PASADENA, CA – Summer heat blanketed the historic Rose Bowl stadium, but the ’21 Honda Odyssey Elite and its effective triple-zone automatic climate control system kept its cool.
My family and I waited our turn to drive onto the sidelines of the field to enjoy a presentation of “The Lion King” shown on the stadium’s Jumbotron screen, a way for Honda to share changes to the ’21 Odyssey with the media and to celebrate the best-selling minivan’s new status as the official vehicle of Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA.
Now halfway through its lifespan, the Odyssey gets a mild refresh for 2021. It continues in LX, EX, EX-L, Touring and Elite trim levels, and prices start at $31,790 plus $1,120 in destination charges to ship it from Honda’s Lincoln, AL, assembly plant. The ’21 Odyssey went on sale Aug. 3.
Honda is updating the ’21 Odyssey to head off fresh competition. Chrysler is making substantial improvements to the ’21 Pacifica, Kia is rolling out a redesigned Sedona for 2022, and the all-new ’21 Toyota Sienna comes standard with a hybrid powertrain that promises excellent gas mileage.
Although FCA’s Dodge and Chrysler brands have combined for about 65,000 total minivan sales so far this year, it’s the Honda Odyssey that is the best-selling nameplate in the segment, with 35,917 deliveries through June, according to Wards Intelligence data.
Minor exterior styling updates to the new Odyssey reduce chrome and accommodate LED lighting, while the top three trim levels have new wheel designs. Honda also is charging $395 for four of the ’21 model’s metallic paint colors, hues that were free in 2020.
Interior updates include revised seats (pictured above) for all but the base trim level, ranging from fabric and leather patterns to contrast stitching and piping, depending on the version. Most ’21 Odysseys also get new tweed-like tri-color floor mats (pictured below) designed to better hide dirt, and they work.
Additional improvements include gloss-black trim in the more expensive versions of the minivan, a modified center console design for better device cord management and grocery bag hooks added to third-row seatbacks.
Every ’21 Odyssey has a new rear-seat reminder system, and with Touring and Elite trim it is integrated with the CabinWatch rear-seat camera.
If you open one of the rear sliding side doors before driving the van, the rear-seat reminder alerts you to check before leaving and locking up after you’ve reached your destination. With CabinWatch, it also shows the camera view of the rear seats on the infotainment system display.
Honda also revises its Cabin Control smartphone app for easier use, and a software update allows simultaneous use of CabinWatch and CabinTalk, an in-car PA system so the driver can speak to rear occupants without yelling. Honda will offer this change to owners of 2018-2020 Odysseys through an over-the-air update.
All ’21 Odysseys have standard Honda Sensing, a collection of advanced driving-assistance systems. A new front radar unit expands the package to include pedestrian automatic braking, stop-and-go capability for the adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition.
A new Honda Sensing control button on the dashboard quickly calls up the settings menu within the driver information display between the gauges.
Mechanically, the ’21 Odyssey is the same as before, but with a single exception. Honda says a new electronic brake booster improves pedal feel and response and, based on a day of test driving, that’s true.
The brakes themselves can still heat, grumble and vibrate when descending a mountain grade, a characteristic that carries over from the previous version of the Odyssey.
Otherwise, the Odyssey’s driving dynamics are excellent in comparison to the 2020 model-year roster of minivans, demonstrating an athleticism commonly missing from the competition.
Honda’s 280-hp 3.5L V-6 revs smoothly, and the 10-speed automatic makes excellent use of the power. Twice, however, I mistakenly pushed the transmission control pod’s large Drive button instead of the smaller Park button and then took my foot off the brake pedal before realizing my mistake.
Honda Sensing upgrades are always welcome, whether in terms of added features or how the technology operates. During testing, it was clear the adaptive cruise control could work in smoother fashion as it reacts to traffic conditions ahead.
Also, some drivers might prefer a steering wheel vibration when the lane-departure warning system activates, rather than the existing exaggerated steering wheel wobble.
Now with standard LED headlights, all Odysseys benefit from the impressive nighttime illumination noted in the Elite-trimmed test vehicle.
As is true of any minivan, the Odyssey supplies good comfort in all three rows, and the Acura-grade leather in the Elite certainly makes this top-shelf version look and feel more luxurious. The Odyssey Elite also has a heated steering wheel (pictured above) and heated and ventilated front seats.
The second-row Magic Slide seat design, standard on all but LX trim, is appealing for its multiple configurations, and third-row Magic Seats still fold easily and conveniently into a large storage bin in the floor. However, for maximum cargo capacity, second-row seats must be lifted manually and removed.
And that’s still not very easy due to their weight, the lack of a sturdy handle on the underside of the bottom cushion to aid with lifting and the limited clearance through the sliding side doors.
Nevertheless, Honda’s minivan remains an appealing way to shuttle both family and friends.
– with Tom Murphy in Detroit