may be addicted to sport utility vehicles, but minivans are still rocking hard. During a good year, 100,000 Honda Odysseys are sold in Canada and the U.S. combined.
Honda believes that the minivan’s unquestionable practicality still makes it relevant in a world of SUVs, which is why it gave its Odyssey a fresh set of smart updates for 2021. Plus, with Toyota recently unleashing an all-new hybrid Sienna, Chrysler adding all-wheel drive to the Pacifica and Kia smashing the segment with its Carnival (new Sedona), the consensus among carmakers seems to be to keep minivans alive.
The better driving minivan
The midcycle refresh mainly affects the Odyssey’s front fascia, which is cleaner overall with a chrome strip that runs across the top grille. There’s a slightly revised rear end as well, and new wheels. Honda also reshuffled the available trim packages and crammed the van with even more creature comforts such as its new rear-seat reminder system.
While most carmakers already offer this kind of technology, Honda goes a step further by activating the rear seat camera when the warning pops up. This allows you to give it a sneak peak before getting out of the car without turning your head.
What doesn’t change is the Odyssey’s tried and proven drivetrain. While it’s true that Honda’s minivan doesn’t offer any form of electrification or all-wheel drive – things a Sienna
both offer – it makes up for it by its mechanical brilliance. No minivan needs to perform and drive the way the Odyssey does, but we’re not going to complain about it driveability neither. This is one swift-accelerating family shuttle, one that’ll hit zero to 100 km/h in about 6.5 seconds while signing pleasant naturally aspirated snarls.
The Odyssey’s engine is a carryover 3.5-litre V6 good for 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. It’s reliable and easy to work on for mechanics, but it’s more at home in the higher realms of the rev counter. But that engine sounds properly racy once it gets there. The ten-speed automatic transmission – Honda’s own design - seems to have been built specifically for this V6. The gears are long and well-spaced, allowing the engine to sing its finest melodies.
On the road, the Odyssey is smooth and impeccably quiet, with a compliant suspension and a taught, firm chassis. Although the suspension remains a tad stiffer than its main rivals. Perhaps that’s the price to pay for such great handling.
The family companion
While fun, a quick and dynamic minivan isn’t exactly the priority. What allows these vehicles to dominate over their rivals is their cold-hard practicality, the kind of practicality that will endure year-round family labour. A van needs to haul people, yes, but it also needs to haul objects, even occasionally tow (3,500 lb / 1,587 kg) and withstand the realities of everyday life.
In that regard, Honda’s minivan is loaded with witty storage solutions. Cargo space is generous, with or without the rear seats in place, and there are storage units, cup holders and USB ports at the most logical areas. As far as ergonomic design goes, the Odyssey eats its rivals in one bite.
The Odyssey’s Display Audio infotainment system works fine and easily integrates Androids and Apples, but its software is always a little dimwitted and clumsy. I still don’t understand why the Odyssey doesn’t have the Accord’s two large operating knobs.
Most of the Odyssey’s commands are easy to access and useful to use, however. I personally had a hoot with the CabinTalk voice-amplifying feature. I don’t yet have kids, but I can picture myself doing Darth Vader voices with it as I scold my offspring from the driver’s seat.
Sadly, the Odyssey’s storage solutions fall short in some areas. The fact that the second-row seat can be removed is a welcoming touch, but those seats are heavy and clumsy to get out of the car. We’d like Honda to incorporate a similar system as Chrysler’s Stow’n Go feature to hide the seats in the floor. We’d also appreciate a flat loading floor once those seats are out of the way.
We understand it’s not Honda’s fault that Shop-Vac went out of business, but we’d like to see the integrated HondaVac vacuum cleaner make a return soon.
The 2021 Honda Odyssey is a no-brainer family minivan. It’s well built, fun to drive, quick off the line and loaded with family friendly features and technology. Add to that a stellar reliability record and a good resale value, and it’s fair to say Honda still owns the minivan game.
Be however aware that all this greatness comes at a price. A $45,000 starting price isn’t exactly attainable for most middle-class families and piling options will quickly bring you to a near $60,000 sticker price. If you can afford it, Honda’s Odyssey will serve your family for many years to come.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.