Honda Odyssey 2018 versus the previous generation

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an idiot-proof mechanical interface and simultaneous display of whether the car is in Park, Reverse, or Drive, has been replaced by a set of switches.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?

[Consumer Reports:

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 ramp57 dBA56 dBA
60 mph highway64 dBA63 dBA
70 mph highway67 dBA65 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.


7 thoughts on “Honda Odyssey 2018 versus the previous generation

  1. We took the kids for lunch to Kimball Farm next to KAFN in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Over some pictures of a 1956 Ford Fairlane I posted on Facebook

    Rare sight: car older than average parked airplane. Owner said it had been his father’s. I promised the kids that 60 years from now they could be driving our classic 2014 Honda Odyssey. Limited enthusiasm so far.

  2. Sam: Honda considers me a VIP, apparently! (Along with anyone else who has been into a Honda dealership during the last two weeks.)

  3. I just purchased a 2017 Civic Touring with the new auto-cruise control and lane keeping. Works pretty well driving in the morning, but on the way home the sun is (literally) in its eye, and the lane keeping is disabled most of the trip (should work better in a few months, when the sun sets before I leave work).

    Honda turned their navigation display software over to Garmin, who are much better at it than Honda was. The (Honda Developed) touch-screen for climate, audio, etc. is not so great. They’d be much better off contracting with an actual software company to develop it. Some of the bugs are egregious: e.g. certain MP3 files cause the display to reset instead of displaying the file information; an incoming call while selecting a track caused the controls to freeze. It’s bad enough I’m considering buying a used Android phone and hooking it up via Android Auto just for the music controls.

    It’s frustrating car companies in general optimize their audio controls for music, not “text” like podcasts or audio books. A steering wheel control for pausing and moving back & forth within a particular MP3 file is badly needed. Something like a click to skip 10 seconds, double-click to skip 30 seconds, a separate control for skipping to the next/previous file.

    I’d also love the ability to keep multiple “bookmarks” in different folders of MP3 files. This allows you to switch between, say a long book and a short radio show without losing your place in either of them. In my last car, I was able to emulate this by switching between the USB drive and the (now obsolete) CD player. [Suggesting a feature like this to an interested Telsa engineer might result in an over-the-air feature update 6-12 months from now. With the rest of the auto companies, I’ll be lucky to get it by purchasing a new car in 2023…]

  4. J: Why would you need to buy another phone to use with Android Auto? Don’t you already have either an iPhone for CarPlay or an Android for Android Auto? Why does it help to have two smartphones?

  5. @philg: Android Auto requires a physical USB connection to the phone to access the car’s touchscreen. $80 for a used phone is worth skipping the nuisance of plugging/unplugging my regular phone every time I enter/exit the car. (With some setup, I also hope a phone left in the car may allow beaming content into the car remotely via WiFi as well.)

    One of the things I love about the new Civic (vs. previous car) is a “key” fob that never leaves your pocket. Car unlocks when you walk up and touch the door handle, to lock the car simply walk away from it. It sounds trivial, but I’ve found it a major convenience.

  6. >> “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?”

    >> “Curb weight has been reduced 50 lbs., a significant achievement in a world where it is always tempting to add more. ”

    Is it possible that the transmission stalk, along with the mechanisms associated with the stalk, are being replaced with buttons to reduce cost and weight? A set of small plastic buttons connected to a controller is probably significant lighter, and cheaper, than a big stalk connected to whatever sensors and actuators that was there before. A few pounds here, and a few pounds there, it will quickly add up to 50 lbs. As for ergonomics and user-friendliness being compromised, there is no obvious penalty for that. However, if the vehicle fails to meet the necessary MPG numbers(CAFE), there would definitely be penalties, coming from both the government and potential consumers.

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