Executive Wheels: A Very Close Second Best

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite – It's not a sports car by any means, but it's fun to drive and feels very safe and solid

For the umpteenth time over the years, I’ll make a statement that seems patently absurd, but is true nevertheless: I am a minivan man. I like the idea of minivans. I like the room. I like the way they drive. I like that they sit up high for visibility. I like the versatility for road trips. I like the seating capacity for friends and family.

And I like this Honda Odyssey very much.

Having said that, I must admit that I like the Toyota Sienna more, if for no other reason than the Sienna is available in all-wheel drive and is, for now, the only minivan so equipped. This seems odd to me – pretty much all of the minivans, even earlier versions of the Honda, featured AWD at one time, but apparently there wasn’t enough demand to keep the feature. The new minivan in the Chrysler lineup, the Pacifica, has been rumored since its debut a couple years ago to become available in AWD, but no definitive word on that yet.  

This newly styled 2018 Honda Odyssey – the 5th generation of the venerable minivan, originally launched in 1974 – is a marvel in spite of lacking AWD. It has just about everything else one could imagine. Indeed, there are so many features it was difficult in a week-long test drive to experience the full effect.

I admit I drove the Elite trim in the Odyssey – top of the line – so it was loaded with everything that Honda offers – and on this model, all standard; there were no options and one wonders what else they could have possibly put in there. There are six trims in the Odyssey line, starting at $29,990, with the same engine, but on the upper models they replace the standard 9-speed automatic transmission with a 10-speed version, which I had in the test drive. This vehicle has all of the electronics, requisite safety technology, all the app hookups, Bluetooth of course, leather trimmed seats, a 550-watt premium audio system with 11 speakers, a subwoofer and surround sound, and a wireless phone charger on the console.

But let’s talk exclusives.

Since the minivan, any minivan, is the ultimate family vehicle and aimed at those who spend a lot of time in their cars, Honda has made some great things standard. It begins with a Blu-ray entertainment system for the second and third-row seats, that comes with some streaming capabilities for the kids: PBS Kids, Toon Goggles, Happy Kids, EPIX, Spotify and iHeart Radio. There’s even something called “How Much Farther,” an app that “makes trips more fun for kids.” But just in case you need to keep an eye on those kids, this model also included CabinWatch, a camera that displays what’s going on back there on the LCD screen up front. Then, of course, there’s CabinTalk, with a PA system that allows the front-seat people to address the backseat crew through the speakers, and overriding any headphones, for that all-important “cut it out or no ice cream” pronouncement. 

One of the biggest problems for minivans is access to all of the rear seating, and here Honda has the perfect solution: Magic Slide second row captain’s seats. They slide forward, back and slide sideways in both directions, so no matter where the rear-seat occupants are entering, they can easily slide the seats and get into the third row. Pretty smart. In some minivans, like the Pacifica, the seats neatly fold into the floor so the entire back can become storage. On this Odyssey, the third row folds down flat, but to get the full cargo space you have to remove the second-row seats.

Another feature is the height-adjustable rear power liftgate, which, in this version, can be opened from the rear by waving one’s foot underneath. It makes loading easy. And, of course, since it’s a minivan and your family will live in it a lot of the time, there’s a vacuum system built in to take care of all of the potato chips, snacks, dirt and mud that accumulate with so much activity.

This car is safe, has plenty of airbags, even the new curtain and knee stuff, and all of the collision avoidance tech (mitigation braking, lane departure, blind spot, etc.). Also, there is a multi-angle rearview camera that offers a normal behind-view, a wide-angle view, and a top-down bird’s eye view – all helpful when you’re in reverse.

Trust me. You’ll want for nothing in this vehicle.

So it all comes down to the basics, as it always should. The Odyssey for the American market is all-American made, in Alabama, and in the redesign it is a very handsome, somewhat aggressive-looking vehicle that is very stylish. The interior is absolutely beautiful and quite luxurious and comfortable. It would make a great road car.

What really sets it apart from the pack, and also from the historical shortcomings of minivans, is the driving. The 3.5-liter V6 engine, putting out some 280 horsepower, is very powerful, and coupled with the 10-speed transmission, the effect is a smooth, quick vehicle that handles city streets and highway driving with confidence.

About the only thing I didn’t like here was the gear shift: I am not a fan of push-button operation. Call me old school, but I like shift levers. Here you push a button for Park and Reverse, and pull of a switch for Drive. For me it takes a little getting used to, but I understand why: it takes up far less room than a shift lever, it’s in a convenient place on the lower console, so it’s easy to use and allows for a lot of extra storage and cup hold space. It takes some getting used to, but probably no big deal in the end.

I was also impressed with the handling. Too many minivans over the years drove mushily, but this is a tight package with excellent suspension. It holds the road, and even tight curves and turns, quite well. It’s not a sports car by any means, but it’s fun to drive and feels very safe and solid.

And talk about keyless – It unlocks when you approach, there’s a push-button start, and it even locks the doors when you walk 8 feet away. Oh, and it has Wifi hotspot capabilities.

About the only thing not included in this version was a navigation system, which is available, but given all of the modern phone hookups and the like, who needs that these days?

This Elite Odyssey model carries a base price of $46,670, and as I said there are no options – it’s all in there. Add on the $940 destination charge, and the bottom line is $47,610. For all that’s here, and for all the ways it is packaged, that is a good price – and quite competitive with the Toyota Sienna. The only downside is the lack of All Wheel Drive as an option, which, of course the Toyota has for a couple thousand more. That makes this Honda second best in the category – but not by much.


Categories: Tech