2018 Honda Odyssey

It occurred to me that the Honda Odyssey, first introduced almost 25 years ago in 1994, is the perfect stealth vehicle. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging any suspicious or illegal activity. But Odyssey’s never been a vehicle that will turn heads or be followed home to ask the owner what they are driving. They’re everywhere, yet no one pays any attention to them. But who cares?

Suburbia is full of Honda Odysseys. My personal observation is that Honda has disgorged a disproportionate number of them painted in an either a dreary dark gray or a dispiriting eggplant maroon. Both colors are well past their freshness date, and only add to the Odyssey’s incognito status.

Consider this: You will pass dozens just on your daily commute, most with stickers on the rear window declaring their kid was student of the month, touting high school cross country, or depicting stick-figure family configurations. It’s the perfect service duty vehicle for moving families and stuff.

The popularity of minivans peaked shortly after Y2K, when sales hit around 1.4 million per year. Now sales collectively total slightly more than 500,000 per year. That is, until last year when sales dropped nearly 20 percent. Consumers flock to crossovers at the expense of just about every other auto segment, minivans included.

But if choosing a vehicle was based solely on practicality, most everyone would default to a minivan: They’ve got bang-for-the buck pricing, easy mid-row entry via power sliding doors, flip-fold seats for massive amounts of cargo space when needed. With seating up to eight, seemingly each child gets their own chair with access to individualized headphones and entertainment screens for hours of entertainment. Minivans can do so much more than crossovers and SUVs. Other than the stigma that goes along with driving a minivan, what’s not to like?
For 2018, Honda has introduced its all-new, fifth-generation Odyssey, seemingly more in response to the terrific new Chrysler Pacifica introduced last year rather than evolutionary vehicle cycle updating. For the record, Chrysler sells more minivans than anyone, including the Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, and Kia Sedona. Ford and Chevy quit the minivan business years ago.

Most noticeable for 2018 is Honda’s attempt to improve the exterior styling of the outgoing Odyssey, which was one hot mess to the eyes and senses. Gone (well at least relaxed) is the grotesque, pole axed “lightening bolt” appearance giving the impression that two completely different vehicles were grafted together down the side of the rear sliding doors. The two just didn’t line up and the look is odd, to say the least. There was also the hideous scar across the rear fenders that housed tracks for the sliding rear doors to travel.  Pacifica cleverly hid the tracks in the rear window frame, making them invisible. Honda borrowed that design for the new model.

In a further attempt to overcome its traditional styling miscues, the new Odyssey sports a “floating” roof look, similar to what we first saw on the Nissan Murano and Lexus RX that’s worthy of faint praise. Bottom line — the new Odyssey is certainly easier on the eyes.

Since most minivans, in one way or another, look similar from the outside, Honda has tried to differentiate itself from competitors inside with advanced technology and features not found on other minivans.

For example, while the Pacifica cleverly and conveniently features the Stow ‘n Go seating and storage system to create flat-floor cargo storage, the new Honda emphasizes passenger comfort.

While the Odyssey’s third row does fold in on itself for additional and ample storage space, it’s the ingenious new available Magic Slide second-row seats that impress. They individually adjust laterally to five different positions. In addition to sliding fore and aft, creating distance between the seats so siblings don’t have to sit next to each other, they also slide sideways for easy access to the third row.

Also new is CabinWatch, a new feature integrated into the center console’s eight-inch touchscreen that allows the driver to actually keep an eye on the kids by activating an infrared surveillance camera to any individual passenger, even zooming in and out with a fish-eye lens. Perfect for watching your kids.

If that doesn’t settle the ruckus down (“Mom, he touched me again!”) Honda introduces Cabin Talk on upper trim models. It uses the HandsFreeLink microphone in the front row to broadcast (speak) to the second and third row passengers through either the audio speakers, headphones, or both without raising your voice. If the kids are watching a movie or playing games on the rear entertainment system it automatically pauses and is muted when Cabin Talk is in use. Of course if they don’t respond, you can also use a verbal threat.

Finally an all-new feature standard on Odyssey EX and above trims is the CabinControl app. Downloadable on iPhone and Android phones, it allows passengers to use their smartphones to control a range of features like the front audio system, rear entertainment system, rear climate control; it can also look up an address or point of interest and send it to the vehicle’s navigation system. The Odyssey also has a 4G connection for WiFi inside the minivan.

Knowing how messy and dirty kids can get, Honda was the first to offer a vacuum in its minivan. Standard on Touring and Elite trim levels, the HondaVAC is improved for 2018 with more power, and operates with or without the vehicle running. For the record, Chrysler introduced a vacuum in its new Pacifica and boasts the longest hose in the business.

Powering the Odyssey is a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that produces 280 horsepower, up 32 from the previous model and connected to Honda’s first 10-speed automatic transmission for upper trim levels. A 9-speed automatic is standard on lower trim levels. Odyssey is front-wheel drive only.

Those familiar with the Odyssey will notice something missing — the dash mounted gearshift lever has been replaced by push buttons for Park, Neutral Drive and Sequential selections. Reverse is selected by pulling back on a dedicated switch.

Getting in and out of the Odyssey is easy, with large doors and a low doorsill. There’s a kick-to-lift feature on the rear liftgate that’s standard on higher trims.

Once inside and on the road we found the new transmission smooth with quick shifts and appropriate power, especially with the additional 32 horsepower. The ride is smooth, hiding most bumps and road imperfections, and, for its size, cornering felt confident and responsive. Visibility is excellent, the cabin pleasantly quiet.

In terms of safety features, Honda replaced its right-side-only Lane Watch system with blind spot monitoring. Automatic emergency braking and forward-collision warning are standard on all but the base trim level. It received a “Good” crash test rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Overall, there’s a lot to love about the completely redesigned 2018 Odyssey. And, yes, the styling is much improved over the previous generation. It’s a safe bet that it will deliver tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of trouble free miles to the delight of their owners — and continue to do it in complete obscurity.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $29,990 - $46,670
Price as Tested: $47,610
Seating: 8
Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Horsepower: 280
Transmission: 10 speed automatic
Fuel Economy: 19 MPG City – 28 MPG Highway

Competes With
Kia Sedona
Toyota Sienna
Chrysler Pacifica

Fab Features
Innovative seating configurations
Advanced convenience technologies
Now easier on the eyes

— Jim Prueter