Happy July 4! What’s more American than a minivan, especially one whose engineering and construction is managed by a foreign company because most of us are too busy watching baseball, denouncing the Trumpenfuhrer, and taking OxyContin?
This post is based on (a) three years of driving a 2014 Odyssey EX-L, and (b) test-driving a 2018 Odyssey EX-L.
The user interface is dramatically changed from 2014 to 2018. The 2014 Odyssey has traditional round-dial (i.e., graphical) tachometer(!) and speedometer front and center. The 2018 shows you mostly two big digits, e.g., “37” if you’re going 37 mph. This is presented with no context so it is harder for your brain to interpret than a needle’s position on a dial. The EX-L lacks any kind of navigation database, so the big digital readout of current speed is not presented next to the speed limit for the road segment (Tesla does this a lot better). Setting cabin temperature on the old Odyssey was done with a wide knob that one could easily reach by feel and then turn a couple of clicks to adjust temps. The driver would never need to take his or her eyes off the road for this. On the new/improved Odyssey, the temperature adjustment is a paddle switch that is harder to find and then has to be toggled up. Make sure to take your eyes off the road to verify that the temperature setting is moving to where you want it. The transmission stalk on the old Odyssey, which provides an idiot-proof mechanical interface and simultaneous display of whether the car is in Park, Reverse, or Drive, has been replaced by a set of switches. Push the Park button and then check the display behind the steering wheel to see if a big P lights up. Push down on the Reverse button to get into reverse. Push the “D/S” button to go into Drive.
Can someone explain to me why all of these changes are improvements?
Beneath the infotainment system are the frustrating transmission push-button controls, similar to those experienced in other Honda and Acura models. This non-conventional setup comes across like a child’s developmental toy, as each action operates slightly differently. It requires careful attention when making a selection, proving cumbersome during parking maneuvers.
The new model is touted as offering a radical (for minivans) limousine-like interior hush. I used a basic Extech sound level meter (407732) to measure the sound level on old and new minivans, both at the same EX-L trim level (see below for how the 2018 EX-L has “Acoustic Glass”):
|30 mph ramp||57 dBA||56 dBA|
|60 mph highway||64 dBA||63 dBA|
|70 mph highway||67 dBA||65 dBA|
Note that road surface made a big difference. In the old car, before getting to the test track (a.k.a., Route 128), I drove over some super-smooth brand-new pavement. Interior noise dropped by 2-2.5 dBA. The new car seemed similarly dependent on road surface. [The Car and Driver review, linked below, has a buried test sheet with their test results. They actually measured a higher noise level for the Elite version of 67 dBA at 70 mph. But this could be due to meter or road surface differences. For comparison, C/D measured the Chrysler Pacifica minivan at 68 dBA, a Hyundai Sonata at 68 dBA, a $100,000 Mercedes S550 sedan at 66 dBA, a Chevy Bolt TV at 70 dBA, and the Tesla S 70D at 65 dBA. So, if we assume C/D’s numbers are consistent, the Odyssey Elite is actually slightly quieter than the big Mercedes (remember that A-weighting is not a perfect match for human perception, however).]
Let’s go to the brochure…
Dimensions are almost the same, based on Honda’s own specs, with the new minivan being about 0.5 inches narrower. Curb weight has been reduced 50 lbs., a significant achievement in a world where it is always tempting to add more. Cargo volume behind each of the seat rows is about the same, but curiously “passenger volume” has been reduced from 170 cubic feet to 160.
The old Odyssey had a boring 6-speed transmission and got an EPA combined 22 mpg. The new Odyssey has an amazing 9-speed or 10-speed transmission. This enables an amazing EPA combined… 22 mpg. You’ll have an opportunity to make more friends at the local gas station; Honda has reduced fuel tank capacity by 1.5 gallons to 19.5.
The stripper LX model lacks the electronic safety assists: Collision Mitigation Braking System (hits brakes when needed), Road Departure Mitigation System (steering wheel shaker and nudger), Forward Collision Warning (beeps), and Lane Departure Warning (beeps). The LX also lacks Lake Keeping Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Monitoring System, Auto High-Beams, and Cross Traffic Monitor (for backing out of a parking spot at the mall). Beep parking sensors come with the Touring and Elite trim levels only.
[I experimented a little with the blind spot monitors. Generally they seemed to fail when trying to merge onto an Interstate or change lanes, providing warnings only when a collision was imminent. Perhaps Honda is using the vendor who supplied the USS Fitzgerald destroyer?]
All of the trim levels except the LX include Remote Engine Start and an alarm system. If you’re concerned about global warming, the Elite model has ventilated front seats (all trim levels except LX include heated seats).
Honda quiets down the interior with Acoustic Glass for the windshield starting the EX-L trim level and then on the front/rear door windows on the Elite. The people who make acoustic glass show a reduction of 1-7 dB depending on the frequency, with the most reduction at around 3,000 Hz (follow this link and then click on “technical information” for a chart). The idea is laminating two sheets of glass with an “acoustic interlayer sheet” of plastic (vinyl?). In a world where Bernie Sanders supporters might start taking direct action against wealthy Odyssey Elite owners, you’ll be cheered to know that “Requires up to 10 minutes to penetrate the glazing, giving increased protection against theft, intrusion or carjacking.”
What about transporting modern-day children who can’t go more than 20 minutes without a snack? The built-in vacuum cleaner is only on the Touring and Elite models.
Honda still includes a physical MP3 player input jack(!). Every trim level includes at least one 2.5 amp USB charger (3 on the EX-L and above). The Elite also includes a wireless phone charger (Qi standard) on the center console. The Elite model includes a 550-watt 11-speaker sound system. Everything but the LX includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as well as digital radio both terrestrial (“HD Radio”) and satellite (SiriusXM). You can’t get the fancy features of the Touring and Elite models without paying for useless rear-seat TV (1024×600 resolution!) and navigation.
CarPlay and Android Auto work only with the phone physically plugged into a USB jack.
The Touring and Elite models have a 115V outlet in the front and three 12V outlets. The whole family can live out of this minivan in the event of a multi-day power outage.
It seems as though the EX model, $34,000, provides all of the safety and most of the utility. The Elite is nearly $47,000. So that’s $13,000 extra. Divide by 50,000 miles before the two converge in value? Assume an average speed of 30 mph in this traffic-clogged nation? That’s 1,667 hours of driving. So it costs $8/hour to be in the Elite versus the EX.
Donated most of your money to help the vulnerable, but you still want the interior peace and quiet of the latest Honda Odyssey with Acoustic Glass? Buy a 2011 Honda Odyssey (first year of the previous generation) and drive about 7 mph slower on the highway.
I’m going to try to find an LX or EX to test-drive and also an Elite and get some more noise measurements. The car seems to be selling well. The local dealer says that Elites come in “pre-sold”.
Summary: Some of the new magic safety features might be useful, but at least for a few months you’ll be a lot less safe in your new Odyssey as you struggle to learn all of the interfaces.