In a time when your family’s safety is paramount, the 2021 Honda Odyssey makes for soothing relief.
How else to describe a family-friendly vehicle that was the first minivan to earn the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) highest accolade, the 2020 “Top Safety Pick+” rating?
OK, that may not sound exciting to you. But to a harried parent, one less thing to worry about is always a good thing. And the Honda Odyssey provides that in spades.
For 2021, America’s most popular minivan gets a mild freshening with more powerful LED lighting framing a restyled grille and front fascia, and black trim under the rear window. The rest of the vehicle’s look remains unchanged, with an undulating beltline and flowing lines on the side of the vehicle, capped by a partially blacked-out D-pillar. What has changed is Honda Sensing, Honda’s suite of driver-assistance safety systems. It’s now standard equipment on all models, and includes collision mitigation braking with pedestrian detection; forward collision warning; road departure mitigation with lane-departure warning; and adds lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control.
Sold in ascending LX, EX, EX-L, Touring and Elite trim, the Odyssey’s practicality remains intact, thanks to 155.7 cubic feet of cargo space and the flexibility to carry people or cargo or both. And it comes with the sort of options that make life easier, such as wireless charging, heated/ventilated seats, power sliding doors, and an integrated vacuum cleaner. All the better to clean-up wayward Cheerios or pet hair.
As before, the center-row bucket seats fold as well as slide side-to-side, making third-row entry easy. And the third row folds flat into the floor, allowing for an admirable amount of cargo space. When the seats aren’t folded, you’ll find the existing cargo area is massive, with a low lift over that’s far easier to access than any SUV. And Honda has added grocery-bag hooks on the back of the third-row seats for 2021. The front bucket seats are firm, but very comfortable and perfect for long stints behind the wheel. And both have heating and ventilation on the Elite, along with fold-down center armrests. Headroom and legroom are generous.
Thoughtfully, all three rows have USB ports, map pockets, smartphone 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 on family trips. In addition, a new rear seat reminder system alerts the driver to check their rear seating area when leaving the vehicle. It’s integrated into a new CabinWatch system on Touring and Elite trim, which provides front-seat view of the second and third rows, which also uses the audio-system speakers or headphones to amplify front-seat passengers’ voices.
The test vehicle’s gloomy black interior featured fake smoked-wood trim and plenty of storage options, including a large center console, and a plethora of door pockets. A wireless charging pad was most welcome, as were a hidden auxiliary and port in the center console, and additional USB outlets, as well as 12-volt and 150-watt outlets. Honda thoughtfully provides the driver with buttons to open the power sliding side doors and power rear tailgate.
An eight-inch touchscreen on the instrument panel houses the infotainment functions, with Honda’s cluttered, overdesigned user interface sadly remaining unchanged. The Odyssey Elite’s sole option was SiriusXM satellite radio, whose pathetically abysmal sound quality makes it a dubious investment at best. In fact, its sound is so bad, you might find superior sound quality on AM transistor radio. This isn’t Honda’s fault, but skipping it saves you $395.
Regardless of your music preferences or which model you choose, all Odysseys come with a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 and a 10-speed automatic transmission that is up to the task of muscling this minivan down the road, although the transmission is geared for fuel economy, delaying before downshifting to deliver more power when needed. Braking is excellent, though, and steering is somewhat lightweight and devoid of road feel. Body lean is noticeable and comes on gradually. Since a minivan is not a sports car, but a device to safely and securely carry those we cherish most, the Odyssey performs remarkably well. Fuel economy came in at 23.3 mpg in mostly highway driving, besting the EPA’s 22 mpg combined rating.
Nevertheless, while driving under extremely windy conditions of Tropical Storm Eta, the Odyssey’s compliant suspension constantly moved, bobbed and weaved, but the Odyssey tracked straight and true. It was very impressive. As you’d expect, the Odyssey is geared for comfort and it delivers, with road intrusions well muffled; road noise is moderate, becoming very intrusive at times on bad road surfaces.
The only sour note was when the automatic emergency braking falsely slowed the vehicle down while changing lanes despite plenty of space. It was extraordinarily disconcerting, and strong enough that the vehicle could have been rear-ended if a car had been following. But that was the only real off-note in an otherwise stellar performance.
The Odyssey remains a very competitive minivan, but it faces competition from the newly refreshed Chrysler Pacifica and all-new Toyota Sienna, while an all-new Kia Sedona is coming for 2022. It remains to be seen whether any of these competitors is tough enough to steal sales away from America’s best-selling minivan, a title it retains for a reason.
2021 Honda Odyssey Elite
Base price: $32,100
Base price, test model: $47,820
Engine: 3.5-liter SOHC V6
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 19/28 mpg
Observed fuel economy: 23.2 mpg
Fuel required: Regular
Length/Width/Height: 205.2/78.5/69.6 inches
Cargo volume: 32.8-155.7 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Curb weight: 4,603 pounds