2021 Honda Odyssey Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Sep 01, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Honda deals!

Honda is preparing to face new competition in the minivan segment, freshening up the 2021 Odyssey in a bid to retain the retail sales lead it has held for the past decade. 

But the new competition is potentially formidable. The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica is also refreshed and offers a new all-wheel-drive system in addition to impressive technology. The 2022 Kia Sedona is attempting to redefine what a minivan can be. And the redesigned 2021 Toyota Sienna comes only with a hybrid powertrain while continuing to offer AWD.

Comparatively speaking, the 2021 Honda Odyssey uses a tried-and-true minivan formula, an approach that worked well for Coca Cola until people stopped drinking soda.

2021 Honda Odyssey Elite Lunar Silver Front Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Improvements for 2021 are fairly minor, with a nip here, a tuck there, and extra standard equipment everywhere. It comes in the familiar LX, EX, EX-L, Touring, and Elite trim levels, and prices start at $32,910. For this review, J.D. Power evaluated an Odyssey Elite equipped with standard equipment. The price came to $48,940, including the $1,120 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Honda deals!

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, 59% of Honda Odyssey owners are male (vs. 60% for the segment), and the median age of an Odyssey owner is 48 years (vs. 54).

Owners say their favorite things about the Odyssey are (in descending order) the driving feel, exterior styling, feeling of safety, interior design, and driving comfort. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank highest in comparison to the minivan segment:

  • Vehicle protection
  • Smoothness of engine/motor
  • Driver’s seat comfort
  • Ride comfort
  • Quietness of cabin while driving

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Odyssey are (in descending order) the powertrain, getting in and out, setting up and starting, infotainment, and fuel economy. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank lowest in comparison to the minivan segment:

  • Fuel economy/driving range
  • Audio system sound quality
  • Playing audio
  • Using navigation
  • Vehicle feel when started up

In the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the Odyssey ranked 1st out of 4 minivans.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Honda deals!

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Honda Accord measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

A decade ago, Honda debuted the current Odyssey’s overall styling theme with a traditional door-stop wedge of a nose and a kinked beltline aft of the sliding side doors. It’s an unusual look for sure, but with the current Odyssey it also serves as an effective way to hide the sliding door tracks under the rearmost side windows.

2021 Honda Odyssey Elite Lunar Silver Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

For 2021, Honda tones down the Odyssey’s chrome trim on the grille and tailgate. A new front bumper design debuts, and EX-L, Touring, and Elite trim levels wear new aluminum wheel designs. The updates are appealing.

Interior

Subtle interior changes also accompany the 2021 Odyssey into the new model year. A highlight is the new carpeted floor mats, which are purposely designed to hide dirt. Another is the plush new leather upholstery in the Odyssey Elite, which is perforated and features both exposed stitching and contrast-color piping for a convincingly luxurious appearance. In some versions of the Odyssey, Honda also makes minor trim modifications to bring the cabin further upscale.

2021 Honda Odyssey Elite Dashboard Mocha Leather

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Storage space is plentiful, though in the Elite the wireless smartphone charger does reduce it a bit. Still, between the large floor and console-top trays, the bin within the console, a hidden storage drawer, and shelving carved into the front door panels, you should have no trouble finding places to stash your stuff inside of this minivan.

The controls are the same as last year, except for a new Honda Sensing button that quickly pulls up the menu for safety system settings, which makes them easier to adjust while you’re driving. Honda’s transmission controls are located on the lower part of the dashboard, and more than once I mistakenly pushed Drive instead of Park, released my foot from the brake pedal, and realized my mistake only when the van crept forward.

Digital instrumentation is simple and rather colorful, making it easy to reference data at a glance. The infotainment display’s maximum size is 8 inches, and it lacks a tuning knob to go along with the volume knob.

Getting In and Out

One of the beautiful things about a minivan is the ease with which you can load passengers and cargo. 

Minivans sit higher than cars but lower than SUVs, aiding comfort when entering and exiting. When you’re parked in a cramped lot, the sliding side doors come in especially handy. If you’ve got kids that need help getting buckled up, those sliding doors also make that task simpler. And loading the third-row seat is typically easier than doing so with an SUV (though the Odyssey does seem unexpectedly tight in this regard unless you slide the second-row seats into what Honda calls Super Mode).

Behind the third-row seat, the Odyssey supplies 32.8 cubic feet of volume, and for 2021 Honda has added new hooks designed to hold plastic grocery bags in place. Tumble the third-row seat into its storage well and the Odyssey holds up to 89.2 cubic feet of cargo. 

Maximum volume measures as much as 144.9 cubic feet with the second-row seats removed from the van. And though Honda has improved second-row seat folding so that they collapse almost flat, hauling them out of their latches and tracks and through the sliding side doors still isn’t a treat due to their weight.

Setting Up and Starting

Push the engine start button, and the Odyssey’s V-6 engine fires up and idles silently while you take a moment to figure out the steering wheel controls for the driver information display housed within the instrumentation. 

The infotainment system offers a more intuitive touchscreen interface that will seem natural to anyone familiar with a smartphone’s operation. You won’t need to reference the owner’s manual as you go through each menu and select your preferential system settings. It did take longer than expected to pair my phone to the system’s Bluetooth, though. And Honda offers just 12 radio station pre-sets, making the omission of a tuning knob even more suspect.

Once you’ve got all of the technology personalized the way you want it, find the transmission controls on the dashboard, choose a gear, and you’re off.

Infotainment System

Every 2021 Honda Odyssey includes Bluetooth hands-free calling and music streaming, and at least one quick-charge 2.5-amp USB port. Get the Odyssey EX and your infotainment features expand to include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, text messaging support, basic HondaLink connected services, an 8-inch touchscreen display, and much more.

With Touring trim, infotainment equipment grows again to include a navigation system, three additional HondaLink service packages with free trial periods up to a year long, a Wi-Fi hotspot, a rear-seat entertainment system with a 10.2-inch display, and a CabinTalk in-car PA system. Elite trim further includes an 11-speaker premium sound system, wireless smartphone charging, and the ability to restrict audio to specific sets of speakers.

This sounds more impressive than it is. We’ve already covered the lack of a tuning knob and the rather restrictive limit of 12 radio station pre-sets. The premium sound system is adequate, my kids were surprised to discover that the rear entertainment screen isn’t touch-sensing, and the voice recognition system doesn’t respond to natural voice prompts.

CabinTalk is useful, allowing the driver to speak to rear passengers without yelling. For 2020, you can use it simultaneously with CabinWatch, a camera that shows the driver and front passenger a view of the second- and third-row seats on the infotainment screen. Honda also offers a Cabin Control smartphone app that lets everyone aboard contribute to a road-trip playlist.

Overall, there is room for improvement here, even if the Odyssey offers Key by Amazon in-car delivery service through its HondaLink Remote plan.

Keeping You Safe

Odyssey owners report to J.D. Power that this minivan makes them feel safe, likely because it earns outstanding crash-test scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

For 2021, the Odyssey is even safer than before. In addition to newly standard LED headlights for all trim levels, the Honda Sensing package of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) is standard for all trim levels. Honda Sensing also gets a new radar unit that makes pedestrian braking capability and stop-and-go low-speed following for the adaptive cruise control possible. The Odyssey also gains a road sign recognition system.

If you want a blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning system, you’ll still need to choose a version of the Odyssey that is more expensive than the base LX. The HondaLink Security plan, which includes automatic collision notification, emergency calling, and enhanced roadside assistance, is offered only with Touring and Elite trim. Honda does include a year-long free subscription to HondaLink Security, though.

As far as the on-the-road performance of the ADAS is concerned, the adaptive cruise control could benefit from additional refinement and smoothness in terms of its distance management capabilities. Also, when the lane-departure warning technology activates, it wobbles the steering wheel rather than providing a more desirable vibration through the steering wheel rim. Lastly, the newly standard LED headlights work well after dark.

Powertrain

In the 2021 Odyssey, Honda employs a 3.5-liter V-6 engine and a 10-speed automatic transmission that drives the front wheels. The engine generates 280 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque, supplying plenty of creamy-smooth power, and the transmission is a delight. Plus, it offers Normal, Sport, Econ, and Snow driving modes. There are even paddle shifters on the steering wheel, though you likely won’t use them. 

There are a couple of concerns about the transmission, though. 

First, when shifting from Drive to Reverse, such as when making a 3-point turn, the van can roll forward a bit, so leave extra room. It also rolls a little when you shift into Park.

Second, for whatever reason, on more than one occasion I pushed the large “D/S” transmission button rather than the “Park” button, and when I removed my foot from the brake pedal the van unexpectedly crept forward. 

Distraction was the common element of these occasions, and if you’re a parent, you know how that goes when you’ve reached a destination and you need to coordinate exiting activities. 

But this might also be a result of how different companies use different shifting methods and even different locations for their electronic transmission controls. The days of the traditional PRNDL shifter are over, and now you must be deliberate about selecting a gear. And especially Park.

Fuel Economy

According to the EPA, the 2021 Odyssey should get 22 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 21.8 on my testing loop, in near perfect alignment with expectations. Note that for the full week of driving the Odyssey returned 19.8 mpg. However, that result included plenty of idling and a blasting air conditioner working overtime to battle a strong Southern California heat wave.

Driving Comfort

Minivans are designed to comfortably transport up to eight people, and the 2021 Odyssey achieves this objective with remarkable quietness on the road. But it could be better at this mission.

Except in LX trim, the driver’s seat offers 12-way power adjustment. The seat itself is fantastic, and in the Odyssey Elite both front seats have heating and ventilation. The steering wheel is heated, too. But I wished for more vertical seat height adjustment so that I could sit even higher behind the Odyssey’s steering wheel.

The front passenger’s seat doesn’t offer any height adjustment at all. Normally, my better half complains loudly about this omission, but she was OK with it in the Odyssey for two reasons. The seat offers good thigh support, and it sits high enough in relationship to the dashboard and side door panels that she enjoyed a good view out.

Honda’s Magic Slide second-row seating is quite ingenious. A removable center seat allows the Odyssey to carry up to eight people. Take this seat out and store it somewhere, and you’ve got a set of captain’s chairs with a pass-through to the third-row seat (Wide Mode). Slide both of the individual captain’s chairs together, and you can place occupants closer to the middle of the van, where they are safer (Buddy Mode). Or, slide just one seat over to create a much larger pass-through to the third-row seat (Super Mode).

My kids were happiest with the seats in Wide Mode, but they reported with some dismay that the armrests on either side of the captain’s chairs just flop down rather than adjust for height like the ones in the front. The third-row seat is comfortable for two adults or three children.

The Odyssey’s air conditioning is effective, but during a brutal extended heatwave it took a while to cool the test vehicle’s Mocha-colored leather interior. The front seat ventilation system, even when placed on the highest of three settings, seemed not to make much difference.

Driving Feel

Honda Odyssey owners say that driving feel is their favorite thing about their vehicles, and that might be due to this minivan’s unexpected athleticism.

Honda doesn’t advertise driving enjoyment as a primary reason to choose one of its vehicles, but the company bakes capable ride and handling qualities into each of its models. With a firm and communicative yet still compliant ride, impressive steering feel and responsiveness, and the Elite trim level’s 19-inch wheels and tires, the Odyssey won’t thrill you, but it also won’t bore you.

For 2020, the Odyssey gets a new electronic brake booster, which not only improves pedal response and modulation but also supports both pedestrian braking and smooth stop-and-go adaptive cruise control operation. It definitely feels good under a driver’s foot, but on a roasting hot day we headed over the local mountains to go to the beach. As we descended an 8% grade, the brakes heated up and began to rumble and vibrate a little. 

Perhaps Honda also needs to install larger ventilated discs on its people- and cargo-hauler.

Final Impressions - Find the best Honda deals!

The 2021 Honda Odyssey is an excellent example of a minivan. Safe, roomy, and accommodating, it performs just about any task you might ask of it. Compared to a typical 3-row SUV, it holds passengers in greater comfort and carries more cargo, and at the same time it’s more fun to drive and more fuel-efficient.

However, the Odyssey is about to face some serious new competition that offers more of the features consumers increasingly want while also adding new twists on the traditional minivan formula. It remains to be seen if Honda can retain its decade-long retail sales streak with its original recipe minivan.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2021 J.D. Power

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