Our resident minivan engineering alum examines Odyssey
My last “real” job in the field I was formally trained for was working on the advanced engineering of the NS-generation (1996) Chrysler minivan, and as such I retain a high level of interest in innovation in this unloved and shrinking segment. Following the introduction of Chrysler’s Pacifica, you might think there’s not much remaining “white space” for innovation, but indeed Honda has found some.
On the standard seven-seater Odyssey, the middle row seat can be configured for “wide mode” with the two seats placed far apart to ease loading and buckling a kid into a child seat, or they can be easily slid inboard to facilitate egress to the third-row seat. They can meet in the middle for marginal access from either side (and “buddy mode” seating), or they can gather on one side of the car or the other, opening up a much wider entryway to the rear. If you’re sensing déjà vu, the 2014 Odyssey seats could be unlatched at the rear, slid inboard, and relatched. The new mechanism to slide them is far easier to operate, even by kid-sized hands.
There are a few BIG downsides, though. Obviously these seats don’t disappear into the floor (as the third row still does) when it comes time to lug the four-by-eight sheets, but neither do their seat backs fold down flat to allow such sheet goods or other bulky items to ride on top of them. If you do need all the space, phone a friend to help, as they weigh 69 pounds (31 kg) each when it comes time to stow them in the garage.
Worried whether the kids are sleeping peacefully or silently torturing each other during that late-night drive home from Grandma’s? There’s a ceiling mounted camera positioned to be able to see kids riding in forward- or rearward-facing seats in the middle row that can perceive infrared at night. Serious spy-cam black ops stuff.
While Honda has yet to announce a hybrid version of the Odyssey, the company did announce that half of all new models introduced in the next year would offer electrification, and in the same speech it was announced that Honda’s two-motor hybrid system would be extended to the light truck range (Odyssey, Pilot, Ridgeline—all of which will be built in the same plant in Alabama).
Another “feature” that may or may not be universally applauded by the kids riding in back: the front-mounted hands-free telephone microphone can be used to pipe Mom or Dad’s wisdom directly into the rear seat entertainment speakers or the headphones! It’s unknown whether this will pause the entertainment as when the pilot butts in on your in-flight movie, or just interrupt it. On the plus side, contributions to the onboard music playlist can be made by up to eight different connected devices (in which case hopefully someone’s wielding two, as the driver shouldn’t be twiddling a device).
The Odyssey’s juiciest tech upgrade is the world’s first 10-speed automatic for front-engine/front-drive applications, and it was entirely designed in house at Honda. The compact unit utilizes four planetary gear-sets axially aligned with the crankshaft. Gears are selected using three multi-plate clutches connecting various elements and three brakes that lock elements to the case. There’s also a two-way clutch replacing a couple of elements to save considerable packaging length. Another space saver: One of the ring gears does double duty transferring torque to the differential, meaning it has gear teeth inside and outside its shell.
The ratios themselves have yet to be divulged, but the overall ratio spread (first gear ratio divided by tenth gear ratio) is 10.00—up from 6.04 on the six-speed automatic and 9.82 on the Pilot’s ZF nine-speed—and the top four gears are overdrive ratios (as on the nine-speed). The transmission supports the Odyssey’s variable displacement system thanks to a torque converter with a three-stage vibration damper, and it supports auto start/stop (standard on Odyssey 10-speeds) with an accumulator that can engage the first-gear clutches very fast or very slowly and comfortably depending on whether the engine is switching on because the driver is ready to go or because of vehicle-based reasons (like humidity levels calling for AC). Clever.
Expect to see the 10-speed only on top trim levels of the Odyssey to begin with, after which it will gradually spread throughout the Honda fleet. It’s designed to have a ten-year lifespan.