It should come as no surprise, then, that Honda, long-known for its outstanding vehicle packaging, is one of the best when it comes to making a box on wheels. Since introducing its Odyssey way back in 1995, Honda has become a dominant force in the minivan segment.
Fast forward to the 2018 model year and Honda is now introducing the fifth-generation of its Odyssey minivan. With its clean-slate redesign comes a handful of innovative new features, but will those be enough to convince buyers to skip an SUV in favor of the Odyssey? Come with us as we find out.
Familiar but new
Take one glance at the 2018 Odyssey and it's clear that the van sports an evolution of the previous model's design. However, like going from standard- to high-definition, everything on the new van just looks sharper.
Up front the Odyssey has received more modern looking headlights with LED elements. The radiator grille hasn't seen a radical update, but again looks cleaner than the design it replaces. A new hood is more shapely and gives the Odyssey a slightly muscular look.
The flanks of the Odyssey are more expressive than before with a few added character lines to go along with the van's now-signature lightning bolt belt line. Following a new industry trend, the 2018 Odyssey sports a floating D-pillar treatment.
Whereas the rear end of the last Odyssey was a little dowdy, the new model is much more chic with a wide chrome accent strip and stylized LED taillights. The overall look of the tailgate is softer, too, with the new Odyssey ditching the straight lines that gave the last version of the van a somewhat clinical feel.
Changes inside the Odyssey are far more extensive. Everything is brand new, from the design, to the materials to the features. In comparison, the previous Odyssey just seems old.
The 2018 Odyssey's interior is highlight by a new center stack design complete with a push-button transmission and 8-inch high-resolution touchscreen display. The Odyssey's gauge cluster has also gone high-tech, featuring a large, center LCD screen for most vehicle readouts. There are also a pair of analog dials to keeps tabs on fuel and temperature.
Storage is ample in the Odyssey, with nooks and crannies everywhere for all the necessities of modern life. There are also large storage bins in the center aisle between the two front seats that can swallow bigger items like handbags.
The second row of the Odyssey is just as versatile thanks to Honda's new Magic Slide seating system. In its standard configuration, the Magic Slide second row may be little more than a typical bench, but remove the center seat section and the magic happens.
The two Captain's Chairs can be moved not only forward and aft, but also from side-to-side, allowing for a number of different useful configurations. For example, if you want easy access to the third row, you can slide both chairs to one side of the cabin. Have a youngster you want to keep within arm's reach? Slide one seat to the middle and than scoot it forward. For the times when you're chauffeuring around adults or need keep fighting kids apart, the Captain's Chairs can be left in the outer positions with a walkway between.
Another useful byproduct of the Magic Slide seats is easier loading of kids in car seats. A baby in a car seat typically weighs about 300 pounds (or at least seems like it), which can make loading Junior into the middle seat of a big vehicle like the Odyssey a herculean task. But with the Magic Seat, you can buckle up your bundle of joy in the outer seat position and then simply slide the seat to the middle position. And once you arrive, just slide the seat back out to the curbside position for an easy retrieval.
The only downfall of the Magic Slide second row is that it doesn't fold into the floor like in the Chrysler Pacifica. And each seat is rather heavy and cumbersome to remove. However, that should only be an issue if you carry large cargo on a regular basis as there is plenty of room behind the second row.
The third-row seat isn't as magical, but it's still pretty good. Room is ample with seating for three. With the third-row up the Odyssey offers a surprisingly deep trunk area afforded by moving the van's spare tire farther up the chassis. The rear seats can be folded forward (maintaining the large cargo well) or folded backward to provide a flat loading surface.
The last-generation Odyssey was rather underwhelming when it came to materials, but that's not the case for the latest van. Pretty much everything is soft-touch with a quality feel. Even the leather feels soft and supple. But then it better darn well as prices for the 2018 Odyssey can flirt with the $50,000 mark.
New van, new gadgets
The biggest advances of the previous-generation Odyssey were a wide-angle rear screen and a vacuum. Nice features for sure, but not exactly earth-shattering. The new Odyssey, however, really moves the ball down the field.
For mom and dad that starts with new CabinTalk and CabinWatch technologies. Now, CabinTalk admittedly isn't exactly a revolutionary idea as Toyota launched a similar system back in 2014, but it's a useful system nonetheless. Essentially a PA system for the car, CabinTalk beams mom or dad's voice through the Odyssey's rear speakers or the rear seat entertainment system's headphones. Telling Johnny to leave his sister alone has never been easier.
CabinWatch, however, is a new and very useful item. The system uses a camera mounted high on the ceiling to give front seat passenger's a bird's eye view, via the dash-mounted infotainment screen, of what's going on in the second row. You can use the touchscreen display to zoom-in and change the focus point. For parents of children in rear-facing car seats, CabinWatch is an invaluable tool.
Honda hasn't forgotten about older kids with several new perks for backseat passengers. The connected crowd will be happy to see a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot that relies on AT&T's cellular network. That wireless connection also allows for streaming to the available rear seat entertainment system (RES). Plans for the internet connection can either be bought a la carte or bundled with your current AT&T account.
Controlling the RES has also gone high-tech thanks to a new CabinControl smartphone application. In addition to including controls for the RES, the CabinControl app also gives backseat passengers control over the front audio system (not the volume), rear climate settings and the ability to lookup and send a point of interest to the navigation system (the driver has the option to dismiss any suggestion).
A Social Playlist function is also built into the CabinControl app and allows up to seven connected device to create a music playlist for the entire vehicle. Honda once again has mom and dad's back as the Social Playlist can be overridden by the driver.
Behind the wheel
In order to properly evaluate the 2018 Odyssey, Honda invited us along with our family to the big island of Hawaii for a two-day drive. Our brood include two youngsters — one four and the other just five-months. But before we get to how the Odyssey handled the kiddos, let's discuss the things the driver will care about.
The first thing we noticed upon entering the 2018 Odyssey is just how much nicer it is than the outgoing van. The design is more modern, the materials are nicer and the seats are among the most comfortable you'll find in a mainstream vehicle today.
That startup procedure might be a little puzzling to anyone coming from the last Odyssey with its dash-mounted shift lever, but the push button system is pretty easy to get used to. After all, Honda uses the same system in a number of different Honda and Acura vehicles, and several other automakers are getting in on the push-button craze.
The gauge cluster in the Odyssey is a little futuristic for its mission, but it's at least clear and easy to read. The Odyssey's former analog speedometer had been replace by a large digital unit front and center. There's no permanent tachometer, and the temperature and fuel gauges have been relegated to the outside edges of the cluster. As per the usual, the pod's center LCD screen serves as a readout for several vehicle functions.
All Odyssey models ship standard with an updated 3.5L V6 that develops 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. Top-spec Touring and Elite models get a 10-speed automatic transmission while lesser models make do with a nine-speed unit. Front-wheel drive is the only configuration available.
The Odyssey's 3.5L V6 proved plenty punchy during out two-day drive around Kona's lava fields. Passing power is quite good and the V6 even returns a pleasing engine note. Moreover, throttle response is linear in the Odyssey, which stands in sharp contrast to the oversensitive throttle pedal in the rival Chrysler Pacifica.
We were a little wary about how the Odyssey's 10-speed transmission might translate from paper to the real world, but the multi-speed unit performed admirably. During normal driving situations we didn't notice any instances of the transmission hunting for just the right gear, even when climbing hills. A stab of the throttle can trigger a couple of kick downs, but the the transmission is quick to settle on which gear it wants.
Admittedly no one buys a minivan for driving fun, but even so, we found the Odyssey's steering — although direct — to be a little on the light side. We prefer the better weighted steering of the Pacifica. However, we doubt steering feel will be much of a hindrance to Odyssey sales.
The 2018 Odyssey is less than 100 pounds lighter than the outgoing model, but feels much lighter on its feet thanks to a stiffer chassis and re-tuned suspension. Even on twisty roads the Odyssey feels planted without the typical rolling and wallowing you'd expect from a minivan. Despite its above-average competence on winding roads, the Odyssey delivers a comfortable ride on par with some luxury cars. The Odyssey is also dead quite, as long as there are no screaming kids in the back.
All Odyssey models (save for the base LX) come standard with a comprehensive safety suite that includes adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic assist. We found all systems to work well, with just a few nits to pick. On a few occasions the emergency braking system flashed a warning in circumstances when it was unwarranted. We experienced the same thing in the Pilot SUV. Honda's lane keeping system keeps you between the lines, but it's warning system can be startling. If you start to drift too far, the wheel quickly moves from side to side like it's possessed. It certainly gets your attention, but it can be a little panic-inducing if you're not expecting it.
Living the minivan life
Since we were traveling with two young kids, our test drive started out a little differently than normal. Before we could set off we had to install two car seats — one rear-facing and one forward-facing. Thanks to the Magic Slide seats, it was a snap to install the seats in the outboard position before pushing them to the center of the vehicle. The kids also enjoyed being right next to each other in the back of the Odyssey; at home they're on opposite sides of the car because there isn't room to put two car seats side-by-side.
The Odyssey's CabinWatch was a useful feature for keeping an eye on both kids, particularly the one in the rear-facing seat. At home we typically use a mirror hanging over the car seat, but that setup is pretty much useless. With CabinWatch, you can actually see what's going on.
CabinTalk was a little less useful since we didn't have any passengers in the third-row. However, we can see the merits of CabinTalk given a full load of rambunctious kids.
In a shocking turn of events, our four-year-old passenger declined to sample the Odyssey's RES in lieu of the beautiful Hawaiian views whizzing by. However, we played with the system during a stop and found the CabinControl app to be a fine way to navigate the various infotainment options. We can also see how it'd be helpful with young kids that aren't adept at working remote controls. With CabinControl, parents can control the entire RES from the front seats. However, the system is currently only available for Android-based smartphones; Honda assures us that an Apple version will launch sometime this year.
You can't travel all the way to Hawaii and not enjoy a beautiful beach, so on day two of or test drive we loaded up and headed for the shore. We managed to cram a lot of gear into the Odyssey (beach umbrella, a couple of boogie boards, cooler and various other gear) with room to spare. It's also a snap to load the rear cargo area even if you have your hands full thanks to a new foot-activated power tailgate. We were also happy to have the HondaVac onboard as we managed to bring back half the beach in the cargo area.
Fuel economy for the Odyssey is estimated at 19mpg in the city and 28 on the highway, netting a 22mpg combined average. Those figures apply to both 9- and 10-speed models.
Pricing for the Odyssey starts off at a reasonable $29,990, but load on the options and prices can skyrocket. And if you want high-tech features like CabinWatch, you're forced into top-spec trim levels. Still, that's about on par with the Toyota Sienna.
Leftlane's bottom line
Unlike the SUV segment, where there are plenty of fish in the sea, your options are pretty limited if you're shopping for a minivan. Luckily, that relative lack of competition hasn't stymied innovation at Honda.
The 2018 Honda Odyssey is not only the best Odyssey ever, but also the best minivan ever. If you're currently shopping for a family SUV, you owe it to yourself to at least check out the new Odyssey.
2018 Honda Odyssey base price, $29,990. As tested, $46,670. Prices exclude $940 destination charge.
Photos by Drew Johnson and courtesy of Honda.