All-new 2018 Honda Odyssey aims for greater comfort, safety, features and style

2018 Honda Odyssey

2018 Honda Odyssey

What changes will make the 2018 Honda Odyssey different?

Everything, as befits the fully redesigned edition of Honda’s popular minivan. The first all-new Odyssey since model-year 2011, the ’18 aims to amp up this family hauler’s blend of roominess, road manners, and rug-rat amenities. The styling is sleeker, the body structure lighter yet stronger. There’s more power, but the promise of better mileage. Front seaters can now observe those in back on a video screen and speak to them through the Odyssey’s audio speakers — even talk through their headphones.

This is the fifth-generation Odyssey – the original debuted for 1995 – and it enters a segment that’s been in decline for a decade as buyers flock instead to crossover SUVs. Once a 1.6-million-annual sales market with some 15 entries, today’s minivan class contains just six nameplates; sales totaled around 491,000 for 2016, a 6-percent decline for 2015. Still, automakers recognize a loyal following for these remarkably versatile vehicles and development of Odyssey competitors continues. Chrysler launched its all-new Pacifica for model-year 2017, and Toyota gave its ’17 Sienna a new engine and plans to redesign the vehicle for model-year ’19.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

Because it bundles all Honda has learned about the minivan and promises to widen its lead over the competition for driving enjoyment. It should maintain the brand’s high quality and resale ratings, and is designed to continue its appeal to upscale minivan buyers. Final specs on the ’18 model were not released in time for this report, but basic dimensions change little, and seating for up to eight remains.

Honda’s redesign focused on refinement, connectivity, and safety. Indeed, it claims to have addressed one of the outgoing Odyssey’s demerits by applying extensive sound-deadening efforts to make this the quietest minivan on the market. And it equips every ’18 Odyssey except the entry-level LX version with autonomous emergency braking, a key driver assist not previously available on any Odyssey. Waiting for the ’18 also gets you more flexible second-row seating, a more advanced suspension, and access to the first 10-speed automatic transmission in the class.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

If you’re hunting for a minivan bargain, the ’17 Odyssey is an excellent choice. It’s still the class leader for handling and its styling isn’t outdated, even next to the all-new ’18. Better yet, big discounts ought to be available as dealers clear inventories to make way for the redesigned ‘18.

Although it can’t match the redesigned version’s range of features – particularly regarding safety – it shares with the ’18 Odyssey a front-wheel-drive configuration powered by a strong V-6 engine. And expect Honda to carry over the 2017 model lineup, beginning with the entry level LX trim and ascending through EX, SE, EX-L, Touring, and Touring Elite. One thing the automaker might alter with the 2018 Odyssey is its practice of offering the EX-L model with a choice of an imbedded navigation system or a rear-seat video-entertainment system – but not both. To get both on a ’17 Odyssey, you’ll have to move up to a Touring or Touring Elite.

Will the styling be different?

Yes, but consider it an evolution of the look introduced with the fourth-generation model. Alterations to the “flying-wing” grille are subtle, although top-line models are now available with LED headlamps versus the previous xenon units. The taillamps are larger and no longer horizontally linked by taillamp-colored plastic. The reverse-tapered rear roof pillars return, but now they’re partially outlined in black for a trendy “floating pillar” look.

The biggest exterior change is along the body sides, which now carries deeply sculpted wave forms. The aft beltline retains the distinctive but odd “lightning-bolt” drop-down introduced with the 2011 Odyssey, but its angles are far less severe. And for the first time, the channels along which the sliding side doors open are hidden in the base of the rear windows rather than slicing through the rear fenders.

The all-new cabin retains a light, airy feel, but looks and feels more sophisticated. That’s driven home by the dashboard, which has a soft-touch surface and a bright, easy-to-ready digital-instrument cluster in place of round analog gauges. In a major change, a single, central-dashboard screen replaces a redundant dual-screen setup. The high-def 8-incher is mounted in the current tablet-type fashion rather than integrated into the dashboard face.

Final trim-grade details hadn’t been released in time for this report, but expect the 2018 LX model to again come with seating for seven while other Odysseys accommodate up to eight via a removable center cushion in their second row. That second row is Honda’s Magic Slide design, which, with the center section removed, enables you to part the outboard seats or move them together. That provides third-row pass-through options – even with two child seats in place. It can also help regulate sibling quarrels. The center-most seat can also slide forward, putting a child within easier reach of a front-seat occupant.

Cargo volume is again a plus, although getting maximum volume requires accordioning the second-row seats forward; they don’t remove or fold into the floor. The third row is again split 50/50 and can be tumbled into a rear floor well to create a flat load surface The liftgate is available for the first time with hands-free power operation via foot activation below the bumper.

Any mechanical changes?

Yes, but without altering the basic engineering design. Odyssey is again front-wheel-drive only. Toyota’s Sienna remains the only minivan available with all-wheel drive, although the ’18 Odyssey gains a driver-selectable snow mode to maximize slippery-surface traction. Honda reportedly has no plans to offer Odyssey with gas-electric hybrid power, ceding that technology to the just-introduced Pacifica plug-in hybrid.

A 3.5-liter V-6 remains the sole engine and again features the automaker’s Variable Cylinder Management, which saves gas by shutting down two or three cylinders in low-demand cruising. Internal modifications give it an additional 32 horsepower, for a total of 280. No torque figure had been released in time for this report; the outgoing V-6 generated 240 pound-feet. Gone is the previous Odyssey’s six-speed automatic transmission in favor of a nine-speed automatic or, on upper trim levels (probably Touring and Touring Elite) a 10-speed automatic. Honda says the new transmissions translate to better mileage and more refined performance.

Both those goals would be bolstered by the increased use of structural aluminum and magnesium that reduce curb weight by up to 96 pounds, depending on trim, and also create a more rigid body shell. Odyssey was already the best-handling minivan and Honda says the redesign brings even quicker steering response, as well as improved cornering thanks to a new rear suspension. It also claims better ride quality, which would address the sometimes too-stiff feel over bumps that was the outgoing Odyssey’s chief dynamic flaw.

Will fuel economy improve?

If it doesn’t, Honda’s work to reduce weight, to upgrade the powertrain, even to engineering aero-enhancing active grille shutters, will be for naught. We won’t know for certain until 2018 EPA ratings are released, though.

The ’17 Odyssey rated 19/27/22 mpg city/highway/combined. That was neck-and-neck with its rivals, although the Pacifica hybrid is the clear class leader, rated 80 mpg-equivalent when accounting for its ability to travel 30 miles on electric power alone. Expect ’18 Odysseys with the nine-speed automatic to beat the 2018 EPA ratings by a mile or two per gallon city, highway, and combined. Figure those with the 10-speed automatic to widen the gap another mile or two per gallon in each category.

Will it have new features?

Yes, centered on safety and connectivity with both the world outside the van and the people within. Making Honda Sensing standard on all trims but the LX means 95 percent of 2018 Odyssey buyers will enjoy the benefits of the automaker’s laudable suite of driver assists. Honda Sensing includes automatic steering to correct lane wander or road departure; adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection. Its key component is autonomous emergency braking designed to stop the Odyssey to prevent a collision with another vehicle or a pedestrian. That last feature would qualify Honda Sensing-equipped Odysseys for the industry’s most coveted award, the Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

As for infotainment, expect imbedded navigation to again be the province of the upper-trim models, but all ’18 Odysseys do support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, enabling app-based GPS mapping where there’s a cell signal. The automaker’s new Display Audio system thankfully restores a conventional volume knob in place of the former finicky touch-sensitive slider. Front-seaters can use the audio system to broadcast their voice to those in the rear via a new feature Honda calls CabinTalk. Pacifica and Sienna offer similar voice systems, but the ’18 Odyssey ups the nanny ante with CabinWatch. It mounts an interior camera that broadcasts to the center dashboard screen, allowing the driver and front passenger keep tabs on passengers in the rear. Infrared capability means you can view dozing riders without turning on cabin lights

The Connected Rear Entertainment System adds a ceiling-mounted, 10.2-inch screen on which second- and third-row passengers can get streaming video. PBS Kids, iHeart Radio, Spotify and more are available through in-vehicle 4G LTE WiFi, public WiFi, or the user’s cellphone data plan. A new “How Much Farther?” app lets passengers track trip progress. With CabinControl, users download an app and employ their smartphone to control the rear entertainment system, rear cabin heat and air conditioning, and send destinations to the embedded Honda navigation system. It also incorporates Social Play List, allowing up to eight family members to upload their music choices to the audio system via their smartphones.

Returning is the available HondaVan in-vehicle vacuum-cleaner system. A new grooveless tambour lid on the center console is designed to resist accumulation of crumbs and debris. Expect EX-L and the Touring models to come with leather upholstery that Honda says is particularly stain-resistant and teams with black carpeting and black seatbelts to better conceal stains.

How will 2018 prices be different?

They’ll climb, and while they’ll remain competitive they also could continue to track a few hundred dollars above base prices of rival minivans. That’s because Honda doesn’t offer stand-alone options, instead locking in specific sets of features for each trim grade. Optioned to match, most competitors come out priced more evenly.

Estimated prices in this report include Honda’s destination fee, which was $940 on the 2017 Odyssey. Assuming no change in the model lineup, expect the ’18 Odyssey LX to be priced around $31,200, the EX around $34,400, the SE around $35,300, and the EX-L around $37,800. If the automaker continues to parse the EX-L as it has been, the rear-seat entertainment system would add around $1,700, imbedded navigation around $1,000.

In any case, both those features should again come standard on the ’18 Odyssey Touring, which figures to be priced around $41,100, and on the Touring Elite, for which we estimate an asking price of about $46,600.

When will it come out?

Expect a 2018 Honda Odyssey release date in late spring, 2017.

Best competitors

Chrysler Pacifica, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna

What change would make it better?

Honda seems to have addressed most of the outgoing Odyssey’s shortfalls. It’s toned down the lightning-bolt beltline and concealed the side door tracks. More power is always welcome, and we hope the upgraded transmissions indeed translate to yet more powertrain refinement and the additional sound deadening to quieter cruising. Better bump absorption without compromising handling is a worthy goal. The new dashboard and interior are steps forward, too. The safety of Honda Sensing for most owners is a big plus, certainly. How features are apportioned among the trim levels is always an issue with Honda: it sometimes seems far too intent on forcing buyers up the price ladder. We’ll soon learn if that’s among the 2018 changes.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]