In spite of considerations involving pickups, downsizing, and three-row utility vehicles, our family ended up in our second consecutive Honda Odyssey in the spring of 2018. This time, against conventional wisdom, we were early adopters of the new-for-2018 fifth-generation Odyssey. Against my own internal bias, we acquired a vehicle with a nine-speed automatic transmission, nine-speeds having disappointed me previously in everything from the Chrysler 200 and Pacifica to the Fiat 500X, Jeep Renegade, Jeep Cherokee, and Honda’s own Acura TLX and MDX.
And against conventional buying patterns, we opted for one of the five remaining vans on offer in the North American marketplace. Changes in the typical family vehicle buyer’s tastes have seen demand for vans plummet: segment-wide volume was down 15 percent in the U.S. in 2019; 2020 minivan volume will fall for a fourth consecutive year. Current minivan market share stands at just 2 percent, down from 4 percent in 2011 and 6 percent in 2006. In a market that (quite unpredictably) slid by more than 12 percent in 2020’s first-quarter, van sales were down 21 percent, a loss of over 21,000 U.S. sales.
It’s a bizarre outcome given the undeniable, incontrovertible, unquestionable fact that the Honda Odyssey is the best vehicle on the market.
The wind is gusting above 40 miles per hour on New Brunswick’s Northumberland shore. I’m standing beside an oversized ATV trailer, desperately trying to figure out how one of three ratchet straps holding an ATV snowblower to the trailer tore itself to shreds, launching the blower into the trailer’s front box.
It’s the kind of wind that limits one’s cognitive function. Though often guilty of running multiple trains of thought along one set of tracks, I realize as I stare at the shredded strap that virtually all of my brain activity is presently devoted to maintaining a semi-socially acceptable level of snot spray and, concurrently, keeping my shirt from blowing up neck-high, Marilyn Monroe-style.
In the wee hours of Saturday morning, a whirlwind journey that began by leaving work early with the digital handshake of a deal, ended in my driveway with the blower intact. Hours later, our new 2018 Honda Odyssey EX ATV tow vehicle – a replacement for the 2015 Odyssey EX we victimized for three years – opened its tailgate to reveal a cavernous cargo area and hauled a wide array of 4x4s, 2x4s, and cement blocks home from the lumber yard. “Pickup trucks don’t take this much stuff in one load,” the teenaged attendant said. That afternoon, the Odyssey was back to hustling children across Prince Edward Island, three rows of seating full.
Can a minivan be beaten at life?
It’s all about product, they say.
Product, product, product.
When in doubt, add product.
New product, they say, will reinvigorate the American midsize sedan categor y. New product, one might have imagined, would provide an ample boost to America’s minivan segment.
Yet in August 2017, only the third month on the market for Honda’s fifth-gen 2018 Odyssey, overall minivan sales increased for just the second time in a year despite another sales decline from that very same new product, the Honda Odyssey.
It was quicker, quieter, more fuel efficient, and less expensive, but the all-new 2018 Honda Odyssey failed to win its first Car and Driver minivan comparison test.
The fifth-gen Odyssey is also the newest minivan redesign. The Toyota Sienna was updated for 2017 with a new powertrain but remains in large part the same minivan that arrived for the 2011 model year. The first Chrysler Pacifica minivan — aka the second Chrysler Pacifica — has been on sale for nearly a year and a half. The Kia Sedona, having lost its previous Car and Driver comparison test, was not deemed eligible for the test. Likewise, the Dodge Grand Caravan, while currently America’s top-selling minivan, was rendered ineligible by past performance.
With only three minivans in the test, all upper-crust examples of their specific nameplates, each contender finished on the platform. But lofty expectations for the all-new Odyssey failed to come to fruition, and the segment progenitor’s party trick produced a solid victory.
Stow’N’Go isn’t the only differentiator, however.
In the 2016 calendar year, the Honda Odyssey was Canada’s 41st-best-selling vehicle.
In the first half of 2017, as the fourth-generation Odyssey’s tenure came to an end, the Honda van plunged 11 positions to 52nd. Odyssey sales were down 18 percent, year-over-year. Odyssey volume was on track to fall to a five-year low. Hashtag minivans dead.
Then, descending from the top of Mount Fuji with a Soichiro-shaped halo, hosting enough seats for the entire Odyssey SCCA pit crew, declaring 30 more horses than the original Acura NSX, equipped with enough gears in its transmission for 2.5 copies of the Toyota Yaris, and speaking with just enough of an Alabama twang to be authentically North Americanized, the 2018 Honda Odyssey appeared.
Canadian sales of the Honda Odyssey consequently rose to the highest level in 15 years. And so shall it ever be.
Just about every sporting event I’ve ever attended – whether it’s hockey, baseball, or car racing – has been enjoyed from the cheap seats. Boiling it down to one or two reasons, I was either too cheap or too tardy to secure tickets closer to the action. Nevertheless, I always enjoyed it.
Honda’s newest take on the family hauler, and Tim Cain’s favorite topic, also has a set of cheap seats. It’s called the LX. Let’s see if they are closer to the sky lounge or penalty box.
There are a large number of major new vehicle introductions happening in the United States in 2017.
The all-new 2018 Toyota Camry is arriving at dealers as we speak. The all-new 2018 Honda Accord is weeks away. Ford’s 2018 F-150 revamp is a thorough mid-cycle update. The Kia Niro, a unique Toyota Prius alternative, arrived early this year. Mazda brought a new bodystyle to the MX-5 Miata in RF trim. The Subaru Crosstrek, quickly becoming a mainstream compact car option, is new for 2018. The Alfa Romeo rebirth continues with the Giulia, still ramping up, and the arriving-now Stelvio. The all-electric Chevrolet Bolt arrived in late December, as did a new version of America’s historic best-selling utility vehicle, the Honda CR-V. The list goes on: Tesla Model 3, Jeep Compass, Ford Expedition, Land Rover Discovery, Lexus LC, Toyota C-HR, Volkswagen Atlas, Volvo XC60.
And, thank our lucky stars, we can’t forget the early summer arrival of Honda’s fifth-generation Odyssey.
New engines, new transmissions, new wiring harnesses, new technology, new roof-folding mechanisms, new Italians. Is it just too much… new everything? Would you buy any of these vehicles in 2017, or is it best to wait until the second model year?
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.
This is not a review. The 2018 Honda Odyssey Touring will be reviewed, by me, at some point in the near future.
But this part couldn’t wait. This is breaking news. This is an alert. This deserves a chyron.
The 2018 Honda Odyssey Touring’s 10-speed automatic transmission does not suck.
Minivans. They’re the ultimate family haulers: unpretentious, utilitarian, and usually ugly.
Minivans haven’t been slow in some time. A decade ago, the Honda Odyssey produced 244 horsepower and required fewer than nine seconds to accelerate from nought to 60 miles per hour, hardly the behavior of a contemporaneous Chevrolet Aveo.
But the rate at which minivans have been packing on the ponies and adding gear ratios has evolved quickly over the last year. The Chrysler Pacifica came first, producing horsepower similar to its Pentastar twin from Dodge but adding a handful of gears. 0-60 times dropped to 7.3 seconds.
That was nothing to sneeze at. At least until Toyota made the 2017 Sienna the most powerful van in the segment and linked its 3.5-liter V6 to an eight-speed automatic; at least until Honda launched the 2018 Honda Odyssey with 10 speeds and 280 horsepower. Now the numbers are staggering.
They’re monsters, fighting over a squeezable toy bus before the journey has even begun. They’re inattentive rascals, wearing headphones and tuning out their parents before Mom is even in the van. They’re instigators and agitators, wholly dependent upon parents to keep the peace.
Or are they? Are children really so bad that Honda’s very first marketing campaign for the fifth-generation 2018 Odyssey has to present a negative slant on the life of a parent?
Maybe not. But in an age in which conflict is fostered during live news coverage all day long, in which children are perpetually entertained so they don’t need to entertain themselves, in which there’s not enough time before Zoey’s pottery class and Aiden’s play date to source a conventional resolution, Honda’s Magic Slide seats produce a brilliantly eye-catching commercial, with a little help from animation.
Of course, my kids would never tussle like this.
Can frugal transportation and family transportation coexist in a single package?
Lead Honda R&D engineer Tom Sladek indicated to Wards Auto at the Hawaiian launch of the all-new, fifth-generation, 2018 Honda Odyssey that Honda’s minivan could receive a hybrid powertrain in the future.
Presently, hybrid powertrains are available in a numerous three-row crossovers. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is presently launching a plug-in hybrid version of the new-last-year Chrysler Pacifica, as well.
“The electrification initiative is definitely coming, but on which products and which timing is not 100% clear yet,” Honda’s Sladek told Wards. If one such product is the Odyssey, we would expect to see improvements both in the Odyssey’s fuel economy and its performance.
And all-wheel drive?
Center-mounted in a vertical fashion, the shifter in the fifth-generation 2018 Honda Odyssey profiled yesterday by Chris Tonn requires drivers to push a rectangular button for park, pull back an indented button for reverse, push another rectangular button for neutral, or depress a square button for drive.
In the new, second-generation 2017 GMC Terrain, a low-slung horizon of shift buttons mandates pushes of a rectangle for park and a small square for neutral plus a slight pull for reverse or, farther to the right, drive.
Perhaps you’re familiar with the lengthy push-button shift mechanism in newer Lincolns, where buttons for ignition, park, reverse, neutral, drive, and sport are laid out vertically on the driver’s side of the centre stack.
They’re here to stay. Blame technology. Hope for reliability. Don’t expect standardization.
“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.
U.S. minivan volume has decreased in nine consecutive months as the American minivan category lost 70,000 sales since August 2016, year-over-year.
As a result of the steady decline in a minivan segment that essentially features only five vans, 2017 is set to be the lowest-volume year for the category since 2009. At the rate achieved through the first one-third of 2017, Americans will purchase and lease only 452,000 minivans in 2017, just 2.6 percent of the overall market and only slightly more minivans than Americans purchased and leased when the overall industry collapsed to the lowest level in 27 years.
Or perhaps not. Fresh product is the carnauba wax bath balm for the soccer mom segment’s tired flesh. And a new 2018 Honda Odyssey is due at dealers in the coming weeks. (We’ll have a review of it next week.)
Is a new Odyssey the answer for America’s minivan woes?
Honda believes so.