The 2021 Honda Odyssey, the best-selling minivan, is lightly updated for this year. Does it have what it takes to compete with the all-new Toyota Sienna?
The 2021 Honda Odyssey is an extension of the sixth-generation model launched in 2018, but with some significant upgrades. These new upgrades feature new safety features, enhanced in-vehicle technology, improved utility, and spiffed-up styling.
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Exterior changes for 2021 include updated front and rear fascia, which are genuine improvements over the previous styling. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste is the kinked beltline below the rear side windows. However, it does effectively hide the sliding door tracks, which is an overall improvement in appearance.
Honda’s Odyssey minivan has a long history of impressing drivers and passengers alike with its spacious, comfortable interior and thoughtful selection of features. It faces some tough competition in the new models from Toyota, Kia and others still in the minivan game. Can it hold its position at the top of the heap? For 2021, Toyota tries to do just that.
The 2021 Honda Odyssey is powered by a 3.5L V6 engine through a 10-speed automatic transmission that drives the front wheels. Unlike a few competitors, All-Wheel Drive (AWD) is not available on the Odyssey. The engine develops 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft. of torque. Power is adequate, but it’s more about how it’s delivered. Combined, the engine and transmission provide smooth acceleration and barely perceptible shifting as you reach highway speeds.
Plus, four drive modes (Normal, Sport, Econ, and Snow) can be selected to best match the driving conditions. There’s even a pair of paddle shifters positioned on the steering wheel (for days when you feel racy). Selection of Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive of the transmission is not through a shifter, but rather a series of pushbuttons in the center stack that might take a little time to get used to. Despite this quirk, the Odyssey’s automatic transmission is a plus, especially compared to the squishy CVT transmissions in some competitive models.
In EPA testing, the 2021 Odyssey achieved 19 miles per gallon city, 28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. Typical for an average minivan, though well below the ratings of hybrid offering from Chrysler and Toyota.
Minivans are among the most effective cargo haulers among passenger vehicles, often offering more room for stuff than even large SUVs. Behind the third-row seat, the Odyssey features 32.8 cubic feet of volume. With the third-row seat folded into its storage well, the Odyssey offers up to 89.2 cubic feet. With second-row seats removed, the max volume is 144.9 cubic feet-wide and long enough to fit a standard plywood sheet.
The 2021 Odyssey earned outstanding crash-test scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The minivan received perfect five-star crash ratings from the NHTSA. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the best possible rating of Top Safety Pick+ in every category except headlights, where it received an Acceptable grade. For parents of children in car seats, note that its LATCH anchors earned the best-possible rating of Good+ for their ease of use.
Owners of the Honda Odyssey commonly note that the ride and handling is their favorite aspects of the minivan. While there are plenty of physical restrictions limiting a minivan’s handling from that of a sports coupe, the Odyssey comes closest among its competitors.
The 2021 Odyssey’s ride is firm and communicative (though still compliant ride). Combine that with its responsive steering, and you’ve got a class leader. The 19-inch wheels and wide tires on the Elite trim raise steering and handling another notch.
Replacing the old-style vacuum system, the Odyssey features an electronic brake booster, which improves pedal response and modulation. While the change is subtle, it is apparent, and you’ll feel the difference at the first stop of a test drive.
All minivans on the market follow the same formula when it comes to the interior, so there’s nothing breakthrough among any of the models offered. Instead, it’s about which company gets the details right, and it’s clear that Honda has been sweating the details.
For example, take the floormats. A minor detail in most cars, Honda has developed new carpeted floor mats designed to hide dirt (great idea, but who would think to do that?). Honda has also made subtle interior trim modifications to bring the cabin design further upscale.
Where attention to detail is perhaps most critical in a new minivan design is the second-row seats. The Odyssey offers Magic Slide second-row seats found on all but the base LX. The Magic Slide allows the two-second row captain’s chairs to be shifted to any position laterally inside the minivan. You can separate them, push them to the sides, move them to one side or the other, or bunch them in the middle. Fore and aft adjustment allows the second-row seats to be positioned ideally for accessing a child safety seat.
The second-row seats can be removed and stored separately when wide-open cargo space is needed. They are heavy, bulky, and need to be wrangled out of the van to clear the area. While the Chrysler Pacifica’s second-row seats easily fold into the floor, we find that the Odyssey’s seats are more substantial and more comfortable.
Storage space is plentiful, with large floor and console-top trays, a bin within the console, a hidden storage drawer, and shelving in the front door panels. There’s no problem finding storage places for the items we all now drag along with us, especially those families hauling children with their toys.
As mentioned at the top, some tech upgrades have been made to the 2021 Odyssey, but most of it is focused on the small folks in the back. CabinTalk has been integrated with CabinWatch, allowing the driver to check up on the shenanigans in the back rows and correct any behavioral issues without raising their voice. There’s also a rear-seat monitor that reminds the driver if anyone or anything has been left in the back.
Upgraded Honda Sensing is now standard in all trim levels. Look for the low-speed follow functionality, adaptive cruise control to ease the driver’s chores in stop-and-go traffic, and the lane-centering system keeps the Odyssey on the straight and narrow. Also included are pedestrian emergency braking and traffic-sign recognition.
All 2021 Honda Odyssey trim levels include Bluetooth hands-free calling, music streaming integration, and one or more quick-charge USB ports. Step-up to the EX trim and an 8-inch touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, text messaging support, and HondaLink connected services are added to the infotainment system.
The LX Odyssey comes standard with every driver assistance system available, except blind-spot warning. Also included is rear privacy glass, automatic LED headlights, automatic climate control, eight-way driver and four-way passenger power front seats, two USB ports, and a seven-speaker audio system.
Stepping up to the $36,310, the EX model gains the buyer some power-sliding doors, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning systems, three-zone climate control, and second-row sunshades. There are also heated front seats, driver’s seat lumbar adjustment, and an extra front USB port.
Moving on to the $39,580 EX-L adds a sunroof, a power liftgate, yet another USB port, and leather-trimmed steering wheel and seat surfaces.
The top of the range $43,620 Touring and $48,940 Elite trims include the Honda Vac, CabinTalk, CabinWatch, in-car WiFi, and a rear-seat entertainment system-all standard.
The Touring trim includes a dated native navigation system (owners are better off linking their smartphones), while significant upgrades to Elite trim include an 11-speaker premium sound system and wireless smartphone charging.
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Odyssey hard and targeting its weak spots (like fuel economy) or offer innovative, but ultimately not so useful, upgrades (like Chrysler’s fold-flat second row and the Sienna’s second-row fridge).
Honda has listened hard to both current and prospective owners. They’ve targeted key improvements in the features that matter (save the navigation system). Despite some perceived shortcomings, we recommend the 2021 Odyssey to shoppers as a must-drive before making a purchasing decision. We’d also recommend that families consider the somewhat more expensive EX trim, as it includes the features that pay off in the long run.