Last year, Chrysler introduced the 2017 Pacifica – an all-new minivan that offered an outstanding blend of everyday utility with high-end refinement and luxury.
Now, the competing Honda Odyssey is redesigned for the 2018 model year. Although it doesn't leapfrog the Pacifica, the 2018 Odyssey addresses many of the old model's shortcomings while expanding on its strengths. That upgrade is enough to win back some buyers who might otherwise be tempted by the Chrysler, though each minivan leads in a particular niche.
Since 2011, the Odyssey has been a style leader in the minivan class, with a more dramatic appearance than the class norm.
The 2018 model changes little with the van's exterior, but it backs up the looks with sportier driving dynamics. Last year's Odyssey prioritized comfort over performance – unlike earlier Odyssey generations from before 2011 – but the 2018 model offers remarkable handling poise despite its cushy, quiet ride.
Another big improvement came in the Odyssey's interior quality. The old model felt sturdy but never sumptuous, despite prices that could exceed $45,000. While the 2018 Odyssey still isn't downright decadent, it benefits from improved materials, plusher upholstery and more meticulous attention to detail.
Both areas – interior quality and driving dynamics – are fresh advantages to the Odyssey over the Pacifica, adding nicely to the Honda's appeal. It also adds a clever new feature called CabinWatch: a camera that lets parents check on children in the rear rows of seats. CabinWatch is accompanied by a microphone that plays their voices through the rear speakers or the rear entertainment system's headphones.
The Odyssey also continues to have more comfortable seats than the Pacifica, and adds side-to-side adjustments to the middle-row captain's chairs (in addition to fore-aft). Where Chrysler continues to blow away the Honda is in cargo flexibility: The Pacifica's “Stow 'n Go” rear seats disappear into the floor, whereas the Odyssey's heavy middle-row seats need to be removed from the van – an arduous process that doesn't even result in a perfectly flat load floor.
Note, too, that while the vans' sticker prices are similar, the Chrysler is more often available with steep discounts that can make it a strong value option. Furthermore, although the two models offer identical EPA fuel economy ratings of 22 mpg in mixed driving, the Pacifica has a class-exclusive plug-in hybrid version that can travel up to 33 miles without burning any gasoline.
Despite the Pacifica's advantages, the Odyssey does win out in the highly significant categories of driving dynamics, comfort and overall refinement. Depending on your preferences – luxury and comfort, versus value and functionality – either minivan could be an excellent option. And, to be sure, both models do quite well at luxury, comfort and functionality, and they're generally better values (and much roomier) than similarly-sized crossovers.
Odyssey prices start at $30,965.
December may seem an odd time to think about convertibles. But in the case of the redesigned 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet, buyers dedicated to the open-top experience can comfortably enjoy the wind in their hair throughout the year.
The midsize E400 – part of Mercedes' E-Class line – includes the company's Air Scarf feature, which locates heating vents near necks of the driver and front passenger. Only precipitation, not merely cold, will force you to put up the top. A pop-up wind deflector can also protect against chilly breezes. Meanwhile, available all-wheel-drive ensures that the E400 can tackle wintry weather.
At any season, the E400 convertible dazzles with a glorious interior and serene ride quality. Most of today's open-top cars are hard-edged sports cars; the E400 is made for luxurious cruising, yet it still has the high handling limits of a good German luxury car. Its 329-horsepower V6 provides potent acceleration.
While its base price of $67,295 is hardly affordable, the E400 Cabriolet offers a luxury convertible experience that's difficult to achieve without spending at least $20,000 more. That said, you can get a similar look and feel – albeit with less interior space, less power and a less-solid feel – from Mercedes' own C-Class convertible. It's priced from a comparatively thrifty $52,195.