2021 Honda Odyssey Review: Playing Defense on Family Hauler Turf

Honda gives the 2021 Odyssey minivan numerous updates. But can they defend it against new competition from Chrysler and Toyota?

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The once-thriving minivan segment has contracted in recent years, narrowing down to six options. That doesn’t mean the minivan makers are complacent, though. The 2021 Honda Odyssey gets a host of minor updates, so it can better defend its turf against a reworked Chrysler Pacifica (now with optional all-wheel drive), and a redesigned Toyota Sienna (now with standard hybrid power). Updated styling, an enhanced interior, improved utility, and upgraded safety should continue to please minivan buyers. Paying extra for half of the available paint colors, however, may not.

As in previous years, Honda sells the 2021 Odyssey in LX, EX, EX-L, Touring, and Elite trim levels. MSRP ranges from the low $30,000s to high $40,000s, plus destination charges and optional add-ons. For this review, Honda provided a 2021 Odyssey Elite without any extra-cost features. The price tag came to $48,940, including destination.

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Minivans are no longer mini. In fact, in terms of passenger and cargo space, they provide as much interior room as some full-size SUVs. By design, they are boxes on wheels, and there’s not much you can do to style a box.

Honda tries, though, with the 2021 Odyssey. Dual hockey stick character lines and a kink in the beltline work together to hide the sliding side door tracks. Character is added to the flanks, thanks to strategically-positioned glass. And styling updates to both front and back aid to tone down the expanse of shiny chrome.

In the 2021 Odyssey Elite, the newly perforated and piped leather looks terrific, making you think “Acura” instead of “Honda.” No matter the trim level, the cabin’s materials and construction exude quality via low-gloss finishes, matching textures, and a robust look and feel.

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Initially, the dashboard controls appear a bit jumbled. But with a little time to examine the layout, groupings, and locations of the switchgear, they make solid, intuitive sense. Honda’s push-button electronic transmission controls require more acclimation, though, and the Odyssey’s radio is missing a tuning knob.

Except for the LX trim, every 2021 Odyssey has an effective, triple-zone climate control system, an 8-way power driver’s seat, and heated front seats. The Odyssey EX-L adds leather upholstery, and the Elite includes ventilated front seats.

Comfort is excellent in all three rows, and the configurability of Honda’s Magic Slide second-row captain’s chairs is especially appealing. They slide forward and back. They slide side to side. They tumble and tip. They fold nearly in half. And they detach for removal to maximize cargo space, but they’re not light.

The Magic Slide seats include a center section that turns them into a bench seat. Remove it, and you can slide them together to put two children closer to the center of the vehicle. Or you can slide just one of them toward the middle for easier access to the third-row seat, or to place a younger child closer to the parents.

There is no shortage of storage, and even the door panels have shelves carved into them. The center console storage bin is a good size, and its rolltop cover doubles as a tray. However, in Elite trim, accommodations for an available wireless smartphone charging pad take up a good chunk of prime real estate.

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Cargo space is generous. In the Odyssey Elite, it measures 32.8 cu.-ft. behind the third-row seat, 86.6 cu.-ft. behind the second-row seats, and 140.7 cu.-ft. if you remove the Magic Sliders. Honda was the first minivan maker to design a third row that flips down into a storage well in the floor, and that solution continues in the 2021 Odyssey.

Grocery bag hooks are new to the cargo area this year, and a power tailgate is available, complete with hands-free operation on the Elite. This top-trim version of the Odyssey also has a built-in vacuum cleaner for cleaning up the messes that often accompany family life.

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Unless you buy the Odyssey LX, Honda’s minivan comes with an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system display. Smartphone integration, satellite radio, text-messaging support, and a basic Honda Link connected services plan are also a part of this system. Upgrades, depending on the trim level, include navigation with digital traffic; expanded Honda Link subscription services including a Wi-Fi hotspot; an 11-speaker premium audio system; and wireless smartphone charging.

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Touring and Elite trims equip the Odyssey with a 10.2-inch high-resolution rear entertainment screen and two sets of wireless headphones. A Blu-Ray disc player is standard, or you can stream content via smartphone app.

Overall, the Odyssey’s infotainment system is adequate. It could benefit from a larger display screen, a stereo tuning knob, and a natural voice recognition system. The same assessment applies to Honda’s rear-seat infotainment system, which isn’t as sophisticated as it could be.

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Spying parents will be delighted by Honda’s Cabin Watch—which is essentially back seat video monitoring. Those preferring to be heard can amplify their voices through stereo speakers or headphones via the Cabin Talk system. And for multilateral decision-making, there’s the Cabin Control smartphone app, which allows everyone to mess around with the Odyssey’s climate and infotainment systems.

Switching gears to safety technology, Honda Sensing comes standard and contains forward collision warning, automatic emergency and pedestrian braking, lane departure warning, and Road Departure Mitigation—the last of which activates the brakes if the Odyssey senses an unintended departure from the road is imminent.

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Additional standard advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) include lane-keeping and lane-centering assistance, adaptive cruise control with low-speed following capability, automatic high-beam headlights, a traffic sign recognition system, and a multi-angle reversing camera. Blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert are included at the EX trim level, while Touring and Elite packages add front and rear parking sensors.

Equipped with a new front radar unit to power Honda Sensing and supply the low-speed following feature, the Odyssey’s ADAS works in a smoother and more refined manner than before. Also, Honda adds quick access to ADAS settings through a new shortcut button, located on the lower left side of the dashboard.

Given this minivan’s family vehicle mission, safety in a collision is critically important. The 2021 Honda Odyssey delivers, earning a “Top Safety Pick+” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration agrees, giving the 2021 Odyssey top 5-star ratings in every test except rollover resistance, in which it earns a 4-star rating.

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If you assume that minivans are dull to drive, the 2021 Honda Odyssey has a treat in store for you: It’s unexpectedly entertaining. You’re probably not going to drive it just for the sake of driving it, but in situations that call for confidence-inspiring performance and handling, the Odyssey delivers.

Equipped with a 3.5L V6 engine, 280 hp and 262 lb.-ft. of torque, the Odyssey has no trouble getting out of its own way. A 10-speed automatic transmission, complete with paddle shifters on the steering wheel, is adept at managing and delivering power to the front wheels.

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To conserve fuel, the engine includes cylinder deactivation and automatic engine stop/start technology. Drivers can also select an Eco driving mode in addition to Normal, Sport, and Snow. The official EPA rating is 22 mpg in combined driving, and we averaged 21.8 mpg during testing.

With a MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension, dual-pinion electric steering, 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels wrapped in 235/55 all-season tires, and a near 55:45 front-to-rear weight distribution, the 2021 Honda Odyssey Elite offers a deft blend of ride and handling qualities. It shares its underlying platform with models like the Acura MDX and Honda Pilot, but because it’s lower to the ground, it handles better than front-drive versions of those SUVs. Unfortunately, Honda does not offer its torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system in the Odyssey at the time of this review.

If there is a fault in the Odyssey’s driving dynamics, it’s related to braking performance. For 2021, the Odyssey gets a new, electronic brake booster, allowing Honda to add low-speed following capability to the adaptive cruise control system. It also improves brake pedal feel and response. In our experience, however, the brakes heat up quickly when driving in the mountains, and start to grumble and shudder on hot days, or when carrying a full load of passengers.

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Honda faces rejuvenated competition in the minivan segment. The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica gets an appealing design update, next-generation infotainment technology, added luxury, and available all-wheel drive. Plus, it still comes in a plug-in hybrid model, making it easy to run daily errands on nothing but electricity.

Also dramatically redesigned is the 2021 Toyota Sienna. It also offers all-wheel drive and a hybrid powertrain, rated by the EPA to get up to 36 mpg in combined driving.

Despite stiff competition, the updated 2021 Honda Odyssey’s traditional minivan recipe remains an appealing family choice. For it to be a big brand win, Honda will have to convince buyers that tried-and-true reliability is still the measure of minivan excellence.

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Christian Wardlaw
My first word was “car.” That’s what I’m told, anyway. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with them. The design. The engineering. The performance. And the purpose. I’m a car enthusiast who loves to drive, but I’m also most interested in the cars, trucks, and SUVs that people actually buy. Anybody can tell you that a sports car is fast. What you need to know is whether or not you should buy that new SUV, and why. My life purpose is to help you make that decision.