2018 Honda Odyssey Elite Review - Innovative, Safe, Luxurious, and Powerful Eight-Seater; Yours for $48,000

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
Fast Facts

2018 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite

3.5-liter SOHC V6 (280 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 262 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm)
Ten-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
19 city / 28 highway / 22 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
12.2 city / 9.0 highway / 10.8 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
21.6 mpg [10.9 L/100 km] (Observed)
Base Price
$30,930 (U.S) / $36,715 (Canada)
As Tested
$47,610 (U.S.) / $52,115 (Canada)
Prices include $940 destination charge in the United States and $1,825 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2018 honda odyssey elite review innovative safe luxurious and powerful

You buy an iPhone 6 assuming you will like it more en-han you liked your old iPhone 5. You were excited to read Tender Is The Night because The Great Gatsby was a worthy tale. You had high hopes for The Godfather Part II on your Christmas holidays in 1974, having waited more than two years since The Godfather permanently altered cinema.

Expectations are everything, and my expectations for the 2018 Honda Odyssey Elite, a 280-horsepower, $47,610, eight-seater were high precisely because our garage houses a 2015 Honda Odyssey EX. My van isn’t perfect, but I’d happily buy another. And seven years after the fourth-generation Odyssey went into production, expectations for the fifth-generation model have grown significantly.

It’s 2017, not 2011. We expect quieter cabins, more powerful and more efficient engines, better interior materials, more standard features, and novel equipment.

In almost every facet, the fifth-gen 2018 Honda Odyssey is multiple steps beyond the fourth-gen Odyssey I own. But not every step forward is a step in the right direction.

Silence isn’t Golden

Strange as it may sound, for example, the degree to which Honda made the formerly somewhat noisy Odyssey cabin a quiet and serene place for the 2018 model year served to expose noisier components. There’s very little engine noise, limited tire hum, and very little wind roar.

Yet in all of that silence, the B-pillar wind whistle becomes painfully obvious.

It’s an all-around win, of course, as even without the CabinTalk feature (similar to the Toyota Sienna’s EasySpeak, CabinTalk is available on EX-Ls and standard on Tourings and Elites) it’s now much easier to carry on a conversation with passengers in the Odyssey’s way back. Nevertheless, listening to the wind whistle away behind your left ear is tiresome.

Screen Time

Silence is also what you’ll have when children are tuned into the rear seat entertainment center. But there too, Honda didn’t quite finish the job. Rather than seatback screens as in the Chrysler Pacifica, the Odyssey’s 10.2-inch ceiling-mounted center screen is too small for outboard passengers and third row occupants.

Much better is the screen in the front row, Honda’s first implementation of a new electrostatic 8-inch infotainment unit. Highly customizable, featuring plentiful shortcut options, and quick to change menus, this is a major move forward from former dual-screen layouts that were never remotely speedy. It’s sensible and intuitive (unlike the hateful shifter above which it’s perched.)

It’s also the means by which you can tune into your children via CabinWatch, a ceiling-mounted camera (with pinch-to-zoom) that allows you to easily check the status of second-row children. I want to say it’s a gimmick, but with a rear-facing nine-month-old, CabinWatch certainly simplifies life.

Though heavily promoted, Honda is stingy with CabinWatch and CabinTalk availability, just as with rear seat entertainment. And those aren’t the only screens Honda limits to high-end buyers. Though the EX and EX-L add integrated sunshades in the second row, you need to spend big money on a Touring or Elite to get the built-in screens in the third-row windows. This isn’t a discredit to the Odyssey, but it’s in keeping with a historic Honda strategy that limits build variations. There are no options or option packages aside from navigation ($1,000) and rear entertainment ($1,000) on the EX-L.

Safe Spaces

Likewise, Honda’s suite of Honda Sensing safety gear isn’t standard fit across American Honda’s board, though it is in Canada. Lane Keeping Assist (which works particularly well in the Odyssey) along with adaptive cruise, auto high beams, blind spot monitoring, and cross traffic monitor aren’t available on American Honda’s basic Odyssey LX.

The Odyssey is still expected to be a particularly safe zone for a family of eight. NHTSA and IIHS haven’t reported crash test results, but the Odyssey scored exceptionally well in crash tests during the fourth-gen van’s tenure. It would be a shock if the new Odyssey wasn’t at least that protective.

As with safety, material and build quality are better than in older Odysseys, though the Odyssey interior’s luxury quotient was always going to be measured on features and space, not touch points.

Seating for eight limits the functionality of Honda’s new second-row Magic Slide seats. Remove the middle perch and the outboard second row seats move about — not just forward and back but side to side, even with child seats installed — to carve out better third-row access, to separate bickering children, for a makeshift baby changeable on the floor, or to slide long items through from the liftgate. Unlike eight-seaters such as the Toyota Highlander and Honda’s own Pilot, the Odyssey’s eight-seat capacity is the real deal. Third row space is arguably tops in the minivan sector. The second row can’t be expanded for Sienna-like levels of legroom, but three-across seating (with occupants in the rear) will be more comfortable here. Big windows make it easy for kids to see the great outdoors, too.

None of this requires a sacrifice in cargo volume, either, a hallmark of minivans. There’s 33 cubic feet of storage capacity behind the third row, roughly double the size of a particularly capacious sedan’s large trunk. With the third row stowed in the floor, cargo volume jumps to 87 cubic feet, perfect for owners who prefer to haul dogs, bike trailers, and old furniture rather than humans.

Steering, Shifting, Stopping, Stimulating

Once the sliding doors close, every minivan has redeeming qualities inside, from the Chrysler Pacifica’s Stow’N’Go to the Toyota Sienna’s ridiculous second row to the Kia Sedona’s luxurious front quarters. Perhaps you could also make a case for minivan superiority based on the exterior styling of the Sedona, or the Pacifica’s plug-in hybrid option, or the Sienna’s available all-wheel drive.

Alas, you can’t have it all. If all-wheel drive is deemed necessary, it doesn’t matter what the Sienna’s rivals can do. If two rows of Stow’N’Go are mandatory, the Sienna’s all-wheel drive is suddenly less advantageous.

If the case is going to be made for the fifth-gen 2018 Honda Odyssey to stand head and shoulders above its competitors, it’ll be easier to find supporting evidence once the Odyssey is put into motion.

The 2018 Honda Odyssey isn’t the S2000 of minivans. It’s no Civic Type R 2.0T with a six-speed manual. The Acura Integra GS-R was not reincarnated as an eight-seat minivan.

But many of the Odyssey’s redeeming dynamic qualities are experienced even in daily driving at regular speeds. The structure is so stiff and the van so much more nimble than its rivals that the 2018 Odyssey doesn’t feel like an unwieldy bus when maneuvering in a parking lot. The steering is more appropriately weighted, so your connection with the van isn’t lost when the time comes for a few quick lane changes and an overtake is required to make your next exit. The transmission doesn’t flub a shift and the rev-happy 280-horsepower V6 is exceptionally punchy, so you don’t become an unwilling partner in power, fearful that the noise of your engine and the awkwardness of an are-we-ready-yet upshift will alert your co-pilots to your modest hastening.

And when a twisty, rural, north shore Prince Edward Island opens up and you’re running late for lobster supper, this is the van you’ll want choose to make it to the feed on time. Obviously the Odyssey isn’t a profoundly capable backroad companion; you won’t soon want to betray your man/van partnership with hamfisted mid-corner inputs. But the Odyssey is keen to accelerate, happy to change directions, relatively flat in high-speed sweepers, not prone to rear end float, and just firm enough to be stable when cruising well above the speed limit on rough roads.

It’s no dynamic masterpiece, as a 4,693-pound eight-seater with 55 percent of its weight on the front axle and a 3,500-pound tow capacity never will be. The brake pedal, for example, is unnaturally firm; there doesn’t appear to be a commensurate improvement in stopping power. The steering’s lifeless zone at the straight-ahead is still irritating. Pull out to overtake, but be careful with the throttle or you’ll experience torque steer that verges on unacceptable.

Regardless of its imperfections, the 2018 Honda Odyssey’s superior skills still matter in this arena. For many minivan buyers, the decision to take the leap into the sliding door world represents something of a sacrifice, a letting go, a moment of acquiescence. You could have a very nice European luxury sports sedan at this price, after all.

Yet just because I’m buying a minivan doesn’t mean I developed, miraculously and overnight, an increased tolerance for poor on-road behavior. The 2018 Honda Odyssey doesn’t set my Miata-loving soul afire, but driven in haste the Odyssey is remarkably capable at downplaying all the shortcomings of a tall, heavy, comfort-biased vehicle.

Salary Sucking

In Honda Canada’s language, the top-spec van in the 2018 Odyssey lineup is the Touring, tested here. It’s equivalent to American Honda’s Elite, one step above the Touring.

In the U.S., 2018 Odyssey start at $30,930 for the LX. Thanks to 18-inch alloys, the LX no longer appears woefully cheap, but you can’t have the Magic Slide seats or an eighth seat.

At $34,800, the 2018 Honda Odyssey EX adds heated front seats, a second-row middle perch, second-row sunshades, Magic Slide, Honda Sensing, tri-zone climate control, proximity access, and a bunch of other goodies.

To the EX, the $38,300 EX-L adds leather, a power tailgate, a sunroof, driver’s seat memory, and acoustic glass for the front windscreen while also making DVD, navigation, and CabinTalk available.

The $45,450 Odyssey Touring is an EX-L with standard rear seat entertainment, CabinWatch, front and rear parking sensors, a hands-free power tailgate, HondaVac, LED headlights, third row sunshades, WiFi capability, and the 10-speed automatic (not a nine-speed) of our tester.

Finally, the $47,610 2018 Honda Odyssey Elite provides ventilated front seats, 19-inch wheels, rain sensing wipers, acoustic glass on the side windows, upgraded audio, a wireless phone charger, and a heated steering wheel.

As for that 10-speed automatic, Honda makes no claims whatsoever of improved fuel economy in its EPA testing. We can’t speak to the nine-speed’s shift quality — neither after this week-long test with a 10-speed or based on Chris Tonn’s first drive. Compared with our 2015 Honda Odyssey EX, it is disappointing that this 10-speed Odyssey (admittedly with fewer than 4,000 miles under its belt) averaged 21.4 miles per gallon, not the 23.5 mpg our van achieves on the same road network.

The 2018 Honda Odyssey is America’s new best minivan, conceivably the best family vehicle on sale today. That’s a status we generally expect should be afforded to every newly designed candidate in this category, but it doesn’t make living up to every sort of high expectation a straightforward task.

[Images: © Timothy Cain]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

Join the conversation
2 of 59 comments
  • Jalop1991 Jalop1991 on Jul 18, 2017

    If he keeps vans 4 years, I can't wait for VCM to kick him in the nuts.

  • Nrd515 Nrd515 on Jul 23, 2017

    As with most Honda products these days, it sure is ugly. Not that Honda ever did make a truly decent looking vehicle. I work next door to a Honda dealership and see the new models as they come in and I keep waiting to see one that I can say, "Not bad!" to myself when I see it. 17 years and it hasn't happened yet.

  • CEastwood Seven mil nitrile gloves from Harbor Freight for oil changes and such and the thicker heavy duty gripper gloves from Wally World for most everything else . Hell we used to use no gloves for any of that and when we did it was usually the white cloth gloves bought by the dozen or the gray striped cuff ones for heavy duty use . Old man rant over , but I laugh when I see these types of gloves in a bargain bin at Home Cheapo for 15 bucks a pair !
  • Not Previous Used Car of the Day entries that spent decades in the weeds would still be a better purchase than this car. The sucker who takes on this depreciated machine will learn the hard way that a cheap German car is actually a very expensive way to drive around.
  • Bullnuke Well, production cuts may be due to transport-to-market issues. The MV Fremantle Highway is in a Rotterdam shipyard undergoing repairs from the last shipment of VW products (along with BMW and others) and to adequately fireproof it. The word in the shipping community is that insurance necessary for ships moving EVs is under serious review.
  • Frank Wait until the gov't subsidies end, you aint seen nothing yet. Ive been "on the floor" when they pulled them for fuel efficient vehicles back during/after the recession and the sales of those cars stopped dead in their tracks
  • Vulpine The issue is really stupidly simple; both names can be taken the wrong way by those who enjoy abusing language. Implying a certain piece of anatomy is a sign of juvenile idiocy which is what triggered the original name-change. The problem was not caused by the company but rather by those who continuously ridiculed the original name for the purpose of VERY low-brow humor.