2021 Honda Odyssey Elite Review - The Driver's Van

Life circumstances force some folks to buy minivans. Others do so for the utility – coolness be damned.

Regardless of why one buys a minivan, he or she probably anticipates that the driving experience will be far from fun. But that’s not always the case – Chrysler’s Pacifica Hybrid (review forthcoming) isn’t a chore to drive. And Honda’s Odyssey is more engaging than the Chrysler.

Relative to the class, of course. We’ll get to that.

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2021: A Honda Odyssey

It’s true that the once-hot minivan segment was shrinking rapidly even before the pandemic hit. Since then, things have only gotten worse for a vehicle type once seen as the go-to conveyance for growing families.

How bad is it? Our own Tim Cain recently traded in his Honda Odyssey for a shiny new Ridgeline pickup. We were aghast.

Well, this turn of events hasn’t stopped Honda from putting what it feels is its best minivan forward. For 2021, the Odyssey returns with a fresh(ened) face and new content. But can it budge the sales needle when it goes on sale next month?

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Honda Odyssey Mildly Massaged for 2021

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.

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  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • FreedMike It's not that consumers wouldn't want this tech in theory - I think they would. Honestly, the idea of a car that can take over the truly tedious driving stuff that drives me bonkers - like sitting in traffic - appeals to me. But there's no way I'd put my property and my life in the hands of tech that's clearly not ready for prime time, and neither would the majority of other drivers. If they want this tech to sell, they need to get it right.
  • TitaniumZ Of course they are starting to "sour" on the idea. That's what happens when cars start to drive better than people. Humanpilots mostly suck and make bad decisions.