SUVs and crossovers have become the vehicle of choice for many families, but when my wife and I went looking for a car to accommodate our growing family, we immediately gravitated to the practicality of the traditional minivan.
We wound up with a 2012 Honda Odyssey at the end of our car-shopping experience and have since racked up around 37,000 miles of mostly city driving with a handful of cross-country road trips mixed in. It's been the practical family hauler we expected, so I was curious to see how Honda had evolved the van with its 2018 redesign.
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Our test cars are often top trim levels, and that was the case with the 2018 Odyssey; we tested an Elite trim with an as-tested price of $47,610. That's nearly $20,000 more than we paid for our humble LX van nearly five years ago, and many of the in-car technology advances since then can be seen in the Elite model. They include a digital instrument cluster, an in-cabin surveillance system and automatic emergency braking. Driving the 2018 Odyssey reveals other differences - most of which are good, but some that aren't.
It's Notably Quieter
Cabin quietness isn't a strength of my van, as both wind and road noise infiltrate the interior. It's less of an issue in around-town driving, but on a multiday road trip, the steady stream of ambient noise wears on you.
The 2018 Odyssey does a considerably better job preventing outside noise from disturbing the cabin, resulting in a quieter interior in the city and on the highway. The Elite trim level benefits from acoustic glass for the windshield and for the front and rear doors (EX-L and Touring trims both use this type of glass just for the windshield, and LX and EX models don't use it at all).
Drivetrain Is Smoother, More Responsive
The new Odyssey's available 10-speed automatic transmission has double the number of forward gears that my Odyssey does (2012 Touring and Touring Elites used a six-speed automatic), and it works with a more powerful 280-horsepower V-6 Used Engine . The extra gears mean fewer compromises; acceleration feels swifter, and on the highway the transmission can bring on more power without sending the tachometer needle swinging toward the redline — which is what happens in my van.
Additionally, Honda's Variable Cylinder Management system, which automatically shuts down Used Engine cylinders to save gas, is now undetectable; in earlier Odysseys, including mine, you can feel a slight vibration and hear a subtly different Used Engine sound when VCM is active. Those telltale signs are gone, and Honda has removed the VCM indicator light from the instrument panel, too.
Front Seats, Driving Position Less Comfortable
The front bucket seats in my van have been great for long road trips; I'm not sore after a day of driving. The Elite's leather-trimmed bucket seats have more adjustments than the cloth seats in my van, but I couldn't raise the seat as high as I wanted, and the seat's flat cushions didn't fit me well.
Gear Selector Takes Some Getting Used To
The 2018 Odyssey's new push-button gear selector replaces the van's prior dashboard-mounted shifter. The new design doesn't so much free up space on the dashboard as it does shift what space is being used; the push-buttons are nestled in the center of the dashboard control panel alongside seat-heater and climate controls, and blend in a bit with these other controls. The push-button design doesn't bring any usability improvements compared with a conventional shifter, either.
Design Is Less Out There
Styling wasn't a big factor when I was shopping for a minivan, and I haven't yet met a minivan owner who's ranked it as a key priority. Our Odyssey's exterior design is unique, to say the least, but as the years have passed, it seems less-weird than it first did.
That said, for 2018 Honda has eliminated the previous-generation van's more awkward design cues, like the placement of the sliding-door tracks, while adding tasteful sheet-metal creases. Styling isn't and won't ever be its main selling point, but the 2018 Odyssey is a handsome family hauler.