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Honda goes higher-tech with the Odyssey. Try the intercom

A veteran player in the small but scrappy minivan segment is getting a major upgrade.

Inside the 2018 Honda Odyssey vehicle on display at the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

Honda unveiled a sleeker 2018 Odyssey Monday at the North American International Auto Show featuring a range of design and technology updates.

No proper reboot of the family hauler comes without seating innovations. Honda calls its flexible second-row advancements “Magic Slide,” and promises seats that can easily reconfigure, whether moving forward, together or apart from other seats and rows.

Getting equal billing are some technology upgrades that are new to Honda but desired by drivers and akin to what’s being seen in more mainstream vehicles. A system called Cabin Watch allows the driver and front passenger to monitor backseat passengers via display audio screen. Cabin Talk is a high-tech intercom that enables the driver to talk to passengers through second- and third-row speakers and rear-entertainment system headphones.

(Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

There’s also a passel of driver-assist technologies that are new to the Odyssey, including those that help keep motorists in their lanes and on the road, avoid collisions and automatically adjust cruise control.

The Odyssey’s relaunch follows last year’s debut of the Chrysler Pacifica, which won a new award for utility vehicle of the year at the show Monday.

“It’s really a testament to the fact that despite all the new alternatives in the marketplace in the last 20 years there’s still no better alternative for a family vehicle than the minivan,” said Timothy Kuniskis, Fiat Chrysler’s car chief.

However, several auto makers have abandoned the minivan segment after its late 20th-century heyday, but not everyone is writing it off, according to Matt DeLorenzo, a managing editor for Kelley Blue Book.

(Tony Ding/AP)

“I don’t see the minivan as a dead-end segment. It is a significant segment and it’s going to get more interesting as new models roll into the marketplace,” he said. “Even though ... there’s only a few players in there, they’re not sitting back saying, ‘We’ll get our share.’ They’re really going at it hammer and tongs – spending money and upgrading.”

Still, DeLorenzo said he doesn’t think Honda was under pressure “to really push the envelope that much,” for the aging Odyssey. Rather, he said, the auto maker needed to “take a really good vehicle and improve it” with things like seat and semi-autonomous innovations in an appropriately contemporary package.

The new Odyssey goes on sale in the spring. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but the current model starts at $30,790. Fuel economy ratings also haven’t been released, but the vehicle is about 45 kilograms lighter than its predecessor. It’s going to be equipped with a 3.5-litre V-6 engine and one of two transmissions: a nine-speed or 10-speed automatic – the latter, Honda says, is a performance-boosting, fuel-economy improving first for a minivan.

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