Getting into the 2021 Honda Odyssey for the first time felt like a déjà vu. I was lucky enough to travel with my mom, dad, and youngest sister to Hawaii’s Big Island for the launch of the fifth-generation minivan three years ago, and when I opened the rear hatch of the 2021 model my mind travelled back to the tropical island. “Oh my, there’s no hooks for the grocery bags!” my dad said after looking at the cargo area of the 2018 Odyssey for the first time. Honda listened, because the 2021 model now comes with said hooks.
The reason part of my family travelled with me halfway across the Pacific was not only to drive the Odyssey, it was because we’ve owned a half a dozen minivans through the years. From a Chrysler Voyager to a couple of Ford Windstars to two Odysseys and a Toyota Sienna, my family—but especially my mom—has a ton of experience with minivans. Although they stayed in Texas during my time with the 2021 Odyssey in Southern California, I spent plenty of time driving the updated Honda minivan around town.
What’s Changed in the 2021 Honda Odyssey?
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This Odyssey update was minor, but there are new features that make a big difference. What I enjoyed the most was the new rear-seat reminder system in our top-trim Odyssey Elite model, which is paired with the CabinWatch camera. When the driver turns off the Odyssey and there’s something or someone in the back, the infotainment screen displays a bird’s-eye view image, and an audible alarm alerts the driver. Other manufacturers have a similar reminder system, but Honda is the only one that also displays the camera view on the infotainment system, which is great for parents.
Honda Sensing, the safety tech suite, is now standard on all Odysseys, and it received a few updates for the 2021 model year. Adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow can now slow down to a stop in low-speed traffic, and collision mitigation braking with pedestrian detection uses a new radar unit for better function. This helped the Odyssey obtain the most coveted safety award of the industry—Top Safety Pick + from the IIHS.
Our Elite model also added auto-dimming side mirrors, seat piping, perforated leather seats in the first and second rows, and new 19-inch alloy wheels. Also, the new floor mats have a tri-color design, which look better and adds some chicness to the interior.
How Does the 2021 Honda Odyssey Drive?
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Mechanically, the 2021 Odyssey didn’t receive any changes, which means it continues to be powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine producing 280 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 10-speed automatic. The powertrain makes the Odyssey punchy for a minivan; it never hesitates to deliver power to the wheels. The gearbox likes to downshift quickly, and it doesn’t hunt for the highest gear; instead, it holds gears until it’s appropriate to upshift, delivering the necessary torque depending on the driving conditions.
The ride is also settled and quiet, with few vibrations from broken pavement making their way into the cabin. I did notice a bit more body roll than I would like, though. This was noticeable on turns at traffic lights with the van empty and on some tight turns on the street. But the overall ride quality is supple, with little road or wind noise inside the cabin.
Just like on the street, the Odyssey felt competent on the track. The minivan hit 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, beating the new Toyota Sienna by exactly 1 second. The Honda was also faster in the quarter mile, where it crossed the line in 15.3 seconds at 94.2 mph—0.8 second faster than the new Sienna Hybrid.
No mechanical updates mean no change in fuel economy, so the Odyssey delivers 19/28/22 mpg city/highway/combined. Those numbers are on par with other gas-only minivans (the Sienna Hybrid delivers an impressive 36 mpg combined, and the Chrysler Pacifica PHEV gets 82 mpg-e combined).
How Does the 2021 Honda Odyssey Compare to the 2021 Toyota Sienna?
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Just a couple of weeks before I drove the Odyssey, I had the chance to spend a few days in the 2021 Toyota Sienna. I like the Honda’s center console with the open design and deep storage compartment that allows the driver and front passenger to set the armrest to their liking, but I prefer the Sienna’s bridgelike console. The space in the lower deck is ample for large purses, and the top deck has four cupholders, a wireless charger, and is connected to a massive tray that runs along the front passenger’s dash. The armrests aren’t movable, but there’s also a deep storage compartment (though it’s not as big as the Odyssey’s).
The two minivans are quite different in the second row. The Odyssey’s MagicSlide seats allow the seats to slide forward, backward, or from side to side, creating different layouts. They are also removable, and for 2021 Honda made them easier to remove. One of the coolest features in the Sienna is the second-row captain’s chairs, which can slide fore and aft up to 25 inches. Top models come with built-in ottomans for a first-class experience. But the downside is that the seats are not removable, which limits the minivan’s versatility. Personally, I prefer the Sienna’s seats, as they are more comfortable for long drives and are good for children and parents.
In terms of driving, I prefer the Odyssey’s V-6 to the Sienna’s standard hybrid engine. The punchiness and refinement of the V-6 is superior to that of the Sienna’s four-cylinder. The Sienna’s hybrid engine displays a thrashy note under mid throttle, and the Honda’s VTEC engine is swift and natural. The Honda’s suspension also feels more polished; the Sienna felt more disturbed over broken pavement. The Sienna’s optional all-wheel drive system is an advantage for those not living in the Sun Belt, whereas the Odyssey is still a front-drive-only minivan.
We’ll have to wait until we get a chance to drive both minivans back to back to make a final call on which one is better, but they both bring unique features to the table.
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The Final Word
Although the midcycle update is pretty mild, the changes Honda made to the 2021 Odyssey can be significant to many buyers. The minivan continues to impress in terms of packaging and interior space, bringing useful technologies for parents and kids. And even the top-trim Elite model offers good value.
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