CHARLOTTETOWN, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND – It’s no secret that the formula for the minivan has a stigma around it. With the rising popularity of the crossover sport-utility-vehicle and all of the latest research and development dollars invested straight into that segment, the minivan is all but forgotten. In fact, two of the big three American automakers have discontinued their minivans and are focusing on crossovers for family duty instead. Honda feels differently, and they have every right to, because their Odyssey minivan is one of the best in the market. We were invited to Canada’s east coast to sample the 2018 Honda Odyssey for ourselves.
Sitting on a 118.1-inch wheelbase that has remained identical since the second-generation van, the latest Odyssey isn’t nearly as bulbous or overweight as one may expect. Instead, it’s all about clever packaging – remember, these are the same people that make the Magic Seat system in the Fit. The 2018 Odyssey shares its platform with the current Pilot (reviewed here) and Ridgeline, an excellent chassis that is commended for its rigidity and overall ride quality. The new van also shares its styling with other current Honda models, with a character kink along the side of the vehicle. Subjectively, the latest model isn’t as timeless as its predecessor, but that’s not the point of the car.
Honda only offers one powertrain configuration on the Odyssey, and that’s the Earth Dreams series 3.5L single overhead cam V6; the keen will observe that the same displacement has remained constant since the second-generation van in 1999. Now though, output has risen to 280 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 262 lb-ft. of torque at 4,700RPM. The inclusion of direct injection helps increase the compression ratio along with significant horsepower and torque bumps.
Higher trim models get a new 10-speed automatic, which employs a very tall tenth gear that sees as little as 1,500PRM at highway speeds. Most trims get the ZF-built nine-speed automatic that has seen duty in the Pilot, whereas the top-trim Touring model receives the new 10-speed. After plenty of criticism around this gearbox, Honda’s engineers insist that it has been drastically improved – we didn’t observe any gaping flaws but it still isn’t as smooth as the outgoing six-speed unit. The 10-speed isn’t without its issues either; with some awkward downshifts and very widespread ratios.
What truly differentiates the Odyssey from the likes of the Toyota Sienna (reviewed here) among other vans is its ability to evoke some sort of driving pleasure. Throttle response is crisp, the engine makes a determined noise on acceleration, the van is reasonably quick, and feels well built and genuinely fun for the segment. Noticeable reductions in noise, vibration and harshness was observed, and overall smoothness over the road is also improved. The Odyssey is very quiet, though the last Sienna we tested in XLE guise was a little bit quieter out on the open road.
The Odyssey is still offered as a front-drive vehicle only, with no option for all-wheel-drive. Canadians desiring all-wheel-drive on their minivan have no option other than to remain faithful to the Toyota Sienna, though investing in a solid set of winter tires will keep the Odyssey confidently planted for all 12 seasons. Ride quality is very good overall, with a signature Honda firmness, almost sporty in nature. Prior generations of the Odyssey got hydraulic steering, which has now been replaced with electric power steering. Response is quick and the van is surprisingly eager to change direction.
Of course, this is a family minivan, so the driving experience really doesn’t matter all that much. What’s important is versatility, an area in which the new Odyssey excels. Front legroom has been improved considerably, and the second row captain’s chairs are thick and provide ample support. The second row does not fold flat like the Chrysler Pacifica (reviewed here) with its Stow’N’Go setup, but Honda has implemented something called Magic Slide seats.
This allows the second-row seats to be moved laterally, with 13” of total movement. They have five latching locations and can also be moved fore/aft as in past models. The seats are easily moved using an obvious handle on the sides, and pushing them aside creates great ease when trying to access the third row. Overall headroom is generous too, in all three rows. Every Honda Odyssey comes in an eight-seat configuration; the center seat in the second row can be removed and stowed in the rear cargo well. This seat must be removed for the Magic Slide feature to be used.
There is no shortage of technology inside the Odyssey, and vans have been known to possess features that entertain both kids and adults alike. A new conversation piece is the CabinWatch wide-angle camera above the second row of seats that can be monitored from the dashboard screen, displaying a feed of what’s going on in the rear to the driver. Think of it like a baby monitor, something that can be very handy for parents. Rear seat entertainment loses the 16.2” split-screen display of the last Odyssey (reviewed here), though the 10.2” screen is crystal clear and offers plenty of features.
New up front is the new 8.0” touchscreen infotainment system (with an optional 4G-LTE WiFi hotspot!), an Android-based configuration that replaces the slow and dated unit in the outgoing car. There is the return of the traditional volume knob identical to that of the new 2017 CR-V (reviewed here), and this system offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Added connectivity includes a mobile phone app that lets passengers control the rear entertainment system and climate. Surprisingly, when other automakers are adding USB ports left right and centre, Honda didn’t prioritize this, with just one port up front in the console and two for rear passengers.
Honda Sensing tech has finally made its way into the Odyssey, and it’s the latest application of the safety suite. Safety features here include but are not limited to adaptive cruise control, automatic high beam control, collision-prevention automatic braking, and rear cross traffic alert. This suite is standard on the Odyssey on all trims, starting from the base LX. The Honda Sensing suite also adds LaneWatch camera assist on EX and EX-L trims, and a full blind-spot information system on the Touring.
Honda has priced the Odyssey from as little as $34,890 for the entry-level LX, which comes very well equipped. It has 18” alloy wheels, the Magic Slide second row seats, remote starter, 8” touchscreen, smartphone connectivity, and of course, Honda Sensing. Stepping up to the $38,090 EX adds fog lights, sunshades in the second row, moonroof, LED lighting, power sliding doors, triple-zone automatic control, and availab le CabinTalk intercom system. The EX-L Navi at $43,190 adds leather seating, heated steering wheel, power tailgate, and satellite navigation (note: all trims get navigation through Apple CarPlay). Those wanting to get literally everything available will need to hand over $50,790 for the Touring, adding the new transmission, 4G-LTE, ventilated front seats, and CabinWatch monitor.
The Odyssey is projected to be more efficient than ever, thanks to taller gearing from the new transmissions and improved aerodynamics. The vehicle is also 0.7” narrower than the model it replaces, and adds active grille shutters. Honda Canada estimates fuel consumption of 12.6L/100km city, 8.4L/100km highway, and 10.7L/100km combined for the nine-speed model, and 12.2L/100km city, 8.5L/100km highway, and 10.6L/100km combined for the ten-speed. We will evaluate real-world consumption in the coming months with an extensive road test. The minivan, like the rest of Honda’s mainstream non-performance lineup, gets its ratings on regular-grade fuel and does not recommend the use of premium.
The Toyota Sienna is the obvious contender against the Odyssey, but when factoring in value, it’s hard to forget about the Kia Sedona (reviewed here). The Dodge Grand Caravan is extremely old at this point and should only be shopped if space versus dollar spent is the biggest priority – this is the budget van for the masses and fleets. The Chrysler Pacifica delivers similar amounts of smoothness with more modern styling than the Sienna, and even offers a class-exclusive hybrid model. The Odyssey is still the best driving minivan, and at this point in time is the freshest, with an established reputation for longevity.
Crossovers may be the new norm for growing families, but with higher load floors and interior room compromises made in favour of styling and all-wheel-drive, the minivan is hard to beat when it comes to strict versatility. The 2018 Honda Odyssey takes a proven formula and makes significant improvements in almost every regard. The last Odyssey did very well in our minivan comparison test (review here) last winter, and later this year we’ll be putting this new one up against its rivals yet again to see just how it fares with the stresses of the typical daily grind.
First Drive: 2018 Honda Odyssey Gallery
Comparo: 2017 Minivan Shootout
2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited
2017 Toyota Sienna XLE Limited AWD