Honda didn’t invent the minivan but it’s come as close as anyone to perfecting it during the past 30 years and the 2018 Odyssey is the pinnacle of that success.
This fact is probably lost on the numerous young parents who refuse to indulge in the minivan market either out of pack-minded devotion to crossover SUVs or knee-jerk objection to their parents’ vehicle of choice.
It might also be lost on the parents who are shopping for new minivans because the all-new Odyssey ranked fourth in the U.S. sales market through August, trailing ancient but cheap offerings from Dodge and Toyota as well as the recently redesigned Chrysler Pacifica (this gap might also have something to do with Honda’s reluctance to sell its vehicles to large fleets but I’m not sure that can explain the entire 40,000-unit gap between the Odyssey and the Grand Caravan).
However, the 2018 Odyssey’s achievements are not lost on me and I’m a childless, unmarried urbanite in my mid-twenties, which is about as far from Honda’s target demographic as one can be.
While one could argue that an endorsement from someone with my lack of qualifications is diluted if not damaging, I stand by my assessment. Even without real children to use as guinea pigs, I was able to confirm my hypothesis with the next best thing: a backseat full of other childless, unwedded, city-dwelling Millennials.
Although the minivan provides a large canvas, there’s not much room for variation because too much flash will inevitably cut into its functionality and that’s a non-starter in this segment. That in mind, Honda has stuck to the script on the primary body design, retaining the same overall shape.
However, a few minor modifications go a long way. Honda has reshaped the Odyssey’s headlights, given it a new grille design, changed the D-pillar to create a floating roof appearance and modernizing the rear fascia by getting rid of the back reflector that runs the width of the tailgate and making the back window appear wider. Plus, by moving the unsightly track lines that guide the rear doors, Honda gives its family hauler a smoother, more refined appearance.
New accent lines along the sides and a more sculpted hood also add some distinction to the renewed Odyssey. Normally I’d consider that sort of surface-level makeover a cop out but in this case, it really catches the eye and elevates the vehicle’s overall appearance. From a distance, it’s actually surprisingly appealing. Inside, the Odyssey also gets a sleek makeover as well as a healthy dose of open cabin space around the driver and front passenger seats.
With its 2018 makeover, the Odyssey is one of the more stylish minivans on the market, if such a thing exists. While there is something to be said for the Kia Sedona’s mesh, tiger nose grille, the only real competition for the Odyssey in the looks department is the recently revamped Chrysler Pacifica, which essentially stretches the 200ʼs aesthetic into a minivan-sized package. Personally, I’d probably go with the Pacifica’s looks, if I had to choose, but one could argue that a minivan shouldn’t look that nice and I can respect that ethos.
Like large dogs and strip malls, minivans just don’t belong in big cities. There isn’t enough room for them to stretch out and make use of their God-given abilities. As such, I knew the only way to properly evaluate the 2018 Odyssey was to hit the open road and head out to the country; unfortunately I had access to neither so I settled for the Long Island Expressway and the Hamptons instead.
Though my girlfriend is a fine road trip companion on her own, a vehicle of this size demands more than two butts to be properly tested, so I recruited a pair of friends to serve as our surrogate children for the day and gave them strict instructions to be as petulant as possible in their criticisms of the backseat experience. However, aside from a nearly disastrous bout of car sickness, there were no issues to report.
In fact, the Odyssey is every bit as comfortable on a traffic-addled three hour trip as it is during the hour and a half that it’s supposed to take. Positioned well above the ground, both front seats come standard with power adjustability, ample padding and optional leather upholstery. The middle row captain’s chairs are not much of a downgrade; though they have to be adjusted by hand, they can be moved forward backward and, for the first time ever, side-to-side to find the exact right placement for the occupant and the situation.
For cold weather customers, Honda offers heated seats on all but the base LX trim and the same goes for the Odyssey’s tri-zone climate control system. Speaking of the third row, even passengers back there have access to enough legroom for a grown adult to seat back there with relatively limited discomfort.
A minivan is not just a means of transportation; it’s really more of a rolling command center for family life. Like any good command center, the Odyssey comes plied with a plethora of controls, most of which are smack dab in the middle of the cabin and, thanks to a well-positioned driver’s seat and airy interior design, easy to access.
By using an electronic transmission, which replaces the big clunky gear box and shift stick with a set of buttons, Honda was able to carve out a substantial space between the center console and the front of the cabin. Yet, while this decision removes clutter from between the front seats, it adds more to the center stack, which also includes a Blu-ray disk drive, climate controls for three separate vehicular zones and a fairly large infotainment screen (and yes, it does have a volume knob, too).
While the control cluster throws a lot at the driver, too much to become fully accustomed on the first or second drive, it could certainly be worse, considering how many functions are rolled into the Honda Link infotainment screen, which starts at five inches across on the LX and widens to eight inches on the EX and higher. My suggestion is to get as acclimated as possible before hitting the road, because it’s far too easy to get side tracked by the technology.
When it comes to hauling around people and stuff, the Honda Odyssey does both better than just about any personal-use vehicle. With 38.6 cubic feet of trunk space, 92 cubic feet with the third row folded flat and a maximum offering of 158 cubic feet, the only way to fit more in a vehicle is by upgrading to a commercial van or opting for a truck instead.
It’s quite easy to collapse the third row into the floor: a few yanks on a pair of straps on the 60/40 folding bench and they’ll disappear. The middle row, however, is not quite as utilitarian. Both can be folded and slid forward a good amount for added capacity, but to achieve the max, one must remove the seats from the vehicle completely. That might be forgivable if Chrysler hadn’t mastered the vanishing second row trip last year. It might not be of much use on a road trip, but the Pacifica’s versatility makes it better prepared for the unexpected, such as a piece of furniture found abandoned at the curb or an impulse buy at Costco.
For day-to-day use, though, the Odyssey has more than enough cargo capacity for the average family. Plus, features such as a hands-free power liftgate make for an easy loading process.
Compared to sedans and SUVs, the minivan segment is a sparsely populated niche limited to roughly a half dozen offerings, all of which are made by major, mainstream brands. However, do not let their benign appearances fool you, these vehicles are in vicious competition with one another as automakers seek to bolster and expand their share of this shrinking market. The hottest battlefield in today’s minivan war is on the technology front.
As the most recent redesign in the segment, the onus is on the Odyssey to raise the bar in this category and it does not disappoint. Highlighting the suite of new tech in the 2018 model are two new systems aimed specifically at parents who want to keep their children in check: CabinWatch and CabinTalk. You can tell they are new and fancy because their names have no spaces between their words.
As its name suggests, CabinWatch allows the front seat occupants to keep an eye on the passengers in the back by use of a ceiling mounted, rear-facing camera that sends a video feed to the infotainment screen. It’s a good way to see who’s pestering who, who’s sleeping, who’s pouting and it can actually be fun to mess around with when fellow adults are seated back there. Though it’s most common application will be probably be chastising unruly kids, the CabinTalk system’s usefulness is more ubiquitous as it broadcasts the driver’s voice into the back seat area through a PA system or directly into the vehicle’s wireless headphones. Anyone who’s been stuck in the backseat and struggled to hear what the people in front are saying can appreciate this feature.
Honda has also given the Odyssey 4G LTE Wi-Fi; an available backseat screen that can play Blu-ray videos or stream content from smartphones and CabinControl, an app that can turn a mobile device into a remote control for the car. All of this, plus a reconfigurable infotainment system with various other apps and features, makes the 2018 Odyssey the most tech-savvy minivan on the market. With all of its cameras and connectivity, it might just be the perfect minivan for the Millennial buyer.
While tech offerings are in vogue, especially for buyers willing to spend close to $50,000 on a fully loaded Elite edition, safety has long been one of the backbones of the minivan segment. One of the reasons the Odyssey is consistently among the best-selling and most recommended vehicles in its class is because it also excels at keeping driver’s and their passengers safe. The 2018 model is no different.
Honda’s minivan earned a Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, that is to say it has the top endorsement from the leading independent safety monitor in the country. It earned the highest possible grade of “Good” in all five crashworthiness tests as well as a “Superior” crash prevention rating, thanks to the optional emergency braking system offered on all but the base trim package. The only blemish on the IIHS report was the Odyssey’s headlights, which only managed an “Acceptable” grade for the top trim packages because they can’t shift to bend around curves. For what it’s worth, the IIHS has been especially critical of headlights this past year, likely as an attempt to persuade automakers to step up their efforts. It’s a valiant cause, but I wouldn’t read too much into it.
Honda also earned nearly perfect scores from the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which scored the Odyssey five stars overall. The only test it didn’t ace was the rollover evaluation, for which it was scored four stars and that’s an inherent weakness in the minivan body style, with all of its major competitors getting four-star ratings as well.
It’s tough to poke holes in the Odyssey’s safety record, but if I have one criticism it’s that it hasn’t made its Honda Sensing driver assistance suite a standard feature, thus depriving LX customers of collision and road departure mitigation, lane keeping assistance and other features that could potentially save lives. That being said, I don’t think Honda will be able to get away with commodifying vehicle safety much longer as more and more manufacturers master this technology and standardize it.
Powered by a new 3.5-liter V6 engine, the Odyssey makes 280 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque, enough to get the large body up and running on the highway but it’s still a minivan so I think anything beyond overtaking a slow-moving vehicle on the highway is probably going to be out of the question. Although, that being said, it does come with a Sport mode that changes shift patterns, increases RPMs and makes the steering just a bit tighter. I’m not sure why a minivan needs any of those things to happen but that’s not for me to judge.
Also, both the 9-speed automatic transmission, which comes with the LX, EX, EX-L and EX-L Navi, as well as the all-new 10-speed transmission on the Touring and Elite versions offer paddle shifters. Again, I don’t know why that’s necessary or even desirable, but I will say that it made things a little more entertaining on the highway.
When properly equipped, the Odyssey can tow up to 3,500 pounds and Honda offers optional roof rails and racks for those who want to move around things that can’t fit inside the cavernous cabin. As far as fuel economy goes, the EPA predicts 19 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined and found that to be about accurate during my test drive.
In addition to a new engine and transmission, the 2018 Odyssey also receives a new rear suspension that includes a new stabilizer bar for less body roll and a wider stance for the dampers in hopes of improving ride control. Even with these upgrades and a sport driving mode, this minivan still drives like a minivan. It still sways when rounding tight corners at high speeds and it’s too big and bulky for any fancy maneuvering.
More importantly, however, the Odyssey does provide a smooth and comfortable ride without much bouncing around, even when rolling over minor potholes and bumps in the road. It’s not exciting and it’s not flashy but rather something anonymous in its driving style and for a vehicle this size, going unnoticed is the best thing one can hope for.
This is the part of my reviews where I typically like to equivocate, listing the positives and negatives of the vehicle in question and how it stacks up to the competition. However, in this case, I’ll skip all that and get right down to brass tacks: the 2018 Honda Odyssey is the best overall minivan for the minivan’s intended audience: families.
It’s safe, it’s comfortable and it’s got all the latest technology one could hope for in a mainstream vehicle. Heck, it’s even got a built-in vacuum cleaner. It’s not flashy and yes, you still have to take the middle seats out if you want access to the maximum cargo capacity but those are small prices to pay.
Many people buy vehicles in this segment out of loyalty to a brand or nameplate and that’s fine as long as the deal is good and the vehicle is safe. For those free agents out entering the minivan market for the first time, your search should at least start with the Odyssey. For those in need of a collapsible middle row or a flashy exterior, the Chrysler Pacifica is solid option. For others who want something cheap and easy, the Dodge Grand Caravan will be back for at least one more model year. Everything else can be found right here with the 2018 Honda Odyssey.