THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: Refined powertrain, cargo master, sedan-like moves.
- What’s Worst: Options can get pricey, Display Audio graphics are old-school.
- What’s interesting: The Odyssey sees Honda’s first application of its new 10-speed automatic transmission.
The main choice of families in the 90s and early 2000s, minivan sales fell off a cliff almost overnight.
But why the sudden change? Blame the SUV. Passenger trucks had become more accessible, easier to drive, and more fuel-efficient. Many were based on modified sedan platforms and retained those same easy-to-drive characteristics.
The most important thing, though, was the cool factor. Cool sells, and minivans were decidedly uncool. They were what your parents drove and were great for picking up the kids from soccer practice, but definitely not something you wanted to show off to your friends.
That’s where the SUV came in; while no where near as practical as a van, rugged looks, high driving position, 4WD, and off-roading capability made them difficult to resist. And it seems they are still difficult to resist as minivan sales have never picked up and SUVs continue to kick butt, threatening even the traditional car.
Many manufacturers straight up abandoned minivans, but Honda has never given up on them.
Completely redesigned for 2018, the new Odyssey is better than ever, boasting more power, more tech, and innovative new seating configurations in a better looking package that now weighs less than the outgoing model.
If you have a growing family and desperately need that third row of seating, the new Odyssey might just be the best family vehicle in the world. Here’s why:
Space, Space and more Space
The Odyssey can seat up to 8 people and carry all of their stuff—comfortably. Even in the third row, there was a ton of space for my 6-foot frame to lay back (literally, as the seats recline) and relax. You would be hard-pressed to find another type of vehicle that is this accommodating—most three row SUVs have to compromise on either luggage volume or legroom, but not here.
Behind that third row our full-size stroller appeared small, with enough room left over for a week’s worth of “Costco-sized” groceries. Growing a modest 83 litres, the 929 litre cargo hold is beaten only by the Toyota Sienna, and not by much.
Cubbyholes, nooks, and large cup holders are thoughtfully peppered throughout the cabin so you can store the thousand and one little things children need when you travel with them. Kudos to whoever designed the sunglass holder that actually fits a pair of sunglasses.
The large power sliding door on each side now features tracks hidden under the rear quarter windows for a cleaner look, and accessing all of that space is child’s play.
The 2nd row has a center seat that can be removed allowing for multiple different seating configurations depending on the situation.
Called “Magic Slide” the seats, with the pull of a lever, can be slid both laterally and fore and aft. Push the seats together and you have what Honda calls “buddy mode”; pull them apart when your passengers decide they’re not buddies any more.
For easy access to your little one in a car seat, the center-most seat can be slid forward and closer to the front so you can easily tend to junior’s needs. With the seats positioned in buddy mode, you can easily walk into the 3rd row without the need to slide seats out of the way.
In total there are 5 separate LATCH anchor connections for child seats, if the center seat is in place.
All of the seats recline and are leather covered in EX-L and higher trims.
The 60-40 split third row folds into a well of space in the cargo area; pull a fabric strap on the seat backs and they accordion themselves into the well creating a flat load floor and an enormous 2,452 litres of cargo space. Perfect for hauling pretty much anything.
The top end EX-L Navi and Touring models come with a camera system, allowing you to monitor your passengers on the 8-inch Display Audio touchscreen system. It’s got a wide angle of view so you can even keep tabs on the third row and, if necessary, deliver stern warnings via the PA system that can transmit through the entertainment system’s wireless headphones.
Now loaded with apps like “Are we there yet?” that animates your journey on the 10.2 inch rear screen, and video streaming apps like PBS kids and Toon Goggles, the new rear entertainment system—also controllable by (responsible) passengers through a downloadable smartphone app— will make those longer road trips much easier for everyone.
All this streaming is enabled through the in-vehicle 4G LTE hotspot, or you can tether your phone and use your mobile data plan.
Jumbo-Sized but not Jumbo to drive
At 2086 kg and 17 feet long, the Odyssey is a boat, but its driving manners are more Accord-like. Excellent seating position, greenhouse-like visibility, and light, accurate steering, all Honda trademarks, make this large vehicle easy to drive. Body roll is kept in check and there is more than enough grip to make this van enjoyable through some mild cornering.
Power from the 3.5 litre V6 has risen to 280, up 32 horsepower from last year but that figure doesn’t arrive until the tach has reached a sky high 6000 rpm, meaning you have to rev the snot out of this van to go quickly. There is a brand new 10-speed automatic available on the Touring trims (the rest get a 9-speed), which helps, but in this age of turbo motors a vehicle this big can feel underpowered now.
Such are the times we live in, where 280 hp doesn’t feel like much, and that begs the question—are we spoiled?
Fuel consumption is rated at 10.6 L /100 km on the combined cycle, mirroring my observed 10.5 litres, achieved during a mixed bag of driving conditions. Now while I avoid jackrabbit starts and generally aggressive driving, I don’t have what you would call a “light foot” and 10.5 for a vehicle of this size is darn good. Variable cylinder management that can shut down up to 3 cylinders under light loads and Auto Stop/Start definitely help.
The dashboard layout is generally good, with excellent build quality and Honda’s pushbutton gear selector that is different at first but quite easy to use after. Everything is within easy reach and there is a hard button for most of the important functions. Oddly there is no button to control the A/C, and that requires a couple pokes at the touchscreen. The 8” Display Audio system is user-friendly but the graphics are last generation and the embedded Garmin navigation system tried to make me take a bridge that was no longer there.
Safe is Standard
Even the lowest (LX) Odyssey on the totem pole comes standard with Honda Sensing. This collection of driver assistance technologies includes Collision Mitigation Braking, Lane Keeping Assist, Road Departure Mitigation and Adpative Cruise Control that can maintain a set distance from the car in front of you. Coupled with new knee airbags for the driver and front passenger, the Odyssey earns 5 Star NCAP and Top Safety Pick + ratings.
The base LX starts at around $35,000, but a move up to the EX will get you power sliding doors and a blind-spot monitor, both worthwhile upgrades.
EX-L NAVI and Touring models get the 10-speed transmission, leather seating surfaces and all the aforementioned entertainment goodies, but by that time the price has swelled to just over $50K. While the rear entertainment system is nice, a couple of iPads would do the same thing and can come with you when the car is parked.
Choose your options wisely and the Odyssey can be great value: standard Magic seats, cavernous cargo space, thoughtful storage, family friendly technology, a refined powertrain and the latest in safety, all reasons why this is the ultimate family vehicle, a veritable road trip superhero, and the smart alternative to the ubiquitous SUV.
Photos © Kunal D’souza
2018 Honda Odyssey Touring
BODY STYLE: 5-door, 8-Passenger Minivan
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, Front-Wheel Drive
ENGINE: 3.5 L SOHC i-VTEC V6 (Power: 280 hp @ 6000 rpm; Torque: 262 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm)
TRANSMISSION: 10-speed automatic (EX-L NAVI, Touring) 9-speed automatic (LX, EX, EX-RES)
CARGO CAPACITY: 929 litres (behind rear seat); 2452 litres (behind second row); 3973 litres (behind first row)
FUEL ECONOMY: 10-speedGasoline (Regular unleaded): 12.2/8.5/10.6 L/100 km (city/highway/combined); 9-speed: 12.6/8.4/10.7 L/100 km
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 10.5L/100 km
PRICE: LX($35,290); EX($38,490); EX-RES($39,990); EX-L RES($44,990); EX-L NAVI($44,990) Touring($50,690)
WEBSITE: Honda Odyssey
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