Review: New features keep 2018 Honda Odyssey at top of its gameJun 5th, 2017
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
LAST UPDATED: THURSDAY, JUN. 01, 2017 10:07PM EDT
The new Odyssey may deliver an unassuming drive, but it’s perhaps the most luxurious vehicle Honda sells.
I’d like to tell you about the new, fifth-generation Honda Odyssey’s more powerful engine, and its stiffer body and suspension, and the all-new 10-speed automatic gearbox, but I can’t remember a thing about them.
Even Honda, quick to throw around buzzwords like “stunning” and “easy” and even “ultimate family hauler” found it a challenge.
“This is a minivan, yes, but this is a minivan that’s been designed to take on an apex while moving people around and keeping everything quiet,” said Hayato Mori, Honda Canada’s senior manager of product planning, hopefully.
“A minivan is a box, and there’s no way around the box of this vehicle. It’s about cargo space and people space. Adding style to a box is quite challenging.”
It’s easier than before to get in and out of the third row because the floor is now 35 mm lower for stepping into, and the second-row seats now slide away sideways from each door to make better room for access behind.
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There’s the rub. A minivan is eminently practical and supremely comfortable, but its reputation for suburban complacency precedes it everywhere it goes. The very best thing to be said by a minivan owner about the vehicle is that it’s essentially harmless. No rapper or rock star ever drove a minivan and admitted to it. Ultimately, it’s very Canadian.
The new Odyssey, however, may deliver an unassuming drive, but it’s hardly unremarkable. It’s perhaps the most luxurious vehicle Honda sells, with much more space than the Pilot SUV (though the same new engine that now makes 280 horsepower, up 30 from last year). It seats eight people as standard and there’s plenty of room in the third row for two full-grown adults, or three flexible teenagers.
That third row is a big deal for the Odyssey. It’s easier (there’s that buzzword) than before to get in and out of the third row because the floor is now 35 mm lower for stepping into, and the second-row seats now slide away sideways from each door to make better room for access behind. They’ll only do this if the centre second-row seat is removed because they slide into that space, but it’s a very simple thing to do. The other advantage is that car seats can be left in place in the second row, while older passengers climb in and out of the third row with no complaints.
There are five different trim levels, starting at $34,890 for the LX and rising up to $50,290 for the fully-kitted Touring edition. The fabled vacuum cleaner that was previously only available with the most expensive trim is now fitted to all but the most basic edition, so can be had for $38,090 with the cloth-seated EX. Rightly so – it’s always been a bit of a gimmick, anyway.
The CabinTalk feature lets the driver speak through the rear speakers and the van’s headphones.
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This time around, the gimmick is the CabinWatch rear seat monitor, which uses a fish-eye camera above the second row to show an image of the entire rear cabin on the central display screen, for keeping an eye on your kids. It’s an infrared camera, too, so even works in the dark. There’s also a CabinTalk feature that lets the driver speak through the rear speakers and the van’s headphones, which Toyota debuted in the current Sienna. And there’s a “How much farther” app that shows a cool animation to the rear passengers on the drop-down movie screen of how close they are to the destination.
More useful in the Touring edition is the new 10-speed automatic transmission, which Honda plans to eventually fit to many other models. It helps the more powerful engine use roughly the same amount of fuel as the previous generation, though it’s not much different from the 9-speed on all the other trims. Gears are now selected with electronic push-buttons on the centre console, like with Acuras, and this frees up space, though there are also paddle-shifters behind the wheel.
These are the features that will attract attention in advertising and showrooms, but Honda is proudest of the electric steering and redesigned suspension that improves the Odyssey’s handling and … meh … no minivan owner buys the van for the handling. It’s all about safety, convenience, connectivity and practicality.
All trim levels come with HondaSensing, which is the full gamut of lane detection, assisted steering and sensors to warn of other traffic. Surprisingly for a vehicle of this size, it does not offer automatic parking, though the rear camera does have guidelines that help with this, like most cars these days. Apparently, customers have never asked for it.
All trim levels come with HondaSensing, which is the full gamut of lane detection, assisted steering and sensors to warn of other traffic.
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Honda wants to lead the “premium minivan” market because the segment creates exceptionally loyal customers who will stay with the brand for decades, says Jean Marc Leclerc, the maker’s senior vice-president of sales and marketing. There’s stiff competition from the Sienna and the new Chrysler Pacifica, as well as Kia’s Sedona. The Odyssey can’t offer Chrysler’s patented Stow’n’Go second-row seats that fold flat into the floor, but it can offer more comfortable seats that remove simply, as well as just about everything else possible to fit into a vehicle.
So forget about the (apparently) improved drive – I did. It’s all the other features that your kids will remember that keep the new Odyssey at the top of its game.
Base price/as tested: $34,890/ $50,290
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6
Transmission/drive: 9- or 10-speed automatic/front-wheel
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9-speed: 12.6 City, 8.4 Hwy., 10.7 comb. 10-speed: 12.2 City, 8.5 Hwy., 10.6 comb.
Alternatives: Toyota Sienna, Chrysler Pacifica, Kia Sedona
LOOKS: It looks sharp, for a minivan.
INTERIOR: Very well thought-out, and luxurious if you want to upgrade the trim.
PERFORMANCE: Not fast, but you don’t want fast. Plenty powerful enough for towing, though.
TECHNOLOGY: Whatever Honda owners said they wanted has been fitted.
CARGO: Loads of space for everything, and now a little more room behind the third row.
The Odyssey really is as good as a minivan gets.