By on March 10, 2020

Clearly aware of what the minivan segment is all about, Honda has refreshed the Odyssey for 2021 with an obvious focus on the fundamentals. Practicality is the name of the game here, and with the Chrysler Pacifica and Toyota Sienna both receiving updates this annum, Honda didn’t want to be caught napping. But that doesn’t mean the brand has snapped wide awake, either.

Odyssey sales were down last year, with Honda unable to break 100,000 deliveries inside the United States for the first time this millennia. While the 2021 refresh could remedy that, the minivan segment doesn’t enjoy favorable positioning at the present time. Its competitors offer more variety, and Odyssey still doesn’t come with all-wheel drive — presumably because Honda thinks it’s unnecessary.

While that’s technically true (snow tires are more useful when the going gets slushy), there’s a subset of car customers who feel it’s a must-have option that Honda will continue to miss. They’ll be heading into Chrysler showrooms to drool over the handsome Pacifica’s laundry list of options or visiting Toyota to weigh the Sienna’s many practical merits against its curious exterior styling and less-than-lovely interior. Honda’s changes are mostly about leaning into Odyssey’s strengths and nullifying its shortcomings, the latter of which weren’t terribly prevalent to begin with. 

Your author’s biggest gripe with the Odyssey has always been the second row seating. Well positioned and perfectly comfortable to sit in, they’re sometimes a real pain to remove. In the past, this was as a hassle common with all minivans (until Chrysler mastered stow-n-go for the second row, raising expectations). For 2021, Honda says it has revised the seats so they now fold flat — allowing for easier removal. While this probably isn’t something that will sway final purchasing decisions, it’ll give anyone who has cursed removable seats for an hour straight something to think about.

Exterior changes bring the minivan closer to the brand’s current design language. The new front end features LED headlights and a restyled grille reminiscent of the Accord. Meanwhile, Odyssey’s lower fascia now has a singular air inlet in the center and stacked fog lamps at the edges. The Elite trim also comes with 19-inch wheels using a new design and auto-dimming side mirrors.

With the exception of upgraded climate controls, most other meaningful changes are linked to trim. The Pacifica has the ability to be optioned into downright opulence, and Honda appears ready to spruce up the interiors of its own minivan to counter. Elite models once again have it the best, now coming with unique leather seats adorned with contrasting piping and stitching. However, even lower trimmed Odysseys (EX and higher, anyway) benefit from tri-color floor mats and illuminated USB ports. Going up the ladder adds fancier seats and piano black trim on the dash, doors and front door handles.

Safety tech also gets a bump, with all grades of the Odyssey receiving the Honda Sensing driver-assistance suite by default. Adaptive cruise control with automatic emergency braking will undoubtedly be nice , though we’re skeptical that the improvements made by the manufacturer will prove sufficient in drawing buyers away from its rivals — and that’s to say nothing of those customers who could probably use a minivan but will ultimately find themselves leaving the dealership in a crossover.

It’s a modest effort to improve a solid automobile that’s fighting a losing battle. Minivans are great and deserve a lot more credit than they receive, but it’s hard to gripe about a manufacturer not fully committing itself to a segment that might not even have a future.  What would you do in Honda’s shoes?

[Images: Honda Motor Co.]

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28 Comments on “Honda Odyssey Mildly Massaged for 2021...”


  • avatar
    lstanley

    If you have never driven an Odyssey, go take a test drive. You’ll be pleasantly surprised……

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      On the avoid buying list according to Consumer Reports, the Odyssey was one to avoid and choose the Buick Enclave instead.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Absolutely we were pleasantly surprised! We have the use of our daughter’s 2013 Odyssey EX-L while we are stateside, and it has been excellent transportation around the El Paso, TX, area.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    We are likely taking delivery of a ’20 Odyssey EX-L sometime this week. Our 2017 Toyota Sienna SE lease is ending and we’ve never really loved the Toyota, except for its different styling. Well, different from other people carrying boxes anyway. My wife and I have gotten lots of compliments on the style of the Sienna SE from people over three years. But other than that, it’s just been a mediocre experience. My wife does not like it and from someone who usually doesn’t care about cars, those are strong words.

    In this class, it’s the small differences that matter. I think Honda does the small things better (we had a 14 EX-L prior to the Toyota) and while the Odyssey is softer, it drives better than the Sienna does. There have been no situations where the Stow and Go from the Chrysler vans would benefit us and I’ve had a Pacifica as a rental. Not bad, but the wife is not a fan of it or the Kia. So, it’s Honda for us, for another lease.

    I like the restyle on the front, but it’s not worth waiting for ’21. Glad the 10 speed is in all trims now and EX-L (with added rear seat video and Navi) is about all we need. I don’t really want navigation, but one child is prone to motion sickness if looking down at a tablet or phone on long drives, so RES it is.

    I wish VW would bring a van here (garage sized) or build a van off Atlas, but that’s extremely unlikely.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Why would Consumer Reports say to avoid the Odyssey?

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Who knows? Who cares?

        As a decades-long fan of CR I have not always found their advice helpful or useful.

        The Odyssey and the AWD Sienna are truly the best on the planet for those who choose to buy them.

      • 0 avatar
        johnds

        Spam account alert! Normsv650

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        Apparently because of the recent recalls or problems with the in-car entertainment? Their “predicted reliability” is 2/5 for whatever reason, even though their data shows a positive direction in all but in-car electronics.

        The Toyota does have a more positive reliablity, but they’ve been building the same basic van for 10 years now, I’d hope the bugs are worked out. I was not impressed with the Entune system in the Toyota at all.

        The Pacifica scores 1/5 on predicted reliability. I use CR too, but I don’t take their word fully.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          It’s always the infotainment and other bugs like that. The Odyssey hasn’t had a real good track record in that regard.

          • 0 avatar
            gearhead77

            @sgeffe, it’s the only thing that concerns me, well ,about any new car going forward.

            – 2016 Chevy Cruze with GM’s MyLink. Just stopped working one day. Like any computer, when I turned of the car and restarted it, it was fine and it only happened once.

            – 2017 Sienna SE- Entune has dumped our information multiple times, requires the Entune App to use the system, which is not great. One day, after an Apple update, it wouldn’t sync with either my iPhone 8 or my wifes iPhone 10X and the system endlessly restarted itself until we un-synced her phone and reinstalled it.

            2017 VW Golf- Apple Carplay works well enough, but I’ve had the system freeze and not reset itself. The other day it froze and then reset itself without me doing anything.

            Our neighbors have an 18 or 19 Odyssey and they’ve had infortainment issues with it. I know our ’14 Odyssey was kind of weird toward the end of its lease. This does not fill me with hope, but our options are limited for vans.

            The reason I don’t take “complaints” about ICE too seriously is because there are people who can’t use ANY tech buying new cars loaded with it. Stopping and freezing issues are one thing, but not liking it and giving it a bad rating because you can’t program it is completely different.

            Like the people who leave one star reviews online because the shipping was messed up but the product was fine. One of these is not like the other…

  • avatar
    jack4x

    “What would you do in Honda’s shoes?”

    -Improve the dealer experience. I haven’t found one yet who doesn’t condescend to the customer, apply pinstriping and useless addons to everything on the lot, and act like their vehicles are made of gold.

    Seriously, its bad enough that we won’t consider an Odyssey to replace my wife’s Sienna when the time comes.

  • avatar

    Still kind of ugly. I went with the Grand Caravan because of the stow-n-go seats.

  • avatar
    cprescott

    Being less hideous is not much of an improvement.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    As far as what this segment means to the manufacturers, I don’t know.

    For the wife, myself and our twin boys age 9, the minivan works. No doors to swing open wildly in the parking lot, low step in and loading height for all, especially when toting around grandparents. A third row that’s usable and still allows plenty of room for stuff.

    A minivan is the perfect family conveyance/ multi-use tool. I remember when wagons were on their way out and I think part of the reason is because most wagons didn’t do any better fuel mileage-wise than a minivan and prices were comparable. Why not get a bigger, more versatile vehicle with the same fuel economy and price?

    It’s why I don’t understand the love of cross-overs either. You’ll sacrifice some efficiency, versatility and other issues a crossover brings just so you “don’t drive what your parents did”? Because you NEED all wheel drive? ( I’ll admit some folks do, but most don’t need AWD).

    We had a Chevy Traverse as a rental around 2015 when my kids were still in car seats ( they were out of the full-size cars I had reserved). At no point during that long weekend did I want a crossover versus our Odyssey that was at home.

    We’ve gotten 29mpg in flatlands with light traffic out of the Sienna. But around town with hills and traffic, we’ve barely averaged 16mpg with all vans, the Toyota is hovering around 14mpg right now. I’d love to see an Odyssey hybrid or electric to increase the city mileage and MPG in general. I know Chrysler makes a hybrid van, we (or my wife more accurately) don’t want a Chrysler and they aren’t easy to find either.

    There will come a time when we don’t need a minivan anymore, but we aren’t there yet. For now, we’ll keep leasing or buying them. I wish there were more options in the field than the current players, but that’s unlikely.

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      The 2021 Sienna will be exclusively 4 cyl + hybrid, the same powertrain as is now in the Rav4 hybrid.

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        Well, that’s good. Hopefully Honda follows suit, though this could be our last minivan for this 3 year lease.

        Honestly, I’d rather have a turbo 4 tuned for low end power with or without a hybrid powertrain over a V6 with high power peaks. The 296hp in the Sienna (or 280 in the Odyssey) are all at 4000+ rpm and the torque peaks aren’t much lower. 250hp/270 lbs of torque at 2000 rpm would be much nicer.

        • 0 avatar
          jack4x

          I’m the complete opposite, I’ll be scrambling to pick up a new ’20 Sienna as my last chance to get that sweet 2GR V6 before its gone forever.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            ^ This.

            I’m skittish enough about the turbo in my Accord. I can’t imagine the 2.0T in the Odyssey or Pilot, at least if powertrain longevity would be of concern.

          • 0 avatar
            gearhead77

            The V6 is great, but only when you really push it. Not gonna lie, it’s been a great motor, but a little more low-end oomph would be appreciated. But I live with a lot of hills. It’s almost a completely different van in the flatlands.

            The V6 will bury the 110mph speedometer on the Sienna, but trying to haul a huge heavy box of a vehicle from that speed shows the brakes are not up to that task.

  • avatar
    ajla

    This is the only Honda brand vehicle that I actually like.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I’d still pick a ’21 Pacifica Hybrid over this for the powertrain, but I expect this would be my choice in non-PHEV minivans, at least if I could get past the pooping-dog styling.

    But I do think AWD now being available in the gas-only Pacifica will take a chunk out of Odyssey sales in northern states.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Front view looks like a Toyota Sienna

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      Mmmm, no. The pointy snout with the spindle grill on the Toyota starting in 18 is much worse. I wouldn’t get another Sienna for a lot of reasons, the odd change to the nose is one of them.

  • avatar
    LeMansteve

    Can you confirm one basic thing for me: what is the OVERALL WIDTH of the Odyssey? Not the advertised width (w/o mirrors), but the actual overall width INCLUDING MIRRORS? This basic data point has been so very hard to find. I know the width of my garage, but need to know if the Odyssey will fit.

    As it stands, it’s cousin Honda Pilot has less than 1″ of clearance on either side of the garage with the mirrors extended.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Good quality car ruined by inept styling. It looks like an old-fashioned giant perambulator. Dig those sexy side scallops and the broken-back look! Could anyone anywhere beat that, huh? Since the “restyle” of a couple years ago, new ones are thin on the ground. They appeal to every reason Mom wouldn’t be caught dead driving a minivan – abjectly poor styling on a loaf of bread. Makes the vehicle easy to dismiss from famuly wish lists.

    The JDM market Odyssey manages to do without the aesthetic virtues of the US model, and substitutes a grille of amazing chrome instead, kind of a shiny gleaming overly-perky “Hi how are yuh?” look, made by going apesh!t on the CRV front end, and what a great place to start from, eh? Honda styling is about non-existent these days. I think Subaru’s got ’em beat.

    The Pacifica is the only adult-styled minivan. Too bad it’s made by the ace wizard FCA Assembly Teams from local and globally source cost-reduced parts of doubtful quality.

  • avatar
    GoNavy99

    On our 2nd Odyssey (currently have a ’18 Touring Elite). Can’t say enough good things about this van. Leased it, and love it so much we’re going to buy it (helps that we have the version with the 10 speed transmission).

    I’m no car dunce either – I’ve had several BMWs, an Audi, a Porsche, a Lexus LS (still in the garage) and a pickup truck. I drive this Odyssey and have no complaints. Punchy engine, solid construction, good all around. Only grip is with infotainment system, but the truth is I still don’t own a car with an infotainment system I’d write home about.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      This is the issue going forward with all new cars. The in car electronics will age faster than nearly anything else. I’ve had multiple new cars from different makers and the ICE has done something odd in each one of them.

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