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2021 Honda Odyssey Test Drive Review
With improved safety, upgraded technology, enhanced utility, and spruced-up styling, the 2021 Honda Odyssey is prepared to defend its turf against coming revitalized competitors from Chrysler, Kia, and Toyota.
When you’re raising kids, the last thing your life needs is added complication. The modern minivan is designed to eliminate snags, simplify your existence, and reduce friction in the daily grind. Whether you wish to save money on gas, carry maximum cargo, or own a vehicle that is ridiculously easy to load (whether we’re talking passengers or merchandise), a minivan makes good sense. And the freshened 2021 Honda Odyssey is one of our favorites, for now.
Look and Feel
With a styling theme that dates back a decade, the 2021 Honda Odyssey has a familiar look that has been tweaked for the new model year. The grille and front bumper are new, every trim level gets standard LED headlights with automatic high-beam operation, and a new gloss black spear with a chrome insert stretching the width of the taillights. New wheel designs also debut for the top three trim levels. Essentially, these minor modifications serve to modernize the Odyssey by reducing brightwork.
Buyers continue to select from five trim levels: LX, EX, EX-L, Touring, and Elite. Base prices range from $31,790 to $47,820 (not including destination charges), and Honda has decided that if you want your new 2021 Odyssey painted Deep Scarlet Pearl, Forest Mist Metallic, Pacific Pewter Metallic, or Platinum White Pearl, you’ll need to pay $395 extra. These colors were free in 2020.
Our test vehicle was Lunar Silver Metallic and came with ritzy Elite trim, putting the price tag at $48,940 including the $1,120 destination charge. New for 2021, the Odyssey Elite includes perforated leather upholstery with contrast stitching and piping, as well as new dashboard ambient lighting, for a decidedly upscale look and feel. Most 2021 Odyssey models get seating material and design improvements this year, and new tri-color floor mats better hide the dirt that inevitably befouls a minivan.
With its handsome new 19-inch wheels with Shark Gray paint and machined surfaces, toned-down chrome, and a more luxe interior, the Odyssey Elite is closer than ever to credibly serving as the Acura of minivans.
Equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 engine and a ten-speed automatic transmission powering the front wheels, the 2021 Honda Odyssey’s drivetrain is identical to last year’s model. The engine makes 280 horsepower, and the transmission includes Normal, Sport, Econ, and Snow driving modes as well as a set of paddle shifters that few people will use.
Supplying smooth, effortless power, this V6 and automatic transmission are a terrific combination. The engine includes variable cylinder management, a fuel-saving technology that allows it to operate on fewer cylinders under certain driving conditions, thereby conserving fuel. The EPA says the 2021 Odyssey should get 22 mpg in combined driving, and we averaged 21.8 mpg on our testing loop.
All-wheel drive (AWD) is unavailable. With both Chrysler and Toyota offering AWD in their 2021 model-year minivans, this puts the front-wheel-drive (FWD) Odyssey at a disadvantage in parts of the country where snow and ice are a regular occurrence.
Honda has, however, added a new electronic brake booster to the 2021 Odyssey, saying that it supports a new stop-and-go low-speed following capability for the adaptive cruise control in heavy traffic situations. The company also claims improved brake pedal feel and response and, based on our driving, that is true.
Historically the most enjoyable vehicle in its segment to drive, the Odyssey behaves like other Hondas in that its ride and handling qualities, while not overtly sporty, nevertheless contribute to a pleasurable experience from behind the steering wheel. The steering is perfectly weighted, the ride is on the firm side but not uncomfortable, and body motions are expertly managed. With Touring and Elite trim, 19-inch wheels with a more aggressive tire also help in the handling department, as well as the aforementioned brake modulation upgrades.
However, as was true of last year’s Odyssey, the brakes do not withstand much in the way of abuse. Tested during a Southern California heatwave, they quickly heated up, and began to rumble and vibrate, and ultimately suffered a bit of fade while coming down a mountain grade. Given the number of passengers and amount of cargo the Odyssey is designed to carry, a braking component upgrade appears to be in order.
Form and Function
When you get into the Honda Odyssey, you’ll enjoy legible instrumentation, logical controls, and lots of storage. There isn’t a tuning knob for the stereo, which is difficult to understand, and on more than one occasion, I pressed the wrong transmission gear button and lifted my foot off of the brake pedal only to have the Odyssey creep forward.
A 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat is standard in all but the base LX trim level. The seat is mighty comfortable and includes inboard adjustable armrests, and with Elite trim, the Odyssey has a heated steering wheel as well as heated and ventilated front seats. All that’s missing is a greater range of height adjustment.
At least the driver gets a height adjuster, which is missing from the front passenger’s seat. For what it’s worth, passengers riding there didn’t complain about this omission because thigh support is good and the seat doesn’t make its occupant feel like he or she is sitting too low in relation to the dashboard and side window glass.
Storage space is excellent, as is expected of a minivan. However, the Elite’s standard wireless smartphone charger does take up some room on the center console’s top tray. Even the front doors have shelves to make extra space for various items.
All Odysseys except for the base LX trim include Honda’s Magic Slide second-row seat layout. Two outboard captain’s chairs slide forward and back and side to side, and a middle section adds three-person seating across the van or is removable to leverage the Odyssey’s various seating modes. Wide Mode is defined by Honda as separate captain’s chairs with a pass-through between them. Buddy Mode places the two captain’s chairs together closer to the middle of the minivan, adding more crush space between passengers and the sliding side doors in a side-impact collision. Super Mode places one of the captain’s chairs even closer to the center of the vehicle, creating a larger pass-through to the third-row seat.
Like the front seats, the second-row seats offer plenty of support and come with armrests on each side. However, the armrests aren’t adjustable for height, and for my lanky 11-year-old, this was gravely disappointing. The third-row seats accommodate both children and adults with ease.
Cargo space behind the third-row seat, which adds handy grocery bag hooks for 2021, measures 32.8 cubic feet. Tumble the third-row seat into the cargo well to open the Odyssey up for 88.8 cubic feet of cargo. The maximum volume measures 144.9 cubic feet, and please note that all three of these measurements apply to the base Odyssey LX.
One of the least appealing things about the Odyssey is that you must physically remove the second-row seats and store them someplace in order to use the maximum cargo volume. For 2021, those chairs fold flatter than before, which Honda says increases utility when you decide not to remove them and also helps to make the seats easier to remove. Still, yanking these out of the van, and then reinstalling them, isn’t particularly enjoyable.
Starting with EX trim, the Odyssey is equipped with an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system that equips the minivan with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, HD Radio, text-messaging support, basic HondaLink connectivity, and a Cabin Control smartphone app that gives everyone aboard in a say in the road-trip music and climate control selections.
Move up to Touring trim, and this setup adds a navigation system, HondaLink subscription service plans, WiFi capability, a CabinWatch interior camera, and a CabinTalk in-vehicle PA system that allows the driver to speak to rear-seat passengers without yelling. New for 2021, you can use CabinWatch and CabinTalk at the same time. Elite trim adds an 11-speaker premium sound system, multi-zone listening options, and wireless smartphone charging.
Touring and Elite are available with HondaLink Security, Remote, and Concierge subscription plans. HondaLink Security is free for the first year of ownership and includes automatic collision notification, SOS emergency calling, enhanced roadside assistance, and a “personal data wipe” function that restores the infotainment system’s memory to factory settings.
HondaLink Remote is free for the first three months and adds safe teen driver functions related to speed and geographic boundaries, as well as a Find My Car function, remote operation of the engine and door locks, and Key by Amazon in-vehicle package delivery service. HondaLink Concierge is also free for the first three months, providing access to a personal assistant who can help when necessary.
Whew, that’s a ton of technology. In spite of it all, though, a couple of problems stand out.
First, there isn’t a tuning knob, which is the simplest and most effective way to switch between close radio stations. For example, if you’re listening to the SiriusXM 80’s station, but you want to check out what’s playing on the 60’s, 70’s, or 90’s station, using a knob is the easiest way to quickly satisfy this desire without looking away from the road.
Second, the voice-recognition technology isn’t up to the standards set by modern smartphone or smart home voice assistants. You need to follow specific voice command pathways in order to achieve success, so you’re probably better off launching Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and using those platforms for navigation.
Touring and Elite also equip the Odyssey with a rear-seat entertainment system. It includes a single 10.2-inch screen that folds down from the ceiling, a Blu-Ray disc player, two pairs of wireless headphones, and several built-in streaming apps, including one called How Much Farther, which tells your impatient children how much farther you have to go before reaching your destination.
My own children weren’t impressed with this technology. “What? This isn’t a touchscreen?” exclaimed my 11-year-old with a hint of disgust. “No,” I replied, using CabinTalk while looking at them on the CabinWatch monitor on the infotainment screen. “Use the remote.”
Honda improves the Odyssey’s already impressive safety for 2021. The automaker’s collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS), called Honda Sensing, is now standard with base LX trim. Furthermore, Honda Sensing expands its capabilities thanks to a new radar unit and, now that LED headlights with automatic high-beam assist are standard, the Odyssey should once again earn a Top Safety Pick recommendation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Honda Sensing adds low-speed follow capability to the adaptive cruise control, allowing the Odyssey to come to a complete stop and then resume travel when you’re driving in traffic. Pedestrian braking is also new for 2021, as is a road-sign recognition system and a handy new Honda Sensing menu button on the dashboard that provides fast and easy access to ADAS settings so that you can safely adjust them while driving. In order to get a blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic warning system, though, you still need to upgrade to EX trim at a minimum.
In use, the Odyssey’s ADAS works accurately if not in as smooth a manner as you might wish. For example, as traffic conditions ahead change, the adaptive cruise control can apply too much or uneven braking as it manages a safe following distance. Also, the lane-departure warning system wobbles the steering wheel to notify the driver of potential danger, when a steering wheel vibration is often a better approach.
Since the Odyssey is structurally identical to last year’s model, expect its Impressive Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ratings to carry over, aside from those for the headlights, of course. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has assigned the Odyssey top five-star ratings for every assessment aside from rollover resistance, for which it earns a four-star score.
Compared to other vehicles that can’t match a 2021 Odyssey in terms of passenger comfort or outright cargo space, ranging from Honda’s own Pilot to full-size SUVs like the Chevy Suburban, this minivan is a bargain in terms of utility and practicality. Plus, it gets better gas mileage than the majority of similar-sized SUVs.
Compared to other minivans, the Odyssey is less compelling in terms of value.
The updated 2021 Chrysler Pacifica offers AWD, a plug-in hybrid powertrain, Stow ‘N Go seats that never require removal, and more sophisticated infotainment and rear-seat entertainment systems. And if you don’t need all of this stuff, the similar Chrysler Voyager is a relative bargain.
The redesigned 2021 Toyota Sienna comes only with a hybrid powertrain, making it more efficient than the Odyssey, and also offers AWD, next-generation infotainment and ADAS systems, and free maintenance for the first two years of ownership.
Then you’ve got the Kia Sedona, now in its final year before a complete redesign for 2022 that will cast the minivan as a “grand utility vehicle.” The outgoing 2021 Sedona is a stylish value play, though, and comes with Kia’s industry-leading warranty coverage.
Where does this leave the 2021 Honda Odyssey? Well, it absolutely deserves your consideration. But the competition is getting better and diverging from Honda’s tried-and-true recipe at the same time, offering a broader scope of choice in the segment.
And that’s nothing but good news for minivan buyers seeking to make their lives easier.
Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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