First Look: 2018 Honda Odyssey

Honda takes another shot at making the minivan sexy

Honda took a familiar path when it redesigned its venerable Odyssey minivan for the 2018 model year. Thanks mostly to a couple of strong character lines in the profile between the wheels, the 2018 Honda Odyssey, which was unveiled at the 2017 Detroit auto show, looks as long, low, and carlike as ever. If you want a family vehicle that looks tall and truck-like, your Honda dealer will direct you to the Pilot.

"Lightning Bolt" is the name Honda gives to this new design language, according to Honda division senior vice president and general manager Jeff Conrad, and it includes a design that hides the side-rails, plus a "floating" d-pillar, popular with archrival Nissan as of late. Furthermore, Honda describes the minivan's lower front fascia as "sportscar-like."

Underneath the new sheetmetal, Honda has upgraded the 3.5-liter i-VTEC V-6 by 32 horses, to 280 horsepower. It's coupled to a new ZF nine-speed automatic to drive the front wheels. It will have best-in-class performance, Conrad says, adding that Honda anticipates best-in-class EPA fuel mileage estimates. The outgoing 2017 Honda Odyssey matches the Toyota Sienna's 19/27-mpg city/highway numbers, and all its competitors' 22-mpg combined estimate, though the new Chrysler Pacifica gets there with 18/28 city/highway and the Nissan Quest is rated 20/27.

Honda is not working on a plug-in hybrid version of its minivan to compete with the new Chrysler Pacifica plug-in, an insider told us, but will instead concentrate on such technology for other models.

Technology for the new Honda Odyssey instead will concentrate on the sorts of convenience features minivan buyers usually crave, including extended, latest-generation Honda Sensing driver aids, the building-blocks toward autonomy, standard on EX, EX-L and Touring trim models, which account for 95 percent of the mix. This includes collision mitigation braking and road-departure mitigation.

More down-to-Earth gee-whiz features include Cabin Watch, a family video monitor that uses the part of the center-stack screen that shows you right-side blind spots in other Hondas, to watch what's going on in the second or third rows, and Cabin Talk, an in-vehicle public address system in which the driver can speak to passengers through second- and third-row speakers.

Cabin Watch is fed through a new, 8-inch high-resolution (720P) audio screen, which also features customizable app titles and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A connected rear entertainment system offers streaming video on a ceiling-mounted, 10.2-inch WSVGA Rear Entertainment System which includes PBS Kids, iHeart Radio, Spotify and other options, including a "How Much Farther?" app that tracks a trip's progress. CabinControl uses a downloadable app to let the driver control the rear entertainment system, rear cabin heating/air conditioning, and send destinations to the nav system via smartphone.

Honda claims the new minivan will also be quietest in class, with triple door seals, acoustic glass, and generous noise attenuation. This makes for easy conversation between first, second, and third rows, says Andrea Martin, principal engineer and lead for noise, vibration, and harshness for the Odyssey. The new Magic Slide optional second row has three individual seats (a full bench is standard). One seat may be removed and the others can be adjusted laterally on tracks. This can make it easier for third-row access, and to load an infant safety seat on either outboard side of the second row, then slide the seat toward the center of the row so that a driver-parent can easily reach his or her child.

It's the sort of innovation that recalls the heyday of competition for minivan state-of-the-art technology, when Chrysler, Honda, Toyota and others still in the segment were trying to leapfrog each other. Honda says the minivan segment, which for years has had a loyal but aging customer-base, is starting to attract millennials who have started families. Honda also says it leads the segment in sales, though that's true only when you separate Chrysler Pacifica/Town & Country numbers from the Dodge Grand Caravan's.

Honda's lower, wider, sleeker minivan look also recalls attempts that Honda and its competitors in the segment have made for years in trying to shed this sort of vehicle's "Soccer Van" image as car-based sport/utilities (many of them sharing platforms with minivans) lured away more image-conscious consumers. The new Odyssey premiers about a year after Chrysler surprised with its new Pacifica, a design that succeeds by embracing the minivan segment, and by making it look good without trying to disguise what it is.

Which is the better strategy? Hard to say, so far, but it's clear that competition for king of the minivan hill is far from over.

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