Honda Odyssey — the minivan reimagined

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

It's no secret that the traditional minivan is considerably more proficient at carrying passengers and cargo than the more popular crossover SUV. But practicality is not a persuasive argument for ditching the crossover in favor of a minivan for most families in the second decade of the 21st Century.

On the practicality front, minivans give their owners more bang-for-the buck, easy mid-row entry via power sliding doors, and 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?

That trend may be changing for the minivan with the introduction of the game-changing Chrysler Pacifica last year and the all-new 2018 Honda Odyssey, which reached showrooms this fall. Both vehicles stand head and shoulders above the older vans, redefining styling, performance, ride and handling, and user-friendly features.

Most noticeable for 2018 is Honda’s attempt to improve the exterior styling of the outgoing Odyssey. Gone is the “lightning bolt” appearance giving the impression that two completely different vehicles were grafted together. The two just didn’t line up and the look was 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.

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. The new Honda also emphasizes passenger comfort from every seat.

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 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.

We like the new infotainment screen where the app icons are big and easy to decipher. Everything is straight forward, and we particularly like the large-sized lettering on the satellite radio readout. It rivals the readout found in Fiat-Chrysler vehicles, which we have long considered the best on the market. On the downside the location of the USB and power ports leave a lot to be desired.

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 Wi-Fi inside the minivan.

All these things would be irrelevant without a robust powertrain, and the Honda has that covered as well. 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 trims. 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. For those in cold-weather climates, Odyssey comes in front-wheel drive only.

We found the performance rewarding — indeed, outstanding — in our Elite trim test vehicle with the new 10-speed. A major magazine has rated it at 6.6 seconds from 0-to-60, a good number for a minivan. Steering is precise and handling is excellent.

The Odyssey comes in no less than seven trim levels — LX, EX, EX-L, EX-L with navigation, Touring and Elite starting at $30,930. Prices rise through the trims to $47,610 including destination charge for the Elite, like our test vehicle. We recommend moving up from the base LX to the EX for $34,800. It comes with most of the features — and even more — you have come to expect on a people mover including power sliding rear doors, keyless ignition and entry, three-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control, blindspot monitoring, and an eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — as well as the 3.5-liter V-6 and a 9-speed automatic.

Base price: $30,930; as driven, $47,610
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 280 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 262 foot-pounds @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 118.1 inches
Length: 203.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,471 pounds
Turning circle: 39.6 feet
Luggage capacity: 38.6 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 155.8 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 3,000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 19.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 19 city, 28 highway, 22 overall
0-60: 6.6 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Sienna, Kia Sedona

The Good
• Strong V-6 engine
• Configurable second-row seats
• Packed with features
• Blindspot standard on all but base model

The Bad
• USB ports difficult to access

The Ugly
• Second-row seats hard to remove