You buy an iPhone 6 assuming you will like it more en-han you liked your old iPhone 5. You were excited to read Tender Is The Nightbecause The Great Gatsby was a worthy tale. You had high hopes for The Godfather Part IIon your Christmas holidays in 1974, having waited more than two years since The Godfather permanently altered cinema.
Expectations are everything, and my expectations for the 2018 Honda Odyssey Elite, a 280-horsepower, $47,610, eight-seater were high precisely because our garage houses a 2015 Honda Odyssey EX. My van isn’t perfect, but I’d happily buy another. And seven years after the fourth-generation Odyssey went into production, expectations for the fifth-generation model have grown significantly.
It’s 2017, not 2011. We expect quieter cabins, more powerful and more efficient engines, better interior materials, more standard features, and novel equipment.
In almost every facet, the fifth-gen 2018 Honda Odyssey is multiple steps beyond the fourth-gen Odyssey I own. But not every step forward is a step in the right direction.
Silence isn’t Golden
Strange as it may sound, for example, the degree to which Honda made the formerly somewhat noisy Odyssey cabin a quiet and serene place for the 2018 model year served to expose noisier components. There’s very little engine noise, limited tire hum, and very little wind roar.
Yet in all of that silence, the B-pillar wind whistle becomes painfully obvious.
It’s an all-around win, of course, as even without the CabinTalk feature (similar to the Toyota Sienna’s EasySpeak, CabinTalk is available on EX-Ls and standard on Tourings and Elites) it’s now much easier to carry on a conversation with passengers in the Odyssey’s way back. Nevertheless, listening to the wind whistle away behind your left ear is tiresome.
Silence is also what you’ll have when children are tuned into the rear seat entertainment center. But there too, Honda didn’t quite finish the job. Rather than seatback screens as in the Chrysler Pacifica, the Odyssey’s 10.2-inch ceiling-mounted center screen is too small for outboard passengers and third row occupants.
Much better is the screen in the front row, Honda’s first implementation of a new electrostatic 8-inch infotainment unit. Highly customizable, featuring plentiful shortcut options, and quick to change menus, this is a major move forward from former dual-screen layouts that were never remotely speedy. It’s sensible and intuitive (unlike the hateful shifter above which it’s perched.)It’s also the means by which you can tune into your children via CabinWatch, a ceiling-mounted camera (with pinch-to-zoom) that allows you to easily check the status of second-row children. I want to say it’s a gimmick, but with a rear-facing nine-month-old, CabinWatch certainly simplifies life.
Though heavily promoted, Honda is stingy with CabinWatch and CabinTalk availability, just as with rear seat entertainment. And those aren’t the only screens Honda limits to high-end buyers. Though the EX and EX-L add integrated sunshades in the second row, you need to spend big money on a Touring or Elite to get the built-in screens in the third-row windows. This isn’t a discredit to the Odyssey, but it’s in keeping with a historic Honda strategy that limits build variations. There are no options or option packages aside from navigation ($1,000) and rear entertainment ($1,000) on the EX-L.
Likewise, Honda’s suite of Honda Sensing safety gear isn’t standard fit across American Honda’s board, though it is in Canada. Lane Keeping Assist (which works particularly well in the Odyssey) along with adaptive cruise, auto high beams, blind spot monitoring, and cross traffic monitor aren’t available on American Honda’s basic Odyssey LX.
The Odyssey is still expected to be a particularly safe zone for a family of eight. NHTSA and IIHS haven’t reported crash test results, but the Odyssey scored exceptionally well in crash tests during the fourth-gen van’s tenure. It would be a shock if the new Odyssey wasn’t at least that protective.As with safety, material and build quality are better than in older Odysseys, though the Odyssey interior’s luxury quotient was always going to be measured on features and space, not touch points.
Seating for eight limits the functionality of Honda’s new second-row Magic Slide seats. Remove the middle perch and the outboard second row seats move about — not just forward and back but side to side, even with child seats installed — to carve out better third-row access, to separate bickering children, for a makeshift baby changeable on the floor, or to slide long items through from the liftgate. Unlike eight-seaters such as the Toyota Highlander and Honda’s own Pilot, the Odyssey’s eight-seat capacity is the real deal. Third row space is arguably tops in the minivan sector. The second row can’t be expanded for Sienna-like levels of legroom, but three-across seating (with occupants in the rear) will be more comfortable here. Big windows make it easy for kids to see the great outdoors, too.
None of this requires a sacrifice in cargo volume, either, a hallmark of minivans. There’s 33 cubic feet of storage capacity behind the third row, roughly double the size of a particularly capacious sedan’s large trunk. With the third row stowed in the floor, cargo volume jumps to 87 cubic feet, perfect for owners who prefer to haul dogs, bike trailers, and old furniture rather than humans.
Steering, Shifting, Stopping, Stimulating
Once the sliding doors close, every minivan has redeeming qualities inside, from the Chrysler Pacifica’s Stow’N’Go to the Toyota Sienna’s ridiculous second row to the Kia Sedona’s luxurious front quarters. Perhaps you could also make a case for minivan superiority based on the exterior styling of the Sedona, or the Pacifica’s plug-in hybrid option, or the Sienna’s available all-wheel drive.
Alas, you can’t have it all. If all-wheel drive is deemed necessary, it doesn’t matter what the Sienna’s rivals can do. If two rows of Stow’N’Go are mandatory, the Sienna’s all-wheel drive is suddenly less advantageous.
If the case is going to be made for the fifth-gen 2018 Honda Odyssey to stand head and shoulders above its competitors, it’ll be easier to find supporting evidence once the Odyssey is put into motion.
The 2018 Honda Odyssey isn’t the S2000 of minivans. It’s no Civic Type R 2.0T with a six-speed manual. The Acura Integra GS-R was not reincarnated as an eight-seat minivan.
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