Drive Time: Honda Odyssey gears up for 2018 |

Drive Time: Honda Odyssey gears up for 2018

Bud Wells
For The Tribune

Parked and waiting at DIA for Jan and me on our flight back from Phoenix recently was a 2018 Honda Odyssey minivan, equipped with a 10-speed automatic transmission, the first ever in a front-wheel-drive vehicle.

It is interesting for Honda to have selected its minivan, which is one in a category that has been in a years-long slump in popularity.

I was impressed. For a kid who started driving in a '48 Ford two-door V-8 with "three on the tree," 10 speeds are another amazement of automotive advancement over the years. It's another step toward meeting future fuel-mileage standards for the internal-combustion engines.

It is the second 10-speed automatic I've driven in the past month; the first was in a 2017 Ford F-150 4X4 SuperCrew pickup.

In achieving success in today's high-tech 8-, 9- and 10-speed transmissions, the progression of shifters went from the "tree" of the '40s and '50s to "four on the floor," some push-buttons, column shifters and console shifters and, more recently, rotary dial shifters.

Linked to the Odyssey's multigear setup is a vertical row of pushbuttons beneath the infotainment control panel. Push P for Park, pull down a lever for Reverse, push N for Neutral, push a larger button for Drive, push it a second time for Sequential mode to accommodate the paddle shifters mounted at the steering wheel.

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The new 10-speeds replace 6-speed automatics for both Honda and Ford.

Ford says its 10-speed planetary-gear set can change shift patterns, downshift more quickly and hold gears longer. Alongside the tachometer, a stacked, ladder-type diagram of 1 through 10 informs at a glance of what transmission speed is engaged.

Ford's 3.5-liter, twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6, a powerful engine producing 375 horsepower and 470 lb.-ft. of torque, is mated to the industry's first volume-production 10-speed automatic. The F-150, fitted with four-wheel drive, is rear-wheel-drive-based; thus, the Odyssey is the first to install 10-speed into a front-drive automobile.

It is available only in the Odyssey's two higher trim levels: the Elite, which I drove, and the Touring. The lesser-priced models – LX, EX and EX-L perform with 9-speed automatics.

The review model's 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine, tied to the 10-speed, performed with moderate power, and with a kickdown of the accelerator, the transmission will near-instantly drop down three or four gears, say from 9th to 6th or 5th. Honda says the new transmission will change gears 30 percent faster, improve acceleration and increase fuel economy. In another economy boost, in cruising on a flat road the V-6 will deactivate three cylinders for more higher mpg results.

The Odyssey with the 10-speed tranny is estimated to produce fuel mileage of 19 in the city and 28 on the highway. The Odyssey in 411 miles of driving, most of it on the highway back and forth from Denver to Greeley, averaged 24.9 miles per gallon. It rides on Bridgestone Turanza 235/55R19 tires.

The new transmission, interior enhancements and safety items pushed price of the Odyssey to $47,610. The Ford's window sticker was rounded out to $67,000.

Twenty years ago, annual sales in the U.S. for minivans approached 1.3 million. Ten years ago, the total dropped into the 800,000s, and by last year was around 550,000. Sales for the top four models through nine months of this year are 107,592 for the Dodge Grand Caravan, 87,623 for Toyota Sienna, 86,342 for the Chrysler Pacifica and 75,309 for the Honda Odyssey.

Ford, with its F-150 pickup, outsells all other trucks, SUVs and cars in the U.S.

Bud Wells, a native of Wray, is a former Page 1 editor of the Denver Post and has reviewed automobiles for the past 40 years. He can be contacted at