huge advantage. It largely depends on how often you’ll be using your minivan to haul things other than people. I suspect that many will find themselves removing the Odyssey’s second-row middle seat permanently and a lot of those seats will gather dust in the corners of garages.
Another little-covered upgrade this year has the liftgate operating more rapidly and with a slightly larger opening. This sounds like a boring improvement, but any parent who has found themselves having to open and close the liftgate several times in a row to retrieve forgotten bags, toys, diapers and sports equipment will be very happy.
There are additional Form and Function upgrades this year, but they’re better covered in the Technology section, so please continue reading below.
Honda is betting big on tech to help elevate the Odyssey this year, and it's doing that with some interesting new features and upgrades. First, a new infotainment system is built on Android Lollipop, and it’s a step in the right direction. Let car companies build cars and tech companies build tech. The new system is faster and more responsive, and it looks very much like a tablet interface with big, colorful icons that are easy to read no matter your ocular health. Physical Home and Back buttons are complemented by a “favorites” bar that allows you to pick your three favorite apps for constant access.
If you opt for the rear-seat entertainment system, you’ll get a 10-inch screen with higher resolution and some additional, built-in, kid-friendly apps, and with the new CabinControl smartphone app, rear passengers can use their own devices to control what they’re watching or listening to as well as the rear cabin climate controls.
Honda has also opted to join the surveillance state with its own monitoring features. CabinWatch gives you a bird’s-eye view of the cabin, displayed on the infotainment screen, with pinch-zoom functionality as well as an infrared view at night. It’s an interesting feature, but given you have to punch a button to bring up the feed and take your eyes away from the road to watch the screen, I don’t immediately understand the benefit over using the rear-view mirror or simply turning around, especially given the resolution limitations. A better feature in my opinion is CabinTalk. With the possibility of a cabin full of passengers with headphones on (if you decide to purchase extra headphones, that is), the chances of obstinate kids ignoring you can get pretty high. CabinTalk allows you to interrupt the audio feed coming through the entertainment system to address occupants directly, just like during an in-flight movie. I can see this being very useful. After all, parents have to yell enough as is.
One final concern: The test vehicle I had was cursed with a fuel gauge that fluctuated by almost a quarter tank depending on whether I was braking, accelerating or driving on a hill. This is something I haven’t encountered for many years, and I suspect it was an issue with the regulator rather than a feature of every Odyssey out there.
With the HondaSense safety suite now standard on every trim other than the base LX, the Odyssey is nearly perfect with regard to how it delivers its safety tech. Only parking sensors are relegated to higher trims.
The same can be said with regard to its safety rating, with a full 5 stars from the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in every test other than a 4-star rollover rating. I wouldn’t mind seeing a braking distance slightly shorter than 124 feet, but that’s still a solid average for the segment. One could even argue that CabinWatch offering the ability to keep an eye on your kids without having to turn around is a safety feature as well.
It’s rare that I find this to be true, but the Odyssey might just be the best option in the segment despite not having the highest price tag. The Sedona is probably the best value, especially when factoring in its braking and impressive warranty, but it sacrifices a bit of refinement and a lot of driveability. If having a flat loading floor is your primary concern, the Pacifica is the way to go, and if snow often plagues your commute, the Sienna should be your pick. But other than these specific needs, the Odyssey offers the best balance for your buck. That said, there are no current offers, rebates or incentives to motivate sales, so some shopping around should be in order.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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