2021 Honda Odyssey Elite by Ben Lewis

It’s always interesting to see what an Automaker does with a best-selling model. You want to keep things fresh and exciting, but you also don’t want to alienate the faithful, right? Such is the case with the Honda Odyssey minivan – America’s retail best-selling minivan for the past 10 years. It’s a great record. But do you mess with success, or play the conservative game?

Let’s see what the 2021 Model Year brings for the popular Honda people mover.

Fresh Face

Well, the Odyssey was already quite a sporty looking vehicle, but that didn’t stop Honda from making it even more appealing. The front end gets a new look, with standard LED headlights, new front bumper fascia with new housing for the fog lights, and a new black-out grille. It’s a clean look, and a nice departure from the “house of chrome” some manufacturers like to stop by on the way to the market.

The profile remains pretty much the same, but that’s not bad, since Honda gives us the sculpted sides and “lighting flash” shoulder line, that makes it one of the sportiest vans around. Helping give it some street cred, a new 19-inch wheel gives some visual oomph, while the Elite’s unique machined and Shark Gray painted finish looks especially tough. And visually, they go perfectly with our tester’s Forest Mist Metallic paint job.

The rear sees few changes, other than new gloss black trim under the window with a blingy chrome strip. We like how the rear taillights keep in the family design, looking like the sporty Accord. Nice.

Family Fun Zone

One of the most important things in a minivan is being a capable people hauler, and here, Honda’s innovative genius shines through. We love the Magic Slide second row seats – remove the center seat, and you have two seats that can slide laterally to create a variety of choices. With the center seat gone you have Wide Mode for easy access to the third row, slide them both to one side or the other (Super Mode!) for easy access from the sliding 2nd door. Or push the two seats in the center, and voila! Buddy Mode!

The third row seats are clever too, the Magic Seats tumble over backward into the well in the floor to create a flat load floor – no need to remove the seats. Very cool. And when the little ones are on board Honda’s CabinWatch and CabinTalk are integrated into the audio system for easier communications – although with our tester’s flip-down entertainment system, you might just want to enjoy the peace and quiet!

While passengers are a priority, the seats up front are pretty sweet too. Redesigned, they are more comfortable, and the Elite’s perforated leather in the front and 2nd rows is plush and comfortable. The fronts are heated and cooled, and the heated steering wheel is a nice touch. (Literally). Exclusive metallic look trim for the Elite adds some visual pop.

And if you were blindfolded, popped into the Odyssey, and pulled the blindfold off, you could easily be fooled into thinking you were in a Passport or Pilot SUV. That’s fine, they are both modern, well thought-out and fresh. The quality of materials on our Elite was gorgeous – you may be driving a minivan, but you feel like you’re in a luxury vehicle.

We are still not fans of the push button transmission controls, but you get used to it, and in a van, the space that it opens up for a huge center console is truly appreciated.

The large leather-wrapped wheel is a classy, and surprise! There are paddle shifters behind the wheel. (More on that in a moment). Info-tainment is typical Honda, clear, easy to use, and the Elite’s 11-speaker audio system fills the large cabin with high quality sound.  And Honda makes sure to have loads of USB plugs throughout the cabin, so all devices and their owners should be happy.

Thunder Wagon

So, you’re making the fam happy with comfort and tech, how about something for the driver? That may be the Odyssey’s best kept secret. Under the hood is the brand’s familiar 3.5-liter V6, that’s a powerhouse, kicking out 280 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s silky, smooth and loves to rev, and sounds nice doing so. Hooked up to it is a 10-speed automatic that makes sure you’ve always got an appropriate gear and get this – you get paddle shifters on the steering wheel, so you can zip around shifting gears like a European sport sedan.

Ok, it’s a big vehicle, but the handling is actually quite impressive, sitting lower than a comparable SUV, the big O feels hunkered down, the steering is accurate, and it’s easy to navigate traffic and is easily the most enjoyable minivan to drive. Despite the fun factor and our tester’s 19-inch wheels, the Odyssey has a lovely cosseting ride that won’t spill a commuter mug or sippy cup in the day-to-day.

Honda also makes sure you’re well looked after with an impressive suite of safety items. All models feature the Honda Sensing suite with expanded features and includes Pedestrian Emergency Braking and Traffic Sign Recognition (we love that it displays the speed limit right on the speedometer). The Adaptive Cruise Control now features Low-Speed Follow, so you can do stop-and-go traffic.

There’s other good stuff like a new Rear Seat Reminder System, and on our Elite model it even throws a visual video image on the info-tainment display to make sure you take a look and don’t leave a loved one or laptop behind. Very cool!  Also comforting, the Odyssey received a 5-star NHTSA Overall Vehicle Score and is targeted to receive a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS.

Can I Afford to take an Odyssey?

Well, like most Hondas, you have a range of models…kind of like having your choice of a Carnival Cruise or Norwegian. The most affordable model is the LX at $31,790, and you get that powerful V6, Honda Sensing safety, seating for 7, 3rd row Magic Seat, auto climate control, keyless ignition and a nice 7-speaker, 160-watt audio system. A great choice for a value packed family hauler.

 If you can stretch a little bit more, the EX at $35,190 adds the cool Magic Slide 2nd row seats, Blind Spot Information System, Apple CarPlay, Smart Entry and more. EX-L, and Touring models, ladle on additional desirable features.

Our top of the line Elite starts at $47,280 and is the whole proverbial enchilada, including perforated leather seats, Cabin Watch and Cabin Talk, HondaVAC vacuum cleaner, Hands-free tailgate, wireless phone charger, 19-inch wheels and more. Add in $395 for the handsome Forest Mist paint, and $1,120 for Destination and we rang the bell at $49,335.

The closest competitor would be the Toyota Sienna Platinum at $51,890, a nice vehicle, but you would have to decide whether you’re ready to swap that wonderful Honda V6 for the a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder hybrid. A Kia Sedona SX is a solid value at $44,515, but we find the exterior a bit dull compared to the Honda. Worth a look, to be sure.

With a fresh look, added features, and a surprisingly great driving experience, the 2021 Honda Odyssey deserves to stay the best-selling minivan for a long time to come!