Honda shows off 'most advanced' new Odyssey minivan

Paul A. Eisenstein
Special to The Detroit News

For a once wildly popular segment many had written off for dead, there’s a lot of action in the minivan market these days.

Hours after the Chrysler Pacifica was declared North American Utility Vehicle of the Year by a jury of 60 U.S. and Canadian journalists, arch-rival Honda pulled the covers off of its own new minivan, the fifth-generation Honda Odyssey aimed at retaining the Japanese maker’s seven-year lead in the people-mover segment.

"This new Odyssey raises the stakes for family-friendly packaging, performance and technology in the minivan segment," said John Mendel, the Executive Vice President of American Honda Motor Co. "In all aspects of its design, the new Odyssey is made to keep every member of the family happy, no matter the seating position, no matter the destination."

Honda officials at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit touted the redesigned vehicle as the company's most advanced option ever for families.

Visually, the fifth-generation Honda Odyssey doesn’t deliver many surprises. There’s the familiar lightning bolt kick to the side windows, for example. But the van does adopt Honda’s new “flying wing” front grille, which can be paired with optional LED headlamps. Less visible, the 2018 minivan adopts a new Active Shutter Grille to improve aerodynamics and reduce fuel consumption when cruising. The door tracks have also been tweaked to make those dual sliders less visible.

Media members check out the fifth-generation Honda Odyssey at Detroit's Cobo Center after its reveal at the North American International Auto Show.

At the rear, the 2018 Honda Odyssey now features LED taillights and an available, hands-free power tailgate that can be activated with a waggle of the foot. A new “floating D-pillar” design gives a little lightness to the back end. Meanwhile, larger tires and wheels give the Odyssey a bit more muscular overall appearance.

Inside is where you’ll find the most notable change for 2018, the new Odyssey introducing Magic Slide seats for the second row. They can be moved inward or out, improving access to the back seat – even if they have a child safety seat in place.

While the goal was to enhance the overall appearance of the new van, Honda was well aware that it couldn’t sacrifice functionality, something critical to the family buyers that still love these people-movers, explained Andrea Martin, a program leader on the 2018 Odyssey project.

Along with the new seating system, she said Honda put an emphasis on cabin quietness and connectivity with acoustic glass and active noise cancellation. One goal was to ensure that passengers could hear one another, even those sitting in the front and rear seats.

The back row is where teenagers like to sit, but while they “often like being left alone,” joked Mendel, “they don’t necessarily want to be left out.”

Honda even added a new intercom to make the communication process easier, along with a Cabin Watch system so parents don’t have to take their eyes off the road to see what the kids are up to in the back.

To let everyone get access to their favorite music, videos or games, the 2018 Honda Odyssey also adds a new 4G LTE WiFi hotspot. There’s a rear entertainment system with streaming video and music can be uploaded to an onboard virtual jukebox.

New connectivity features also include a downloadable smartphone app than can control the rear entertainment system, as well as rear cabin climate control.

As a family hauler, safety is critical to minivan buyers, and all but the base version of the 2018 Honda Odyssey – largely earmarked for fleets – comes standard with the maker’s latest Honda Sensing suite of advanced drivers assistance system, or ADAS, technologies. These include forward collision warning with emergency auto braking, lane keeping assist and active cruise control.

All versions of the Odyssey will be powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 with Variable Cylinder Management making 280 horsepower, a 32 hp improvement over the outgoing model. For upper grades, there’s a new 10-speed automatic. Other models use the Honda 9-speed.

Honda officials didn’t discuss future powertrain plans, but the carmaker’s global CEO Takahiro Hachigo said, at the Odyssey debut, that Honda will not only increase the use of its two-motor hybrid system but also expand its use on its various truck models. That suggests an electrified version of the new minivan could soon follow.

The Honda Odyssey has been the number one seller in the U.S. minivan market since 2011. But it faces two challenges: a market that has been in decline for a number of years, as well as a new assault by Fiat Chrysler, which last year launched its all-new, and well-reviewed, Pacifica van.

For his part, Honda brand chief Jeff Conrad told he is confident on both counts that the new Odyssey will do well. “The minivan segment is still strong,” he said during a background briefing on the 2018 model, “and it may begin to grow again as Millennials come into the market” as they start their own families.

The 2018 Honda Odyssey will reach U.S. showrooms in spring. As for pricing, Conrad noted that the new minivan will have “a lot more content, but we’re also facing a lot of competition, which will likely force Honda to keep any increase to a minimum.

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