2019 Honda Odyssey Elite: The minivan wars heat up, and we all benefit

What is it: Honda's evergreen Odyssey has legions of fans who value its reliability and utility. The 2019 Odyssey Elite can arguably add "luxury" to that list of features thanks to its leather-clad interior, power everything and quiet, efficient powertrain.

Key Competitors: Chrysler Pacifica; Toyota Sienna; Kia Sedona

Base Price: $47,965 As-Tested Price: $47,965

Highlights: Elite trim is, as the name suggests, Honda's top-of-the-line Odyssey minivan, loading on such niceties as perforated leather heated and cooled front seats, 11-speaker audio plus navigation and even a built-in vacuum cleaner. Touring and Elite models also get a 10-speed automatic transmission vs. the nine-speed on lower trims, along with automatic stop/start (that's thankfully defeatable via a dash-mounted button).

Our Opinion: The minivan remains the world’s best family car, and I love the things – they’re versatile, comfortable, efficient and practically invisible to the police. Honda has been building one of America’s favorite minivans for decades now, and the 2019 Odyssey Elite packages just about everything the company has learned into one angular, vaguely funky looking box.

Higher trim levels like the Elite are powered by a version of Honda’s 3.5-liter V6 with variable cylinder management – it can shut down three cylinders in low-load situations – and a new 10-speed automatic transmission. The combination was good for nearly 26 mpg over approximately 1,000 miles of driving, and I hit a maximum 26.4 average after a couple hundred miles of steady-state freeway time. I had Econ mode engaged for nearly the entire trip, which does have some tradeoffs: Throttle response is sluggish in an attempt to prevent jackrabbit starts, and the results of the 10-speed holding higher gears and the engine switching in and out of three-cylinder operation can produce some lugging and weird vibrations. If you don’t like the effects, just switch Econ mode off and the Odyssey reacts with plenty of smooth power, albeit with a tradeoff in gas mileage.

My last review of the Odyssey (a 2018 model) criticized the design for lacking stowable second-row seating, a-la Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go. Honda representatives politely explained that their engineers opted for comfort rather than collapsibility, sort of a sideways jab at the Pacifica’s second-row seat comfort, and a reasonable tradeoff except I don’t have a problem with Chrysler’s seats. Honda’s are comfortable too, but if you use your minivan like a pickup truck very often note that the Odyssey’s second-row seats are removable but extremely heavy.

The rest of the Odyssey’s interior is functional and seems easy to clean – exactly the qualities you want in a minivan – but it’s hard not to compare to our long-term Pacifica Hybrid, especially since the two are within a few hundred dollars in MSRP. Where the Honda has acres of drab grey leather, the Chrysler has lovely accent piping and metal inlays in a stylish two-tone design. There’s no reason a minivan interior has to feel sterile, and Chrysler's efforts will hopefully spur Honda, Toyota and Kia to add some needed style to their minivan interiors.

For many Honda loyalists, the tradeoff for Honda's sterling quality reputation offsets any lack of luxury, and they'll enjoy the functional updates and familiar design cues throughout the 2019 Odyssey Elite. But it still can’t take the Pacifica’s place as my favorite minivan on the market today.

–Andrew Stoy, digital editor


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