My Thoughts Exactly: 2021 Honda Odyssey

After years of praising a certain Canadian-produced minivan from a French-based automotive giant, my attention is now focused on its Alabama-built rival with a Japanese nameplate. 

In some circles, Honda is as American as you could get these days. They were the first Japanese automaker to build vehicles in this country. They doubled down on their American commitment by (a) being the first Japanese automaker to introduce a luxury car brand in this country, (b) seeing the value in developing vehicles with this market in mind, and (c) ensuring that their highest volume sellers are assembled in North America for this market. 

The story of the Honda Odyssey follows the trajectory of the brand in this country. It is developed off of a platform that forms two mid-sized SUVs, a unibody pickup truck, and this minivan – all of which are North American market exclusives. 

Still, this minivan continues to hold its own in the face of new and revised competition. I already covered the revised 2021 Chrysler Pacifica. Hopefully, I will have the new 2021 Toyota Sienna in for review later this year. 

As for the 2021 Honda Odyssey, it is a mid-cycle refresh of a highly praised minivan. The current generation model was introduced in 2018 as a much needed makeover from the previous generation. My colleagues who have worked with this vehicle praised the design and the expansion of driver assistance features on this minivan. 

After a few Pacificas and a previous generation Sienna a few years back, how do I see the revised Odyssey?

To me, it is very middle of the road, and yet very contemporary. The design dates to 2018 where Honda has put their minivan on the latest platform with the Pilot, Passport, and Ridgeline. For 2021, Honda gave the Odyssey a mid-cycle refresh with a cleaner black grille and a revised set of taillamps. The shape is also contemporary full of angles and scalloping. 

You cannot its presence, which is distinctive when the Odyssey is parked next to either a Pacifica or Sienna. I was hoping for more distinction, which the pre-refresh model actually had in its grille design. Then again, a family would spot their Odyssey rather easily because of those design distinctions. That is a plus for families these days. 

My tester is the top-of-the-line Elite model. The only thing I can see in the exterior is the set of 19-inch alloy wheels with a large dark gray insert. 

Stepping inside the Odyssey gave me the impression that, yes, I am in a Honda with all of the familiar controls and displays. The digital instrument screen covers all of the information you need, flanked by large fuel and temperature gauges on each side. The controls are easy to use and are well within reach – including those on the steering wheel and the center stack. 

One thing I get giddy about when I work with a Honda product is the fact that there is now only one infotainment screen. Remember when you had two screens? I’m glad those days are over. 

With that said, the single infotainment screen is truly a hub for connectivity. While you have smartphone integration through a USB cord, there is wireless charging on the center console. There are 11 speakers in the Elite’s cabin, providing good sound throughout. Second- and third-row seat passengers get a single 10.2-inch screen that drops down from the ceiling of the cabin, with a set of wireless headphones to go with that. You can play a movie from a Blu-Ray disc to keep the back passengers happy. 

Speaking of the rear passengers, the Odyssey is equipped with two features that help the driver keep tabs on them. CabinWatch positions a camera on the second- and third-row seats and displays it on the infotainment screen, while CabinTalk lets you communicate to them. These features sound like great parenting tools for your children – or a party trick to play on other adults. The benefits of these two features outweigh the comedy that might ensue from using them. 

My Elite tester is an eight-seat configuration. While most minivans equipped in the top-of-the-line trim have captains’ chair in the second row, there is a folding middle seat in this Odyssey. 

Front row seats are fine – the seatbacks are a bit firm, while the cushions are very nice. Second- and third-row space is fine with more headroom than legroom. Even the second-row seat is pretty comfortable, especially when the center seat is folded down to create a huge armrest with cupholders. The first- and second-row are upholstered in leather. In my case, it’s a black leather with tasteful light gray piping. A mix of sport and luxury, if you will. 

On this tester, there is the HondaVac.  It is stowed in the rearward panel by the liftgate. The cord is good for the second- and third-rows, which is fine. There is another twist to this feature – it is no longer offered on the Odyssey. The supplier, Shop-Vac, had been acquired by another company, who have shuttered the doors. If you end up shopping for a 2022 Odyssey Elite, sadly you are out of luck getting one with the HondaVac. If you can find a short-run 2021 model, you just might be luck!

As for cargo capacity, you have a deep recess just as soon as you open up the liftgate. You can fill up to 38.6 cubic feet of groceries or hockey bags with that extra lower space. The third-row seating can be folded into that recessed space for a flat loading area to the second row. Your cargo capacity is now up to 91.0 cubic feet. If you slide the front row seats forward, your cargo capacity has now jumped to 155.7 cubic feet. Sounds like you can use this Odyssey for getting food and boxes of PPE to those who need them. 

Underneath the Odyssey’s hood is a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. This engine is found on other Honda models riding on this platform and does a decent job getting this minivan motivated. A smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission sends power only to the front wheels. There is a Snow mode available on this Elite tester. Sadly, I found the results concerning, as it never felt that I had any additional traction on snowy, sloppy roads. 

There is a point I made on a video I released on V&R’s YouTube channel. While the Pacifica and Sienna can be equipped with all-wheel-drive, the Odyssey does not have that option. Yet, it shares the same platform with three other models that are equipped with that driveline. I suspect that the reason for this omission is the lower ground clearance compared to its platform-mates and the potential loss of cabin floor space, if the additional driveline is added. I believe the Odyssey could benefit from Honda’s all-wheel-drive system for better traction and grip all year round. 

As for fuel economy, I averaged 22.8 MPG. This is above what the sticker listed as the average combined cycle figure, as tested by the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Minivans are made for family comfort, and the Odyssey is no exception. When the roads are smooth, your family will travel in complete ease. Once the roads get a bit tricky to handle, the Odyssey does its best to absorb those imperfections the best way it can. Handling is pretty good, with some roll and lean present in some instances. However, it corners quite well without much drama. 

While it is an electric system, the steering system turns pretty tightly and offers decent feedback from the road. On-center feel is also decent, with some lightness felt on occasion. The brakes exhibited good pedal feel and response down to the wheels. I found good stops in normal, panic, and winter situations. 

My 2021 Honda Odyssey Elite tester came with a sticker price of $49,335. This is with only one option – the paint job. I would definitely call this a relative value, considering that a certain minivan has scaled over the $50,000 threshold on their luxury trim level – even with all-wheel-drive. Because of the HondaVac supplier issue, you can only get a new 2022 model year Odyssey from your local dealer. Pricing starts from $32,090, and there are five different trim levels to choose from. 

While this is more of a smaller segment than it once was, it is highly competitive. In the past few years, minivans have been getting better at accommodating families. While the spotlight is on its competitors, one should never leave the Honda Odyssey off of their shopping list. 

This brings me to something I had discussed recently: What should families ride around in? Yes, the SUV has been ruling the automotive industry for quite some time. However, they do not offer the excellent cabin space and cargo capacity as a minivan. If your family has growing children that are heavily involved in many activity – sports, music, outdoorsy stuff – consider a minivan. You will find the benefits to be quite beneficial. 

If you happen to be one of the families I referred to above, give the Honda Odyssey a good look. If this is your minivan, congratulations! Enjoy it! 

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by American Honda Motor Co., Inc. 

All photo by Randy Stern

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