2021 Honda Odyssey

PHOENIX — Ahhhhh…. the minivan — the often-maligned symbol of suburban domesticity still remains a familiar presence in family life across America, despite flying the banner of automotive shame. Reigning atop the minivan hierarchy is the Honda Odyssey, so nearly a perfect choice for families that it’s been America’s best-selling minivan for 10 years running, with more than 1.1 million sold.

For 2021, Honda introduces a refreshed Odyssey that represents Honda’s attempt to retain that crown, contested by the newly revitalized Toyota Sienna. The Odyssey gets numerous updates including upgraded technology and safety features and styling for a more contemporary look. Is it beautiful? Not really.

Despite a restyled grille and front bumper fascia, revised front lighting and new black trim under the rear window, the Odyssey isn’t attractive in the traditional sense. Blame the mélange of styling details that lack a sense of cohesion. We maintain the “lightning bolt” side character line introduced on the restyled Odyssey a decade ago still appears to be the rear end of another vehicle grafted to the front half of the vehicle although Honda stylists have certainly Botoxed the deep creases out of.

But Odyssey’s real sense of swagger comes not from its polarizing exterior design, but from its unique, practical and family-friendly interior — spacious and reconfigurable — and safety capabilities, along with its silky-smooth V-6 engine and pleasant driving character.

If you’re considering a minivan, flexible and generous interior space and ease of entry and exit are likely high on your priority list and are one of a minivan’s primary missions. Big, power-sliding second-row doors are especially helpful getting kids, dogs and stuff in and out along with preventing the doors from banging into cars parked next to you in the shopping center or parking lots.

Odyssey’s second and third row seats are among the roomiest in the class with the third-row legroom more generous than that of the Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Sienna, or Kia Sedona where average size adults will sit in comfort. Honda also claims best-in-class third-row visibility. Honda also includes its second-row Magic Slide® seats in EX and higher trim levels. The Magic Slide® seats move fore and aft like you’d expect, but they also move side to side. That’s useful if you don’t mind your Odyssey becoming a seven-, not eight-passenger minivan. You’ll need to unlatch and remove the second-row middle seat and store it in the garage, leaving the Odyssey with second-row captain’s chairs, each with armrests.

Our test Odyssey was the top-level Elite that received additional upgrades for 2021 including perforated leather seats for the first and second row, with contrast stitching and piping. There’s also an exclusive dash trim with a deeper metallic look, and newly designed 19-inch alloy wheels and auto-dimming side mirrors. Additionally, Honda Sensing (Honda’s suite of safety features) controls have been simplified with the use of a single integrated system switch to control Collision Mitigation Braking System and lane departure warning, rather than separate controls for these functions. The single switch also controls the blind spot information system.

Mounted on the dash to the left of the driver, a single press opens a menu on the Odyssey’s TFT meter display, where the driver can turn functions on and off using steering wheel controls. We found it much more convenient than toggling through a series of applications buried in operational settings.

Interior fit and finish are decent but we thought it fell short of the competing Chrysler Pacifica. Materials are ok in quality, but upscale or “oh wow” flair isn’t part of the offering with a mix of hard plastic and soft-touch surfaces. Oddly, the center armrest on the passenger’s side isn’t height-adjustable, as it is on the driver’s side. We didn’t like the center console cup holders that have a slippery plastic case and void of anti-tip measures, making it too easy for drinks to slide around or tip over. Front passengers get two cup holders near the shifter. Those in the second row have access to two cup holders that pop out of the back of the front center console. Third-row seaters get cup holders that are built into the outboard elbow rests. All four doors have bottle holders.

Also new for 2021 is Odyssey’s Rear Seat Reminder system alerts drivers to check their rear seating area when exiting the vehicle after placing children, pets or other precious cargo there. When the vehicle is switched off, a chime sounds, and a message to check the rear seating area appears on the instrument panel. On Touring and Elite trims, the Rear-Seat Reminder system is integrated with the CabinWatch rear-seat camera system, the first integration of a rear-seat camera into a Rear Seat Reminder system in the industry. When activated, in addition to audible and text warnings, the Rear-Seat Reminder uses the CabinWatch® camera to display the rear seating area on the center console’s Display Audio screen.

All Odyssey trim levels (except for the base LX) get an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system called Display Audio. The software allows for customization of the menu layout and smartphone connectivity not only via Bluetooth, but also via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A rear-seat entertainment system with built-in streaming apps is standard on both the Touring and Elite trim levels.

Under the hood, the Odyssey is powered by a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission that delivers ample performance with additional reserve power for merging in traffic, climbing hills or passing on the highway. We’re not a fan of Honda’s gear selector control that uses a row of differently shaped buttons rather than a conventional gear shift selector. It definitely isn’t intuitive and requires you to look to see that you are selecting the correct gear. Perhaps over time it could get easier to master.

Ride and handling comfort are literally on par with a luxury sedan where bumps, road imperfections or rough pavement are well muted, smoothed out and exceptionally quiet. Our Elite trim includes an intercom feature called CabinTalk to allow the driver to communicate with rear passengers through a microphone and have the voice come out of the speakers and/or system-connected headsets, as it lowers the volume of the music that's playing. It’s excellent for keeping a modicum of order with kids in the rear seats. Toyota has a similar system called Driver Easy Speak system.

Without question, there is a large group of buyers who eschew shopping for a minivan in favor of a three-row SUV to avoid the stigma of the perceived shame that comes with driving a minivan. Even with all the numerous benefits the minivan has over an SUV there’s little that can be said that will convince them to consider the vehicle. Still, for those who want or wouldn’t mind a minivan, the Odyssey is one of the most spacious, functional, and safety equipped vehicles around with excellent reliability and resale. If there is a disadvantage for the Odyssey, it’s that, unlike its counterparts. The new Toyota Sienna is all-hybrid, and the Chrysler Pacifica has a gasoline-electric hybrid option as well as all-wheel drive.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $47,820
Price as Tested: $49,335
Engine/Transmission: 3.5-liter 280-horsepower V6 paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel Economy: 19-28-22 mpg, City-Highway-Combined
Seating: 8
Where Built: Lincoln, Alabama

Crash Test Results: Overall best five-star safety score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and highest possible 2021 Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Competes With:
Chrysler Pacifica
Kia Sedona
Toyota Sienna

Fab Features:
Roomy interior with flexible seating capabilities
Long list of standard safety features and technology
Smooth, quiet ride with poised handling
Pleasant driving characteristics

— Jim Prueter