Car Reviews First Tests

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite First Test: Good Enough to Convert Crossover Lovers?

Testing the most spacious car Honda offers

Testing the most spacious car Honda offers

The baby gear piles up faster than you’d think. Pack the car for a trip with two or three small kids and, suddenly, three-row SUVs start to make some sense. What some consumers have always known is that minivans such as the new 2018 Honda Odyssey are more practical and spacious alternatives to similar crossovers. We drove and tested the redesigned 2018 Odyssey—yes, we track-tested a minivan—to determine whether it’s a match for the best in the segment, and if it could convince a growing family to go sensible—a minivan instead of a sexy crossover—for their next car.

The growing family to convince is my sister, brother-in-law, a ridiculously cute three-year-old girl, and a baby girl who will be here before the end of the year. Their family car is a three-row crossover that fills up when you’re trying to carry mom, dad, the kid in a car seat, and two adult friends to breakfast, or those same folks plus a dog. Minivans are a better bet than similarly sized and priced crossovers for their lower floor height, additional cargo space before folding down any seats, and space for second- and third-row passengers. What stops many (including my sister) from going Odyssey and Sienna instead of Pilot or Highlander is the image associated with minivan drivers.

Improved Acceleration from an Updated Engine and New Transmissions

With the 2018 Odyssey in mind, that image certainly has nothing to do with minivans being slow. All Odysseys get a power boost for 2018—the minivan’s 3.5-liter V-6 now makes 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. A nine-speed automatic is standard on the LX, EX, and EX-L trims, and a new 10-speed automatic comes on the more expensive Touring and Elite trims. We hear the 2018 Odyssey’s nine-speed has been updated and improved since Honda and Acura first started using it on other products, and we look forward to testing that for ourselves, especially after a long-term 2016 Honda Pilot Elite needed to get its nine-speed transmission replaced under warranty. The well-tuned 10-speed automatic on our loaded 2018 Odyssey Elite tester shifted smoothly, though drivers can chirp the tires with an overeager initial application of the throttle from a stop. On the track, associate road test editor Erick Ayapana said the transmission seems well matched to the engine.

With the updated engine and 10-speed automatic, the 2018 Odyssey sped from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.9 seconds. That’s a full second quicker than a 2015 Odyssey Elite we tested, and just two-tenths of a second slower than a 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring we’ve tested, though two higher-trim and heavier Pacifica Limiteds reached 60 mph in 7.5 and 7.7 seconds. Multiple editors noticed a strong engine note from the Odyssey’s V-6, though the engine sound is only intrusive (or sporty, depending on your perspective) at wide-open throttle; otherwise the Odyssey feels quiet but not luxury-car quiet.

The 2018 Odyssey complements improved acceleration with slightly better EPA-rated fuel economy—not a bad combination. Moving from the 2017 model’s 19/27 mpg (12.4/8.7 L/100km) city/highway to 19/28 mpg (12.4/8.4 L/100km) on the 2018 Odyssey with either transmission is an insignificant improvement, but it’s about even with the Chrysler Pacifica (18-19/28 mpg (13.12.4/8.4 L/100km)) and front-drive Toyota Sienna (19/27 mpg (12.4/8.7 L/100km)), and well ahead of the Kia Sedona (from 17/22 mpg (13.8/10.7 L/100km) to 18/25 mpg (13.1/9.4 L/100km) depending on trim). Fuel economy might not be at the top of your list, but a more efficient minivan such as the more expensive Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid means fewer stops at the gas station.

Space and Interior Flexibility

We’d prefer the last-gen Odyssey’s HVAC knobs to the up/down toggles on the new model, but overall the new interior is a big step forward. Blue ambient lighting is included on the Elite model.

If you’re considering a minivan, interior space and ease of access are likely high on your priority list. As with every minivan, available second-row power-sliding doors are incredibly helpful, making life easier for kids and preventing big doors from slamming into the adjacent car in the mall parking lot. Where the Odyssey and other minivans destroy the other crossovers is in cargo space behind the second and third rows. The Odyssey still has a decent amount of space in a deep well at the back if all three rows are full of passengers. When they’re not, one long pull of a strap is all it takes to fold the third-row seats in that cavernous space when you need more cargo space.

Even the 2018 Odyssey’s third-row seats will seat adults of average height, thanks to third-row legroom that’s more generous than that of the Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Sienna, or Kia Sedona. Honda also claims the third row has best-in-class visibility, plus rear side windows that reach lower (relative to the height of third-row passengers’ eyes) than other minivans. That’s a helpful advantage I experienced while I poked around the minivan, but it’s only meaningful if you plan on actually using the third row a lot. While shuttling adults and kids around town, editor-in-chief Ed Loh was impressed by the Odyssey’s space, noting that both rows offered enough room and that second-row comfort was rated very high. My sister had a similar experience recently when she rented a Chrysler Pacifica to drive around a mix of adults and kids. The Odyssey is one of the most spacious family vehicles available today, but some three-row crossover owners will be just as delighted by the spaciousness of the Chrysler Pacifica and Toyota Sienna, too.

Instead of offering second-row seats that fold into the floor like the Chrysler Pacifica (Stow ‘n Go), the 2018 Honda Odyssey includes Magic Slide second-row seats on all but the base LX trim. The Magic Slide seats move back and forth like you’d expect, but they also move from side to side. The feature is useful if you don’t mind the Odyssey becoming a seven- and not eight-passenger minivan, and you’ll need a place to store the second-row middle seat. That’s a real inconvenience, but taking out the seat is something you’ll probably only have to do once after you bring home the Odyssey from a dealership. Once that middle seat has been stuffed in a closet or a corner of the garage, you’re left with two captain’s chairs that each have armrests, and the ability to easily slide those seats from one side to the other up to 12.9 inches. This sounds like a lot of trouble just to achieve the seven-passenger layout of some other minivans, but the flexible seats can make it easier to get into the third row if one second-row seat has been moved toward the center of the car. With one second-row captain’s chair moved to the center and pushed forward, the driver can more easily reach a kid secured in a child seat. And if your situation ever changes such that you do need eight-passenger seating, the Odyssey (in EX and above) can accommodate.

Handling, Braking, and Safety

On the track, the 2018 Odyssey Elite minivan completed the figure-eight course in [irrelevant] seconds at [insignificant] g, and … OK, OK, it finished it in 29.1 seconds at 0.56 g, not a very good performance among minivans. Testing director Kim Reynolds said the Odyssey’s stability control was “very heavy handed, severely limiting power while cornering.” In the real world, that might not be a bad thing for a vehicle where safety is so important. Reynolds also noted the Odyssey was “very well behaved” and pointed out a behavior we noticed on the road, too—the car’s considerable but smooth body motions. When loaded with six people, Loh said the Odyssey felt “very stable yet surprisingly nimble.”

Our loaded 4,562-pound (2,069 kg) tester came to a stop from 60 mph in 124 feet, a respectable but not class-leading performance. We’ve tested 2017 Chrysler Pacificas coming to a stop in 122-131 feet, and our long-term 2016 Kia Sedona SX finished the test in 118 feet. The 2018 Odyssey hasn’t been safety-tested yet by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but Honda expects top scores from both organizations. That’s good because the Pacifica, Sedona, and Sienna all have five-star overall safety ratings from the NHTSA. As for IIHS ratings, the Pacifica is a 2017 Top Safety Pick+, and the Sedona is a 2017 Top Safety Pick. On the 2018 Odyssey EX and above, the standard Honda Sensing active safety tech includes a system that can apply the brakes if it senses a collision ahead, another feature that can keep the car in its lane, and an adaptive cruise control system we wish had stop-and-go functionality (the Odyssey’s version of the tech disengages below 22 mph (35 km/h)).

CabinTalk and the Odyssey’s Interior

Inside, the 2018 Odyssey’s interior takes a step forward with a modern instrument cluster that features a 7.0-inch screen at its center. An 8.0-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality is standard on the 2018 Odyssey EX and above. Our Elite tester had a $47,410 USD as-tested price, which means it included everything Honda offers on the Odyssey. That includes heated and ventilated front seats, navigation, LED headlights, leather seats, an entertainment system with a 10.2-inch screen and a How Much Farther function, attractive 19-inch wheels, a full suite of active safety tech, front and rear parking sensors, the helpful HondaVAC vacuum (in a 2017 Odyssey, I used the feature to vacuum spilled french fries from the front seat footwell), as well as two new-to-Honda features named CabinWatch and CabinTalk.

CabinWatch (included on Touring and Elite) uses a camera placed near the entertainment system to look back to the second and third rows, and it even has night vision. CabinTalk (included on EX-L with nav and the entertainment system, Touring, and Elite) sends the driver and front passenger’s voice through the rear speakers (and entertainment-system headphones) to get everyone’s attention. Once everyone is listening, they can send destination suggestions to the driver—such as where to stop for lunch—via the CabinControl app that’s available on the EX trim and above. On the app, users can suggest navigation destinations to the driver (who can accept or reject them), control the entertainment system if your Odyssey has one, change rear climate control settings, or add songs to a social playlist. The system worked fine for us and could be cool to have on road trips, though we could see the CabinTalk feature being most useful on a regular basis.

Even with all these features, technology, and top-of-the-class interior space, the 2018 Odyssey is no luxury minivan. For that type of minivan experience, if you don’t mind low fuel economy, check out the Kia Sedona SXL. A former Big Test comparison winner, the Sedona SXL has Nappa leather seats in a couple two-tone color combinations including one with dark burgundy, second-row seats with retractable footrests, 19-inch chrome wheels, a very useful multi-camera parking aid, and a dual-panel moonroof.

Value

After checking out the 2018 Odyssey in person and learning about all the features and standard equipment, my sister was surprised that the loaded Elite model was only $47,610 USD. There really is a lot of value in the Odyssey’s lineup, especially when compared to SUVs that won’t have the same flexible and spacious interior. If you’re looking for the sweet spot in the Odyssey’s lineup, avoid the base LX model if you can afford upgrading. The 2018 Odyssey LX is still just as spacious as the other models, but it lacks power-sliding doors (like base models of the Kia, Chrysler, and Toyota) and the Honda Sensing active safety tech. In addition to the bigger central screen on the dash you get with the EX, the EX-L adds a power liftgate, an acoustic windshield that might make the interior a tad quieter, and a few other upgrades. As we mentioned above, we hope the nine-speed automatic in every trim but the 10-speed-equipped Touring and Elite has been improved since Honda and Acura started using it in other models.

One of those other models is the Pilot, a crossover that might appeal more to my sister and brother-in-law, as well as to the increasing number of buyers eschewing cars for crossovers of all shapes and sizes. Because even after seeing all the Odyssey had to offer and experiencing the ease of access and spaciousness of a minivan, my sister—for now—is solidly in the large group of buyers avoiding minivans. For those who want or don’t mind a minivan, the Odyssey is one of the most spacious around, with a highly functional interior that shines best if you can find a place in the garage for that middle second-row seat. Once you do, you’ll be driving one of the most well-rounded players in the shrinking minivan segment.

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite
BASE PRICE $47,610
PRICE AS TESTED $47,610
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 8-pass, 4-door van
ENGINE 3.5L/280-hp/262-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 10-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,562 lb (55/45%)
WHEELBASE 118.1 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 203.2 x 78.5 x 69.6 in
0-60 MPH 6.9 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.4 sec @ 91.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 124 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.74 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 29.1 sec @ 0.56 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 19/28/22 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 177/120 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.87 lb/mile