Honda Odyssey shows minivan's (teensy bit of a) sporty side

2018 Odyssey
The 2018 Honda Odyssey gets a complete redesign and new powertrain to go head to head with the new-for-2017 Chrysler Pacifica.

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite vs. 2018 Toyota Sienna SE: Battle of the big grandpa minivans.

This week: Honda Odyssey.

Price: $47,610 as tested (no options on test vehicle).

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “gratifying driving dynamics, gutsy V-6 engine, smorgasbord of high-tech features” but not that the removable second-row seat is heavy, the load floor isn’t flat, max braking and cornering performance disappoints.”

Marketer’s pitch: “What are you going to do today?”

Reality: Who wants to know, huh?

What’s new: The 2018 Odyssey is Honda’s fifth generation of the popular minivan. It gains lots of cool stuff for keeping in touch with second and third rows, plus a new powertrain with an increase of 32 horsepower.

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The interior of the 2018 Honda Odyssey is comfortable and pretty, although the stereo controls leave a bit to be desired.

Friends and stuff: The second row captain’s chairs are as comfortable as the first, and they slide forward and back as needed.

The third row sits fairly low to the floor, and the second row is not as spacious and accessible as the Sienna or the Pacifica, as verified by Sturgis Kid 4.0’s size 13 feet smacking against the sliding door frame upon each exit.

The MagicSlide center row offers plenty of options for getting around the minivan or keeping kids apart or together. Seating for up to eight is available.

Cargo volume is up 7 cubic feet to 155 beyond the first row, the biggest minivan of all.

Up to speed: The 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine offers plenty of power for the Odyssey, and the minivan remains controlled even at full throttle. 60 mph comes in 6.6 seconds, something I bet you never thought you’d live to see from a minivan.

Shifty: A 10-speed transmission? (old man voice) Why, I remember when 10 speeds were for bikes (old man voice)

The best part about it? You’d never know there were any gears. It’s that smooth. I thought maybe the Odyssey had a CVT. A very well done CVT. (A 9-speed is standard on lesser equipped models.)

It’s mated to Honda’s weird push-button setup, which I’ve found takes some getting used to. But it even comes with paddle shifters, another bonus.

On the road: In addition to the racer boy shifters, the Odyssey also has a sport mode, available through the transmission controls as well.

Once upon a time, I’d have thought a sporty minivan would win my vote. But the reality is the Odyssey loses all its Acuralike smoothness through shifting and Sport mode, and it’s much more pleasant to go back to Drive mode.

And it’s still a minivan. Handling is tolerable at best. But it’s far more driveable than any other SUV out there.

Driver’s Seat: Though the leather seats felt cushy and comfortable for average commutes, a long drive north in the Odyssey actually left me feeling a little stiff and uncomfortable.

Play some tunes: “Honda. We make it simple.” A long-dead slogan and a long-dead idea for putting their stereos together, evidently.

Changing source requires one’s undivided attention, as scrolling through three screens is the order of the day. Perhaps the menu could be rearranged, but who has time to mess around in the car like it’s your smartphone? Of course, steering wheel buttons can override most of this, but still.

Yet the sound is primo. A front center speaker offers concert-like audio, while focusing the sound through the doors allows bass and lower tones to take precedence.

Keeping warm – and cool: Temperature changes come via toggles for driver and passenger. But most adjustments require diving into the touchscreen. Thankfully, the HVAC operation is one of the clearest functions of the screen.

Keeping clean: The HondaVAC is a nice touch on the options list.

Night shift: The infotainment center is bright and distracting at nighttime. A day/night button doesn’t provide enough relief — turning it to the dimmest setting didn’t help. The interior map lights are also too bright for using while driving.

Fuel economy: I averaged about 20 mpg, less than the Pacifica’s 23 and far less than the Pacifica Hybrid (30, in a much-unplugged long-distance test).

Where it’s built: Lincoln, Ala.

How it’s built: The Odyssey gets a predicted reliability of 3 out of 5 from Consumer Reports, down a tick from the previous three years.

Next week: How does this match up to the Toyota Sienna?