2021 Honda Odyssey first drive review: Spit shine
Honda's Odyssey is probably the best minivan you can buy. Versatile and thoughtfully designed, refined and comfortable, what more could you ask for in a family transporter? Aside from an integrated smoothie maker or a self-emptying diaper pail (preferably not located next to each other), probably not much. But that hasn't stopped Honda from further refining this segment-leading minivan, giving it a good, ol' spit shine for 2021.
One look at this machine's body and you may be hard-pressed to tell it apart from the 2020 model -- the new Odyssey's visual changes are that minor. Its face was restyled, gaining a classier-looking grille that's cleaner than before. Flanking that updated opening are new LED headlamps, which are standard across the range. Similarly, the front bumper and fog light surrounds were reworked, and 19-inch wheels in varying styles come standard on high-end models. 'Round back, this van's hatch has been gussied up by a spear of black trim, and overall, the 2021 Odyssey breaks no new ground, but its design is handsome and less robotic.
Not much work had to be done inside the Odyssey, either. Its interior is well made, accommodating and loaded with plenty of storage cubbies. Touring and Elite trims now feature piano-black accents on the doors, while Elites also gain some nice perforated leather with piping, plus metallic-look adornments on the dashboard.
This minivan's front seats are supportive and the second-row buckets are nearly as comfortable. As before, those chairs can slide from side to side, making it easier to keep tabs on a child or access the third row. Speaking of which, this Honda's aft-most accommodations are plenty spacious and comfortable for adults.
Some important tech upgrades were made to the 2021 Odyssey. A rear-seat reminder is now standard, so you don't inadvertently leave any precious cargo in the back. Similarly, the Odyssey's handy CabinTalk system, which allows the driver to communicate with people in the backseats through the vehicle speakers, can now be used simultaneously with CabinWatch, which lets them visually keep tabs on passengers. This enhancement will also be made available to owners of appropriately equipped 2018 to 2020 model-year Odysseys via an over-the-air update.
Honda Sensing, the automaker's excellent suite of driver aids, is now standard across the board and it's been improved for 2021. The Odyssey gains pedestrian emergency braking and traffic-sign recognition. Beyond that, it has low-speed follow functionality, which allows the adaptive cruise control to operate in stop-and-go traffic, right down to 0 mph. The lane-centering system makes the Odyssey track like a monorail, and the adaptive cruise control is a winner, too, operating smoothly all of the time.
If you were hoping Honda engineers added a Chrysler Stow 'N Go-inspired seating system to the Odyssey, like you get in the stylish Pacifica, where the second-row chairs fold into the floor, you'll be sorely disappointed. You still have to remove this van's buckets for maximum cargo space, and they're still hernia-heavy. At least Honda made this chore a little easier for 2021. The backrests now fold down further, making the second-row seats noticeably less ungainly to squeeze through the sliding doors.
A snarly, 3.5-liter V6 is still standard, delivering a potent 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. A 10-speed automatic is the only transmission offered, routing torque exclusively to the front wheels. Expect 19 miles per gallon city, 28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined from this Honda's powertrain, exactly the same as before. In real-world driving, I'm averaging 24 mpg and change, though this score does not include much stop-and-go traffic.
With no under-hood changes, the 2021 Odyssey basically drives like the 2020 model, and that's not a bad thing. Its VTEC V6 sounds great, especially when working hard, and delivers brisk acceleration. Seriously, you might be surprised how quickly this van gets up to speed, performance that's aided by a smooth, 10-speed automatic transmission which goes about its business without drawing much attention to itself. The timing of downshifts can occasionally be a little inconsistent, but this is a minor complaint, as the transmission calibration is otherwise excellent.
One of the only real mechanical changes made for 2021 is an update to this van's electric brake booster. The pedal stroke has been reduced by 20% for a more confident feel, though it's still pretty rubbery in action.
As before, the Odyssey's ride quality is supple yet controlled. It easily digests bumps without transmitting much harshness into the cabin and the minivan never feels loose or sloppy. Handling is secure and predictable, making this van feels lighter than you might expect for something so portly. Even at freeway speeds, the Odyssey's interior remains hushed.
Really, if there's any bad news with the 2021 Honda Odyssey it's that prices have crept up slightly. The entry-level LX version costs $1,000 more than last year, checking out for $32,910, including $1,120 in destination fees. Other models have gone up by around 400 bucks. My top-shelf Elite tester checks out for $49,335, the only option being Forest Mist Metallic paint, a $395 upcharge.
The Honda Odyssey has been the best-selling minivan in America for the last 10 years, and according to the automaker, it owns more than 40% of this segment. With the changes Honda made for 2021, I see no reason for the Odyssey's dominance to fade. Examples should be hitting dealerships right now.