America’s most popular minivan gets a refresh for 2021, as the Honda Odyssey faces intense competition from Toyota and Kia, which get new models, and Chrysler, which is offering all-wheel drive on its Pacifica, in addition to a hybrid model.
Given the minivan segment accounts for about 200,000 sales a year, you may wonder why there are still four automakers vying for minivan buyers’ hearts. It’s simple: loyalty. Minivan buyers are among the industry’s most devoted, replacing one minivan with another.
And so, Honda has upgraded its entry as well.
Honda Sensing, Honda’s suite of driver-assistance safety systems, now comes as standard equipment on all models. The package contains collision-mitigation braking with pedestrian detection; forward-collision warning; road departure mitigation with lane-departure warning; and adds lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, pedestrian-emergency braking, and traffic-sign recognition. Also new is a standard new rear seat-reminder system.
Overview: For the new model year, the Odyssey returns in ascending LX, EX, EX-L, Touring and Elite trim. Front-wheel drive is standard. Unlike Chrysler Pacifica or Toyota Sienna, the Honda Odyssey isn’t offered as a hybrid or with all-wheel drive. And Kia will offer an all-new, and larger, redesigned Sedona for 2022.
So how well does Honda’s entry hold up?
Exterior: Last redesigned for 2018, the Odyssey receives more powerful LED lighting front and rear, and it greets the world with a new grille and front fascia, and black trim under the rear window. Otherwise, it appears untouched, with an its lightning-bolt-shaped beltline distinguishing the side of the vehicle and accented with a partially blacked out D-pillar. Its distinctive appearance stands apart from other minivans, and its familiarity is comforting reassurance to Odyssey admirers.
“… The Odyssey has earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick+ designation, its highest rating. So yeah, it’s safe …”
Interior: Remember this number: 155.7. That’s the amount of cargo space the Odyssey offers, a figure unmatched by most SUVs, which also suffer from high lift over heights. Not a minivan, and certainly not the Odyssey. Our test vehicle, an Elite, has center row bucket seats that fold as well as slide side-to-side. Climbing into the third-row cheap seats has never been easier. And those seats fold flat into the floor, freeing up space to carry a wide assortment of lifestyle debris.
Thoughtfully, Honda installed grocery bag hooks on the back of the third-row seats for 2021. It’s a small, but welcome addition. No matter where you sit, you’ll find USB ports, map pockets, smart-phone slots, cup holders, air-conditioning vents and storage nooks. The top-of-the-line Elite test vehicle had a ceiling-mounted DVD screen and wireless headphones, a boon for a bit of peace and quiet when the kids prove restless. If that sounds like your brood, you might want to opt for a Touring or Elite model.
They feature a new CabinWatch system, which feeds a view of the second and third rows to those seated up front. It also employs the audio system speakers or headphones to amplify front-seat passengers’ voices.
The front bucket seats are firm, yet prove comfortable for longer drives, and have heating and ventilation along with fold-down center armrests. Headroom and legroom are generous. The test vehicle’s gloomy black interior and fake smoked-wood trim did little to lift our spirit.
Powertrain: There’s only one option, but it’s a good one: a standard single-overhead cam, 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission sending its power to the front wheels. The engine comes with Variable Cylinder Management, which shuts off three of the engine’s six cylinders when they’re not needed, such as while cruising at highway speeds. This contributes to its EPA rating of 19 mpg city, 28 mg highway. The Odyssey runs on regular fuel, so your wallet can rest easy.
Technology and Safety: As mentioned previously, HondaSensing is now standard on all models, as is a rear seat-reminder system, making an already safe vehicle safer. In fact, the Odyssey earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick+ designation, its highest rating. So yeah, it’s safe.
Technologically, the Odyssey proves competitive, with an 8-inch touchscreen on the instrument panel controlling the infotainment functions through Honda’s overdesigned user interface. A wireless charging pad is most welcome, as is a hidden auxiliary port in the center console, additional USB outlets, and a 150-watt outlet. The Odyssey Elite’s sole option was SiriusXM satellite radio, whose pathetically abysmal sound quality makes it a dubious investment at best. All three rows have USB ports and smart phone slots.
Driving impressions: The Odyssey’s powertrain easily moves this minivan despite a transmission with a fondness for fuel economy. The transmission noticeably delays before downshifting to deliver more power. Given this vehicle’s role as a family sled, you won’t be surprised that steering is lightweight and devoid of road feel, or that the body leans in corners, although it comes on gradually. But it proved responsive and crisp, endowing drivers with a sense of confidence, remarkable given its market and mission.
Driving under extremely windy conditions of Tropical Storm Eta, the Odyssey’s compliant suspension constantly moved, bobbed and weaved, but tracked straight and true. Being that the Odyssey is geared for comfort, this was little surprise. After all, this is one comfy couch of a car. Road intrusions are subdued; road noise is moderate but becomes unexpectedly intrusive on rough road surfaces.
The only sour note was the automatic-emergency braking, which falsely slowed the vehicle down repeatedly while changing lanes despite plenty of space. It was disconcerting and strong enough that the vehicle could have been rear-ended if a car had been following too closely – a common occurrence these days.
Wrap Up: Given its many comforts and incredible practicality, are you brave enough to drive a Honda Odyssey? On a dollar-per-pound basis, the Odyssey and its ilk are the best buys in an automobile, especially if you’re carrying people and their stuff. For some, image is everything and wouldn’t be caught dead driving one. The rest of us couldn’t care less. That’s what makes the Odyssey so alluring, especially if you’re toting around offspring. It’s a wonder more consumers aren’t smart enough to realize what they’re missing.