2020 Honda Odyssey Review

Liz Kim | Jan 06, 2020

Introduction

Twenty-five years ago, phones were attached to the walls of homes with a cord. “Look it up” meant thumbing through a dictionary or encyclopedia. And family vehicles typically took the form of a sedan, station wagon, or minivan.

Honda thought it had a better solution, introducing the Odyssey in 1995 as a multi-purpose vehicle. Equipped with conventionally hinged rear doors and a 4-cylinder engine, the original Odyssey was a flop. But Honda tried again, introducing for 1999 a minivan design formula that it uses to this day.

Since then, the Odyssey has frequently set the bar for these ultimate people movers, and the 2020 Honda Odyssey is no exception. It delivers maximum comfort for up to eight people, ensures generous space for cargo and gear, and generally makes life a little easier.

2020 Honda Odyssey Elite Gray Front ViewThis year, Honda is also celebrating the Odyssey’s quarter century in existence, so with a bevy of out-of-state guests visiting during the holidays, we decided to put a 2020 Odyssey Elite equipped with the 25th Anniversary Package B upgrade to the test. It cost $49,915, including the $1,095 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Odyssey, it is helpful to understand who buys this minivan, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, Honda Odyssey owners are younger and more affluent than minivan owners across the segment, with 43% reporting to be members of Generation Y (vs. 35% at the segment level). The median age of an Odyssey owner is 45 years (vs. 50 for the segment) and he or she enjoys a median annual household income of $124,784 (vs. $115,895). Ownership is primarily male (61%), matching the overall minivan segment.

In spite of their greater household income, more Odyssey owners identify as Price Buyers (37% vs. 31% across the segment). However, at the same time Odyssey owners are more likely to agree that they’re willing to pay extra for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (63% vs. 58%) and they’re more likely to agree that they’re willing to pay extra to ensure their vehicle has the latest safety features (90% vs. 86%).

Odyssey owners are less likely to agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (40% vs. 51%). This represents the widest psychographic disparity between Odyssey owners and all minivan owners. Of the four vehicles in the minivan segment, however, only the Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are made in the U.S. The Chrysler Pacifica comes from Canada, while the Kia Sedona is sourced from South Korea.

Owners say their favorite things about the Odyssey are (in descending order) the storage and space, interior design, and, in a three-way tie, the driving dynamics, exterior styling, and seats. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Odyssey are (in descending order) the visibility and safety, engine/transmission, infotainment system and climate control system (in a tie), and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says… 

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the 2020 Honda Odyssey measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.

Exterior

Style, or a lack thereof, is the problem with minivans. They’re basically a box, also known as the most efficient shape to maximize volume for carrying people and things. Therefore, they lack the curves, bulges, ellipses, and drama that attracts the eye and captures the imagination. Simply put, a minivan can never be sexy.

Still, since it’s 2018 redesign, the latest version of the Honda Odyssey looks futuristic. A Honda family resemblance is evident in the front styling, while its kinked beltline, hockey-stick character lines, and wraparound-look rear windows help it to stand out from the minivan crowd.

Interior

Equipped with a two-tone, gray-over-black interior, my Odyssey’s big cabin seemed even bigger. Thanks to cohesive design and upscale detailing, it tried its best to justify the near $50,000 asking price. However, the preponderance of durable and easy-to-clean plastics serve as a constant reminder that the Odyssey’s starting sticker is less than $32,000.

Seats

Thanks to its heated steering wheel and heated and ventilated front seats, the Odyssey was a cozy place to be on frosty December mornings. And thanks to 12-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat, it was easy to find a good driving position. I must, however, take issue with the lack of a height adjuster for the front passenger’s seat. One is necessary to optimize comfort in that location.

To say that the second-row passengers will be content would be an understatement. Especially in Elite trim, with the plethora of entertainment and comfort amenities as well as oodles of space, there is plenty of long-distance comfort for two people. Three adults will fit with the center jump seat installed. Install a child safety seat in this location, and the seat slides forward five inches for easier access from the front seats.

Remove it, and Honda’s Magic Slide second-row seats allow for three different configurations. Slide them together to place children further away from the doors, slide them apart to provide a pass-through into the third-row seat, or slide the right chair toward the middle of the minivan to make it easier to climb into the third row.

Naturally, the third-row seat isn’t as accommodating, but generosity from the second-row occupants, who can scoot their seats forward, results in a contented crew. Everyone will enjoy the Odyssey Elite’s soft leather and supportive cushions, padded armrests, and manual side window shades for both rear rows of seats.

Take care to lock the second-row seats back into their original position after third-row passengers get out, though. Otherwise they’ll slide and clunk with the Odyssey’s every move.

Climate Control System

Featuring a three-zone automatic climate control system with air vents for all three rows, the Odyssey effectively warms and cools its occupants. Climate function buttons are arrayed horizontally under the infotainment display screen, and they are both well-marked and easy to understand and use. To adjust temperature, Honda provides rocker switches that really ought to be knobs.

Infotainment System

The week before the Odyssey arrived in my driveway, I was reviewing a 2020 Honda Accord. The Accord has a superior infotainment interface that includes clearly marked primary menu shortcuts and a separate tuning knob that makes the system exceptionally easy to use. Comparatively, the Odyssey’s less intuitive and helpful setup represents a step backward. Time for a refresh, stat!

While the user interface isn’t ideal, the Odyssey’s top infotainment system is robust. It includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, and the test vehicle’s wireless charging pad and Wi-Fi hotspot saw continuous use.

Honda also offers exclusive features designed specifically for families, such as CabinWatch. An overhead interior camera projects a view of each rear seating position onto the infotainment display, providing evidence to judge and jury (Mom and Dad) when the offspring are misbehaving. You can order a stop to shenanigans by using CabinTalk, which amplifies your voice through their headphones or the stereo speakers, so nobody can claim later that they didn’t hear you when you commanded a halt to the hijinks.

The Odyssey also offers a rear-seat entertainment system that you can use as a single wide-screen display or with a split-screen view; one kid watches a movie, the other plays a video game by connecting a console to the HDMI and AV input jack and powering up with a 115-volt power outlet. This way, everyone gets along and you won’t need to use CabinWatch or CabinTalk.

Storage and Space

People buy minivans for their flexibility and convenience, and owners cite the Odyssey’s storage and space as their favorite aspect of this vehicle.

Like other minivans, the Odyssey shines in terms of pure numbers. This Honda supplies 32.8 cu.-ft. of cargo space behind the third-row seats thanks to a usable, deep cargo well design that first appeared in the ’99 Odyssey. Fold the third-row seats into that well, and you’ve got 88.8 cu.-ft. of volume behind the second-row seats. Remove the second-row seats – an awkward process requiring some legit muscle – and you’ve got 144.9 cu.-ft. of maximum space just waiting for an expensive IKEA run.

Better yet, should you find an abundance of sand or Goldfish crackers on the carpet and in the crevices (and if you have kids, you will), the built-in HondaVAC vacuum assuages your compulsion for order.

Aside from impressive cargo space, the Odyssey provides plenty of storage within the cabin. There are almost too many cupholders to count, both rear rows include useful bins, and the front door panels have a multi-level storage system built right in. The center console isn’t that big, but a useful tray holds smaller items, and a floor tray provides a perfect location for a handbag or backpack.

Visibility and Safety

Driving a Honda Odyssey gives you the best possible odds of keeping your family safe, both by avoiding accidents and minimizing injuries in case a crash proves unavoidable.

In terms of collision protection, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2020 Odyssey 5-star ratings in all assessments. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety concurs, designating the Odyssey a Top Safety Pick in terms of the minivan’s ability to protect its passengers in a collision.

My test vehicle had a comprehensive set of safety features called Honda Sensing. Standard with EX trim or higher, it includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and more, all working together to avoid common collisions. A blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic warning is also standard with EX trim.

While some Honda Sensing systems lack smooth operation, they are effective. So is the standard multi-angle reversing camera, which improves visibility while reversing. Forward visibility is excellent thanks to thin windshield pillars, and oversized side mirrors make it easy to see to the sides of the van.

Engine/Transmission

Beating at the heart of the Odyssey, a strong, broad-shouldered 3.5-liter V6 engine packs 280 horsepower. It makes quick work of highway merges and, even when loaded down with out-of-town holiday guests, doesn’t run out of breath. Truly, this is an outstanding engine, delivering plenty of smooth and satisfying power.

A 10-speed automatic transmission effortlessly drives the front wheels. It takes a bit of coaxing to get a downshift for passing, but otherwise it behaves in swift and speedy fashion. It also includes grade-logic control to improve drivability in the mountains and comes with paddle shifters for manual control over gear selection.

I only wish that Honda would move away from the row-of-buttons transmission controls, which reside in the same center stack pod as the infotainment system and climate controls. The design makes for a busy, and possibly confusing, array.

Also, Honda does not offer an all-wheel-drive option for the Odyssey. For that, you’ll need to opt for the mechanically similar but less capacious Honda Pilot SUV or switch to a Toyota Sienna.

Fuel Economy

The EPA says that the 2020 Odyssey should deliver 19 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, averaging 22 mpg overall. That exactly matched my observed fuel economy of 22 mpg over the course of a week of driving, often with eight people aboard. Therefore, it’s a bit baffling why Odyssey owners cite fuel economy as their least favorite aspect of the vehicle.

Driving Dynamics

Buyers usually don’t choose minivans for their athleticism or driving pleasure. But they can choose a minivan that’s more enjoyable to drive than others, and the Odyssey is it.

With direct and precise steering, a reasonable turning circle that makes the Odyssey a cinch to squeeze into tight parking spaces, and a capable suspension that does a great job of soaking up ruts and bumps while managing its ponderous curb weight (4,565 pounds before adding passengers, for Elite trim), the Odyssey is an unexpected pleasure in the city, around the suburbs, and on the open road. You might even be inspired to rapidly negotiate corners.

On my usual testing loop, which includes twisty mountain roads, the 19-inch wheels and tires helped to keep the Odyssey nice and planted, but, as I’ve experienced in a range of other Honda vehicles, the brakes tend to heat, shudder, and fade sooner than expected, especially when driving downhill. That’s a shame, given this minivan’s otherwise pleasing dynamics.

Final Impressions

Crossovers? What crossovers? When (if) those glorified and tall station wagons fade off into the land of Laser Discs, Beanie Babies, and truck-based SUVs, their once-besotted buyers may return to the less sexy, but exceptionally practical, minivan. And when they do, the Honda Odyssey, with its myriad storage solutions, comfortable seating for eight people, impressive fuel economy, and stellar safety scores will be waiting.

Given that 43% of Odyssey owners are Millennials, according to J.D. Power data, perhaps that shift away from vanity and back to sanity is already under way.

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