The 2019 Honda Odyssey Elite is not to be trifled with. Honda has worked to perfect it over many model years, and few, if any, competitors can match it. From comfort to capability to safety to ride quality, the Odyssey simply excels.
It has a few flaws, like styling that doesn’t stir emotion and an average infotainment system. It also isn’t offered with all-wheel drive like the Toyota Sienna, or as a plug-in hybrid like the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. Among traditional minivans, though, it remains one of the best.
While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, one can’t easily argue the Odyssey is classically beautiful. In fact, it’s a little strange-looking, like many of Honda’s vehicles today. If we were to isolate one element that throws the whole design akilter, it’s the character lines on the side of the van. There are two, one that originates above the front wheels and one that starts low ahead of the rear wheels. They each turn as they proceed along the side of the van in opposite directions, thereby enclosing the doors and door handles between them.
Character lines like these are supposed to serve a visual purpose, usually highlighting something a designer wants to emphasize; on the Odyssey, they serve no purpose, and the design would be improved without them. Honda’s also guilty of blacking out a portion of the D-pillar to create a “floating roof” effect, which is perhaps the most overwrought style element in modern automotive design.
While the styling might not be to our liking, it is functional. In particular, the Odyssey’s window line ascends from the lower corner of the A-pillar and then drops right before the C-pillar. This drop creates a much larger window area for third-row passengers to look through, which helps make back seat travel in the Odyssey a pleasure instead of a pain.
On the inside, the Odyssey is all business. The interior isn’t so much designed as it is assembled to be as functional as possible. The only nod to aesthetics in our test vehicle was the presence of a light beige interior color scheme. If that were absent, the cabin would be a spectrum of greys and blacks.
Otherwise, the Odyssey’s interior design looks high-tech in form. There are no analog gauges behind the steering wheel. Instead you’ve got a digital tachometer graphic and numerical representation of your speed. It’s like you’re driving a Japanese sports car from the late ‘80s. The center stack, likewise, looks like an ensign’s control panel on the U.S.S. Enterprise. A push-button gear selector is present in place of a gear shift, and a flurry of physical buttons are located below the flush-mounted infotainment screen. Again, it’s not particularly pretty, but it is very functional.
The Odyssey is the epitome of comfort. There’s not a bad seat in the house, and this thing seats seven people. All of the seats, but especially the front ones, support a pain-free posture for comfortable long-haul motoring. The hip point of the seats – the height of the seat cushion relative to your hips when standing outside – is also perfect for people of average height, so entering is a matter of sliding in, not climbing up. Lastly, the third-row is a legitimately good space for anyone to occupy, even adults. As mentioned, the windows are large so it’s not claustrophobic, and head and legroom are good for average-sized people.
Being a minivan, the Odyssey offers excellent cargo-carrying capabilities too. In particular, the third row of the Odyssey, which Honda calls the Magic Seat, is easiest to stow among all vehicles with three rows, and that includes ones with a power-folding feature. From the seat’s upright position, stowing either side of the 60/40 split Magic Seat requires simply pulling one strap and letting gravity do the work of flipping the seats backwards into the deep well where they disappear, leaving only a flat cargo floor.
Removing the second-row seats is not as easy; they have to be lifted out the old fashioned way (sorry, no Stow ‘N Go seats here). They do, however, have a unique sliding feature that lets you push the outboard seats closer to the middle or pull them out. It’s a handy feature when trying to fit three car seats together on the second row. What’s it called? Magic Slide, of course.
With all of the rear seats either stowed or removed, the cargo area resembles a blimp hangar. There’s room for a 4x8 sheet of plywood to fit. By the tape, Honda says the Odyssey will fit 158 cubic feet of cargo in this configuration, which makes it as useful for hauling things as a Ford F-150.
The Odyssey’s suspension and good sound isolation also contribute to its perfect score in this category. The ride isn’t overly soft, and the suspension isolates occupants from road irregularities and keeps body motions in check. There's nary a squeak or rattle – a testament to Honda’s build quality – and arguments between backseat passengers won’t be interrupted by outside noises from things such as the road, wind, and engine creeping in.
This may be a minivan, but in terms of comfort, it’s the most affordable limousine money can buy.
The most extraordinary thing about the Odyssey in terms of performance is that there’s any to speak of. In the world of minivans, qualities like acceleration and handling usually aren’t even mentioned as a possibility, let alone debated over whether or not they’re any good. With the Odyssey, though, they’re worth mentioning.
In terms of power, the Odyssey comes packing heat in the form of a high-tech 3.5-liter V6 producing 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers aren’t best in class (the V6-powered Chrysler Pacifica offers 287 hp and 262 lb-ft), but they’re darn close. Plus, the Odyssey’s engine is supported by a lot of tech. It features cylinder deactivation technology that conserves fuel when operating under light loads, like highway cruising, and is backed by a 10-speed automatic transmission. That’s one more gear than the Chrysler Pacifica and two more than the Toyota Sienna and Kia Sedona. It may not sound like much of an advantage, but the more gears there are, the more likely the transmission can match the needs of any given situation, whether that be power or fuel-efficiency.
The Odyssey also gets a nod for being the best-handling minivan. Again, good handling isn’t the sort of thing one associates with minivans, but the Odyssey handles more like a car than any of its competitors. The suspension strikes a nice balance between comfort and stability, which means the Odyssey doesn’t simply roll over and grossly understeer whenever the wheel is turned more than ten degrees. There is body roll, of course, but the Odyssey’s demeanor on the road is always under control. It avoids exaggerated body movements that plague many of its competitors during maneuvers as simple as exiting a highway or traversing train tracks.
One explanation might be its center of gravity (CoG). While we don’t have the tools to measure the Odyssey’s CoG versus its competitors, from the seat of our pants, it feels lower to the ground. This would explain it being more planted and less tippy in turns. The only other minivan that exhibits similar handling is the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, which for sure has the lowest CoG of any minivan because it carries hundreds of extra pounds of batteries beneath its floor.
Speaking of electric propulsion, Honda doesn’t offer a plug-in hybrid version of the Odyssey like Chrysler does with the Pacifica, nor does it offer all-wheel drive as an option like the Toyota Sienna. In that regard, the Odyssey is more of an old-school minivan that might work for the majority of families’ needs, but not all.
Honda’s infotainment system in the Odyssey is average at best, but a slew of other features in the van help make up for it.
Honda outsources the navigation functionality of its infotainment system to Garmin. The system works fine, but using it feels like Honda found a good sale on Garmin tech at Best Buy. The rest of the infotainment system’s functions, such as playing music or making phone calls, works well too, but the graphics are a bit dated, the system’s response time is average, and the menu structure is too layered for there not to be physical buttons flanking the screen that can take you directly to certain areas. In a vacuum, we probably wouldn’t complain, but an alternative is Chrysler’s excellent Uconnect system in the Pacifica, which is far superior.
Fortunately, Honda has other tech tricks to wow you. A lot of the basics it already has covered, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, wireless smartphone charging, a mobile hotspot, rear entertainment system (which plays Blu-Ray discs and has built-in apps), a 115-volt power outlet, and a hands-free tailgate for opening and closing the rear hatch when your hands are full.
Some other features are uniquely Honda, such as Cabin Talk and CabinWatch. Cabin Talk is an in-car PA system that can pump the driver’s voice into the rear speakers of the Odyssey, or even override the rear entertainment system’s headphone audio with an urgent message from a parent. CabinWatch is an interior camera with night vision and a wide-angle view that’s pointed at the second and third rows of seating. Its view can be displayed on the infotainment screen while driving so parents can keep an eye on their kids, even in the dark. Both are family friendly tech features that help set the Odyssey apart.
Of course, we have to mention HondaVac, as well. The built-in vacuum is located in the wall of the cargo area behind the third row, and its hose can reach even the farthest corners of the front seat footwells. Being the top trim Elite, our tester came standard with all of these great features, though Honda doesn’t restrict them to its most expensive trim only. They’re standard or at least optional on some lesser trims, as well.
Safety is an important consideration for families, and Honda has it well covered. All Odysseys except the base LX trim level come standard with Honda Sensing, a suite of advanced safety technology that actively helps you avoid accidents. Honda Sensing includes automatic emergency braking, a lane departure warning and lane-keep assist system, and adaptive cruise control. In addition, those same trim levels also come standard with blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert systems. Lastly, the Touring and Elite trims also come standard with front and rear parking sensors. Together, these features and their cross-trim availability make the Odyssey one of the safest minivans you can buy regardless of how much you spend.
The latest Odyssey has been crash tested by both the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and private Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It earned an overall five-star rating from NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick award from IIHS. The only reason it didn’t earn a coveted Top Safety Pick Plus award from IIHS was that the headlights on less expensive trim levels of the Odyssey don’t meet the organization’s stringent new standards.
Fuel economy for the various minivans on sale doesn’t vary much from brand to brand. The Odyssey, Pacifica, and non-all-wheel-drive Sienna are all rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 22 miles per gallon combined. The Odyssey is also rated at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway, which is identical to the Pacifica and one more mpg on the highway than the Sienna. The older Kia Sedona falls behind the rest with ratings of 21 combined, 18 city, and 24 highway. All four, including the Odyssey, run on regular gas and offer over 400 miles of range. The Odyssey, for instance, can go 429 miles on a single tank.
With a starting price over $30,000 and an as-tested price of $48,115 for the Elite model we tested, the Odyssey is not cheap. Good minivans aren’t, though. The Pacifica and Sienna can be optioned up to similar prices, as well.
Honda does offer many trim levels of the Odyssey, including the base LX, EX, EX-L, Touring, and Elite, so you should be able to find a price point that meets your budget. Honda does not have anything to offer under $30,000, though, like Chrysler and Kia do. FCA actually still sells the old Dodge Grand Caravan, which is the cheapest minivan on the market but will soon be replaced by the relaunched Chrysler Voyager (basically a Pacifica with fewer fancy features). Likewise, the Kia Sedona’s starting price is a more affordable $27,200.
The adage “you get what you pay for” applies here, though, and we can’t imagine anyone will be upset having spent a little extra to get an Odyssey.
Editor’s Note: This review was updated in December 2019 and the ratings changed to reflect Motor1.com’s revised vehicle rating system. Changes to this vehicle’s scores were made primarily to the Safety, Fuel Economy, and Pricing ratings. For more on how Motor1.com rates cars, click here.
Gallery: 2019 Honda Odyssey Elite: Review
2019 Honda Odyssey Elite