2018 Honda Odyssey Elite First Drive - A Van For Drivers

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
2018 honda odyssey elite first drive a van for drivers

“Remember, you are in a minivan,” my better half commanded as I tapped the left-hand gearshift paddle, grabbing a lower gear to power out of the improbably banked corner on a mountain two-lane. The 19-inch Bridgestones squealed in protest as I pushed it a bit wide, just as the kid squealed from the third row over a funny movie.

What was I to do? It’s not like the roads Honda chose for this drive are the typical minivan haunts — namely suburban surface streets or long interstate slabs. There are no real suburbs on the big island of Hawai’i, and interstate drives would get quite wet after a couple of hours in any direction. So I pressed on, trailbraking as if I were hustling a much smaller car around an autocross course.

It’s indeed a minivan, but the new 2018 Honda Odyssey is surprisingly rewarding to drive. While the majority of miles racked up by any minivan undoubtedly result from a commute, either on city streets or the interstate, taking the long way home in this Odyssey won’t feel like punishment.

Full disclosure: Honda flew my family and me to Hawaii and proceeded to stuff us full of food, all while allowing four pasty Ohioans to sunburn. Honda also provided sunblock, which we didn’t apply frequently enough.

It takes more than a few glances to distinguish this new Odyssey from its popular predecessor. Stand-out features include a floating D-pillar and hidden side door track. The hood is more sculpted than before, with slashes on either side of the power bulge mimicking the signature “lightning bolt” seen on the side doors. It’s handsome, inoffensive, and unmistakably an Odyssey.

The interior is what matters most to any minivan shopper, and Honda spent a great deal of time making improvements to the experience for both the driver and passengers.

Take the seats, for instance. While I’m on record as a fan of Chrysler’s second-row folding Stow ‘n Go seating, those seats aren’t the most comfortable on long drives. The kids don’t complain, but when I hauled my mother and my mother-in-law (yes, I’m a masochist) along with my kids to visit a mouse in a swamp last fall, those thinly padded seats became a topic of discussion.

Honda has taken a different tack with the second-row seating in the new Odyssey. While the seats need to be unlatched and lifted out for a big IKEA run, they offer significantly better support and comfort over the Chrysler option.

The big news with these seats is a new Magic Slide feature, which allows for side-to-side sliding, as well as fore-and-aft. A third seat can be fitted in the middle, or removed. The outboard seats can be slid together if the kids are behaving, or apart to create a demilitarized zone. Both second-row seats can be pushed to one side of the vehicle to allow easier access to the third row, or to allow more legroom for rearmost passengers. As well, the center second-row seat can be moved forward, within reach the front seats, to allow better infant access for the parents sitting up front.

The rear seat folds easily into the floor like every prior Odyssey. A single tug of a strap flips and folds the seats with ease.

Keeping an eye on those kids is easier with the CabinWatch rear-seat camera, which uses a roof-mounted lens to monitor any ongoing fight in the backseat. It works day or night, with an infrared night-vision mode giving a clear view of (hopefully) sleeping kids. The image can pan, tilt, or zoom with familiar pinch-to-zoom gestures on the dash-mounted 8-inch touchscreen.

I rather enjoyed the optional CabinTalk feature — or, in the words of Honda’s Dan Tiet, the “Voice Of God” mode. It allows the driver to easily project their voice to the rear passengers, either through the rear speakers or over the wireless entertainment system headphones. My youngest has a habit of ignoring me once she’s selected a movie, and inevitably won’t listen to my requests for a bathroom break until we’re 20 miles past the last exit.

By breaking into the audio of her most recent viewing of Frozen, I can interrupt her enough to elicit a tear-filled response. Isn’t parenting all about creating little disappointments to avoid the big ones? I’m good at that.

The Odyssey’s entertainment system is vastly improved. Besides the ability to play Blu-Ray discs, built-in 4G LTE streaming content is available, including a PBS Kids app to play on the go.

Of course, everything needs an app these days, and Honda has obliged with the CabinControl application for Apple and Android. The app allows up to seven passengers to connect to the Odyssey to control rear entertainment, temperature and fan speed, and even select songs from their various phones to create a playlist for the entire van. Honda was careful to note that phones do not have the ability to change volume, so startling the driver with full-volume tunes isn’t a concern.

One feature worthy of being called brilliant is the ability for passengers to input navigation waypoints. Handing those responsibilities to a passenger is a great safety choice.

Mechanically, the Odyssey has undergone some subtle changes that should make a big difference in both fuel economy and driving behavior. The 3.5-liter V6 is now fitted with direct fuel injection, adding 32 horsepower and 12 lb-ft of torque to last year’s model for a total of 280 hp and 262 lb-ft. The engine is mated to one of two new transmissions — either the ZF nine-speed automatic used in the Pilot, or an all-new Honda-built 10-speed in top trims.

I sampled the highest-spec Odyssey Elite, fitted with the 10-speed. Shifts were barely perceptible, and I never noticed any gear hunting as I cruised. While paddle shifters feel rather silly in a van, I used the feature a couple of times to induce engine braking on some steep descents.

Interestingly, Honda quotes identical fuel economy figures for both transmissions — 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 22 mpg combined. When pressed about these differences, Honda engineers noted the 10-speed allows for a wider spread of gear ratios, optimizing performance in all conditions. The top four gears in the Honda-built 10-speed are overdrive ratios.

Honda also paid significant attention to sound deadening in the new Odyssey. Most vans — the previous generation Odyssey included — tend to amplify road and wind noise due to the massive open cargo area. It’s basically one big subwoofer enclosure filled with people and dropped french fries. Honda added acoustic spray foam in various locations to block off hollow pillars and deaden road noises. On some trims, acoustic glass is added to further soak up the noise.

The other new-ish kid on the minivan block, of course, is Chrysler’s Pacifica, introduced last year and reviewed here a couple of times. Comparing the two yielded a couple of surprises. First, the church-like quietness of the new Odyssey’s cabin stands in stark contrast to the Pacifica. While the Chrysler improved upon the prior-generation Town & Country (currently in my stable), the Honda is a significant leap forward.

Another difference: the ride felt somewhat harsh in the new Odyssey. Upon reflection, I’d chalk it up to the 19-inch alloy wheels fitted to the Odyssey Elite trim I sampled, compared to the smaller 17-inch wheels (and correspondingly taller/softer tire sidewalls) fitted to my Pacifica tester. That extra rubber can help dull road imperfections.

Pricing seems to be in line with the market, starting at $30,930 (all prices including $940 destination charge) for the base LX trim, and $34,800 for the EX trim, which comes equipped with the full suite of Honda Sensing safety features, including adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and lane keeping assist. At $47,610, the Elite trim I sampled isn’t quite as budget friendly, but it comes packed with the 10-speed transmission, those 19-inch alloy wheels, heated and ventilated front seats, a wireless phone charging pad, and a stellar 11-speaker premium audio system.

While some manufacturers have abandoned the minivan segment, a few others soldier on building the best possible people movers. Chrysler fired the first salvo for a better, more premium box on wheels last year, and Honda has answered admirably with an improved, quieter, more fun-to-drive Odyssey.

[Images © 2017 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]

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  • Legacygt Legacygt on May 17, 2017

    While it didn't hurt sales, the previous Odyssey looked like the designers were drunk when they started and ran out of time before they could fully fix the mistakes. This exterior is a big improvement.

  • Willyam Willyam on Jun 06, 2017

    Our lease is ending, and my youngest is 3, so I'm their Huckleberry. My 2014 has been quite good, but I have some irritations. Of course some I asked for, as I traded a CX-9 and it's wonderful performance and black leather S&M dungeon interior for sliding doors and newer tech. Without sliding doors we would never have gone to a van, but baby seats in city parking lots are impossible at without them. "One feature worthy of being called brilliant is the ability for passengers to input navigation waypoints. Handing those responsibilities to a passenger is a great safety choice." Agreed. We have the EX-L with two front LCD screens, and it spreads functions across duplicate buttons (on the dash, LCD itself, little buttons behind the wheel, pushing the trip-odo button, etc.). We refer to it as the Lear-jet as it takes two people on a trip to handle the DVD player, wireless headphones, fade the podcast to the front for the adults, sync/unsync the rear temperature, and set/follow nav. Never mind the bluetooth and voice-text and frantically trying to swap the speakerphone to private-mode. Otherwise it's been flawless. I've been hit once (Florida, where a very apologetic man was behind me in standstill traffic trying to get onto the island and his foot got exhausted/slipped. I shook his hand and assured him we were ok). I also pinged it off a sign and popped the right mirror loose, but it snapped back in. It gets 25+ mpg. It hauls full-size fluffy couches with the doors closed. The rear-camera monitor is huge. The lane-change side camera rules. It drags oil changes out near 10k miles. Next time no white paint, as it always looks like it's been sprayed with a bug cannon. Oh, and getting the daft second-row seats back in their tracks requires a lot of swearing. If they grab the wrong thing it's a total fight to get them to let go. Think metal velcro. Will I lease another? I'm leaning no. Buying is $marter, and the kids are doing their own thing more. It also barely fits in the garage. It's hard to argue though that it does EVERYTHING a 7-pass vehicle should, safely and economically.

  • El scotto My iPhone gets too hot while using the wireless charging in my BMW. One more line on why someone is a dumbazz list?
  • Buickman yeah, get Ron Fellows each time I get a Vette. screw Caddy.
  • Dusterdude The Detroit 2.5 did a big disservice by paying their CEO’s so generously ( overpaying them ) It is a valid talking point for for the union ) However , the bottom line - The percentage of workers in the private sector who have a defined benefit pension plan is almost non existent - and the reason being is it’s unaffordable ! . This is a a huge sticking point as to have lower tier workers join would be prohibitive ( aside from other high price demands being requested - ie >30% wage gain request ) . Do the math - can a company afford to pay employees for 35 years , followed by funding a pension for a further 30 years ?
  • El scotto Human safety driver? Some on here need a human safety thinker.
  • Carlson Fan Stupid vehicle, that can't do any of the things a truck should be able to do. If I want something fast/quick and sporty I'll get a corvette or a 4 dr sport sedan. Taking a truck & neutering it to try and make it into something it's not is just pointless. But maybe that's the point of this road disaster