KONA, HI – The minivan. Has there ever been a vehicle type more castigated?
Yes, minivans primarily are for transporting kids, and, no they’re not sexy or fun-to-drive. Never have been, never will be.
But darn it if they’re not easy-to-maneuver and ever so functional.
Thanks to the popularity of CUVs minivans don’t burn up the U.S. sales chart like they used to (1.2 million sales were tallied in WardsAuto’s Small Van segment in 2000), but they have racked up a steady half-a-million annual deliveries in recent years.
For the handful of automakers still in the segment, it seems like every tool in the chest has been used to improve minivan practicality and boost their family-friendliness.
Two of them have a built-in vacuum cleaner (Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica), two of them have second-row seats that fold into the floor (Pacifica’s Stow ’n’ Go, also in the Dodge Grand Caravan), two of them let you scream at zoned-out kids in the rear via microphone (Toyota Sienna and new ’18 Odyssey) and now two of them have second-row seats that not only slide fore and aft, but also side-to-side.
The ’18 Odyssey, in EX and higher grades, joins the Kia Sedona SXL in having the latter ability. Centering a seat proves useful during our journey here, preventing a tween’s motion sickness by letting her look straight ahead out the windshield.
But wait, there’s more! The Odyssey’s seats also can move forward when pushed inward, meaning a parent can more easily reach a fussy baby who has dropped his binky for the millionth time.
And in a segment first, the new Odyssey, tested here over two days in early May, has an optional in-vehicle camera allowing parents to see what their little ones (or teenagers) are up to in the second and third rows.
This fifth generation of the Odyssey maintains relatively the same dimensions as the outgoing fourth-gen model, keeping its 118.1-in. (3,000-mm) wheelbase; length and height change by miniscule amounts. Width does drop 0.7 ins. (18 mm), due to a nose job to reduce drag.
Honda claims the 10 cu.-ft. (0.3 cu.-m) reduction in passenger volume from ’17 to ’18 is more like 4 cu.-ft. (0.1 cu.-m) because of a revised way of measuring that is “more consistent with the customer experience.” The Pacifica on paper has a 1.4 cu.-ft. (0.04 cu.-m) advantage in passenger space, but given that volume can be measured in different ways per automaker take any of these claims with a grain of salt.
In back-to-back tests here, both the ’18 Odyssey and a ’17 Pacifica Limited feel plenty roomy. While the Odyssey has an inch-and-a-half (38-mm) legroom advantage on the Pacifica in the third row, both comfortably accommodate this 5-ft.-8-in. reviewer’s pins.
Seating comfort is high in the Odyssey. Its generously long bottom cushion gives good thigh support.
Honda installs the 3.5L direct-injected SOHC V-6 from Odyssey platform-mate the Pilot CUV in the latest iteration of its minivan. Horsepower and torque rise (280 hp vs. 248 hp and 262 lb.-ft. [355 Nm] vs. 250 lb.-ft. [339 Nm]) from the outgoing Odyssey’s port-injected 3.5L V-6.
Replacing the ’17 Odyssey’s 6-speed automatic are two new transmissions, ZF’s ubiquitous 9-speed automatic already available in Honda’s Pilot and a slew of other models, including the Chrysler Pacifica, and an all-new, Honda-designed 10-speed automatic.
The 10AT is standard on top-of-the-line Touring and Elite grades of the minivan. The wide-spread gear ratios of the 10-speed, as well as a tall 10th gear, allow for 70 mph (113 km/h) cruising at 1,560 rpm and help bring the heavier grades in line with the fuel economy of the base and mid-grade models.
EPA-estimated fuel economy for all ’18 Odysseys is 19/28/22 mpg city/highway/combined (12.3, 8.4 and 10.7 L/100 km). Real-world fuel economy during drives here is in the low 20s for both minivans, which also feature stop-start.
Not only do the Odyssey’s fuel-economy figures match the Pacifica’s, but so does its peak torque (albeit arriving 700 rpm later) and front/rear weight distribution (55/45). Horsepower is close, too, with the Pacifica getting a bit more, 287 hp, from its 3.6L port-injected V-6.
Both also have independent MacPherson-strut front suspensions and coil springs. The Odyssey’s rear suspension, borrowed from the Pilot, is an independent compact trailing-arm design, while the Pacifica has a twist-blade independent rear layout.
There’s also turn-off-able stop-start on both minivans.
Not surprisingly we conclude, after back-to-back drives of the Odyssey Elite and Pacifica Limited, there isn’t much difference dynamically between the two.
Both minivans’ powertrains are capable but unexciting, their ride sedate, body lean limited in corners, all what you want when you’re hauling possibly carsickness-prone little ones around.
The Pacifica’s 9AT and the Odyssey’s 10AT upshift quickly, an annoyance when trying to ascend the steeper inclines of Kona. Fortunately, the Odyssey, unlike the Pacifica, has standard paddle shifters on 10AT-equipped models, meaning we easily can go down a gear for faster acceleration. Honda touts the 10AT’s ability to go down four gears, such as from 10th to 6th, under certain conditions.
Honda has said upshift and kick-down times at mid-driving speeds are “significantly reduced” for the 10AT vs. the outgoing 6AT-equipped Odyssey, but there isn’t one of the latter here to test to verify that claim.
Design is a weak point for the Odyssey. The Pacifica’s plainer sheet metal and sleek and proportional profile bestow a cool, minivan-of-the-future appearance. While the Odyssey’s signature lightning bolt line below the C-pillar thankfully is smoothed out for ’18, Honda designers have added a boomerang-looking indentation in the sheet metal on the side doors. The detail makes the minivan look overly busy. Ever since the ’11 Hyundai Sonata popularized deeply stamped body panels automakers have gone crazy with the trend. Restraint, please.
Interior Features Make the Difference
The Odyssey’s interior is handsome with good-quality materials, but here too there isn’t much boundary-pushing. The Honda minivan lacks the contrast stitching and piping available in the Pacifica and Kia Sedona, winners of Wards 10 Best Interiors awards in 2016 and 2015, respectively. But Honda is letting loose a bit by offering a new rich brown interior color for ’18, dubbed Mocha, that is appealing.
The Odyssey has a lot of cubbies, notably three tiers of them on front doors. It also has a generous center-console box that we use to store a large bag of snacks. A pullout drawer at the front of the console holds DVDs for the rear-seat entertainment system.
The rear-seat entertainment in the Odyssey and Pacifica have many of the same features, including an app letting kids track a road trip (“Are We There Yet?” in the Pacifica, “How Much Farther?” in the Odyssey).
The Odyssey exceeds the Pacifica’s streaming abilities by offering 4G LTE WiFi, whereas the latter has just 3G. Rates for 4G LTE, supplied by AT&T, were unavailable at press time. The WiFi is a big hit with the kids in our van, tween girls who must remain connected to the Internet at all times.
A key focus on the new Odyssey’s development was improving Honda’s dated infotainment system. Thanks to a modified Android operating system, touchscreen graphics are fresh and new, virtual buttons are large and inputs are registered quickly. Additionally, the vehicle’s display audio and rear-seat entertainment systems can be updated over the air, a Honda first.
On-screen shortcuts on the touchscreen can be customized, for those not using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, available in EX and above grades.
Voice recognition in the Honda van also is much improved, judging by the accurately understood and fast responses to radio-station and destination requests.
The Pacifica has great HMI too, and a slight ergonomic advantage thanks to a generous open space on the center stack to brace your hand for touchscreen selections.
Pricing for the Odyssey begins at $29,990 for the base LX grade and rises to $46,670 for the Elite grade driven here. Destination and handling will add another $940 to those prices.
They may seem over-the-top, but Honda, thanks to its good reliability ratings, always has been able to charge more than the competition.
Toyota has, too. Its Sienna, now seven years out from its last full redesign, ranges from $29,750 to $47,310 for ’17, sans a $960 destination charge.
The Pacifica is $1,000 less than the Odyssey on the low end and almost $4,000 less for its top grade.
Kia’s Sedona and the Dodge Grand Caravan, the latter now sticking around until the ’19 model year, are relative deals, with the Sedona ranging from $26,900-$41,900 and the Grand Caravan $25,995-$33,395.
Judging by 2016 U.S. sales, it appears there’s still a healthy market for low-priced minivans (sales spiked 20% and 26%, respectively, for the Kia and Dodge vans in 2016 while Odyssey deliveries rose 7%).
But for consumers willing to spend more, the new ’18 Odyssey has a lot to offer in terms of features and functionality, especially given the ultra-configurable second row that parents of little ones should love. Especially nice is you can get those seats in the second-least-expensive grade rather than having to pony up for the top trim level. Honda says EX and higher grades typically make up 95% of all Odysseys sold.
Honda expects the van to tally 125,000 sales in its first full year, about the level it has consistently sold and a level that seems right given the improvements to the vehicle.
The new ’18 Odyssey, assembled at Honda’s Lincoln, AL, plant, goes on sale in the U.S. May 25.
'18 Honda Odyssey Elite Specifications
|Vehicle type||4-door, 7- or 8-passenger small van|
|Engine||3.5L SOHC V-6 with direct injection, all aluminum|
|Power (SAE net)||280 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque||262 lb.-ft. (355 Nm) @ 4,700 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||89 x 93|
|Wheelbase||118.1 ins. (3,000 mm)|
|Overall length||203.2 ins. (5,161 mm)|
|Overall width||78.5 ins. (1,994 mm)|
|Overall height||69.6 ins. (1,768 mm)|
|Curb weight||4,593 lbs. (2,083 kg)|
|Price as tested||$46,670, not incl. $940 destination and handling fee|
|Fuel economy||19/28 mpg (12.3-8.4 L/100 km) city/highway|
|Competition||Chrysler Pacifica, Dodge Grand Caravan, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna|
|More powerful engine than before||Similar in output, mpg to Pacifica|
|Magic Slide baby!||Less passenger volume than ’17 Odyssey|
|Reworked, improved infotainment||No good place to brace hand|