Crossover-SUVs might be hot hot hot, but don't discount the minivan. What once was a nerdy mode of family transportation is now a stylish way to haul kids and gear. Case in point, the refreshed 2021 Honda Odyssey.
If you're seriously in the market for a minivan, I don't imagine driving dynamics are your main concern. Instead, you're likely more interested in the super comfy front seats, or the three-across second row with a removable middle section. Without that middle seat in place, the outboard chairs can slide from side to side. This makes getting into the third row even easier, and means parents can separate their bratty kids if they start fighting. The third row has room for three kids or two average-sized adults.
Regardless of where your kids are seated, you can keep an eye on them with the available CabinWatch feature, which displays a video feed of the rear compartment on the front infotainment screen. It even has night vision so you can see your kids in the dark, and now works with the rear seat reminder to not only tell you if you left a kid in the car accidentally, but show you which one. What a world. Additionally, the CabinTalk tech uses a microphone to project the driver's voice through the rear headphones and speakers.
Admittedly, I didn't have any reason to use the kid-monitoring features. But I did get to test out the vacuum cleaner. It works as advertised.
Infotainment tech in my fully loaded Elite tester is managed on an 8-inch touchscreen with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but the base model gets a 5-inch unit without smartphone integration. Still, even the larger Display Audio software isn't my favorite, since there seems to be one extra step for every function. Not great.
In back, the Odyssey Elite has a 10.2-inch dropdown screen with two wireless headphone sets. Second-row kiddos get one HDMI port and two 2.5-amp USB-A outlets. The third row has two headphone jacks (sorry, no wireless units for these unfavorites), as well as one 2.5-amp USB-A port and a 12-volt, 800-watt outlet. Up front, mom and dad are flush with charging options, too, including a couple of USB-A ports, a 12-volt outlet and more.
As for cargo-hauling -- kids always come with cargo, right? -- the space behind the third row has up to 38.6 cubic feet of space. I dig the low, wide-load area that allows the third row seats to fold flat, and once they're stowed, cargo area increases to 91 cubic feet. However, if I want to unleash the Odyssey's true hauling potential, I have to take the second row seats out, which is no easy task. Each seat weighs about 70 pounds and just has me yearning for the Stow-N-Go seats found in the Chrysler Pacifica. Sure, the Odyssey has more space once the chairs are removed, but I'll take a slightly smaller area for easy-peasy stowing.
When it comes time to actually drive, the Odyssey doesn't disappoint. The 3.5-liter V6 and plenty of zip for merging onto the highway. The engine is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission that routes power to the front wheels. All-wheel drive is not available, which stinks because the Pacifica and Toyota Sienna now offer this feature. There is, however, a snow mode that recalibrates the traction control parameters to handle the slick stuff.
The Odyssey returns an EPA-estimated 19 miles per gallon in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined. During a week of testing I actually beat the EPA, averaging 24.6 mpg combined. However, families who are looking for even better fuel economy should look at the hybrid powertrains in the Pacifica and Sienna. The Sienna gets up to 36 mpg combined while the plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica has 32 miles of all-electric range and gets 82 MPGe.
The Odyssey behaves better than you'd expect on curvy roads, but it really excels at everyday driving. The ride quality is excellent, it never feels harsh or jarring and the cabin is quiet all the while. New for this year is an electric brake booster, which improves brake feel and offers a shorter pedal stroke.
All of today's modern driver-assistance features are here, and most are standard. Blind-spot monitoring does not grace the entry-level LX trim, but other driving aids are standard. It's nice to see that adaptive cruise control now has low-speed following, because in previous years, it would disengage below 22 mph, making it useless in stop-and-go traffic. Also new for this year are traffic-sign recognition, which works like it should, and pedestrian emergency braking, which I fortunately haven't experienced. The lane-keeping assist mostly works well, but it can be a little iffy at times. A good reminder to keep your hands on the wheel.
While the 2021 Honda Odyssey starts at $32,910 including $1,120 for destination, my top Elite tester comes out to $49,335. The sweet spot in the lineup is the EX-L for $39,580. The EX-L is well-equipped with heated front seats, four USB-A ports and three 12-volt outlets, the 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and tri-zone automatic climate control. I lose ventilated front seats, CabinWatch and CabinTalk, as well as the rear-seat entertainment system, wireless charging, a Wi-Fi hotspot and the vacuum cleaner, but I'm not sure those features are worth the $10,000 upcharge for the Elite.
The refreshed 2021 Honda Odyssey is an excellent choice for those who need to haul kids and gear, but don't want to get into the three-row SUV market. The Pacifica and Sienna do offer electrified options and all-wheel-drive capability, making them seriously fierce competitors, but the Odyssey at least has a lot of family-friendly features and a peppy V6 to boot.