2021 Honda Odyssey Elite Review by David Colman +VIDEO
The beefy better solution to an SUV
By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
Creeping up to the metering light at steeply inclined freeway on-ramp, I spaced out long enough for my wife to say, "Go, the light's green." So I gave the Odyssey a little more squirt than I might have if I hadn't been caught napping. To my utter amazement, this 4,490 pound, 6 passenger torpedo left a sizeable patch of rubber on the pavement with a resounding chirp. All while accelerating uphill. Lately I've been driving any number of tubby SUVs that wouldn't leave rubber if you dropped them vertically from a crane. To say that Honda's 280hp, V6 powered Odyssey performed the age old patch out ritual without hesitation pays tribute to the prodigious strength of its VTEC motor and its 10-speed automatic gearbox.
Probably the last reason you would buy an Odyssey would be to pull off hole shots at traffic lights. But it's kind of comforting to know that this bus is no lead sled. In fact it will tow 3,500 pounds effortlessly should the need arise. For the past 10 years this Honda has been the top selling minivan in the USA. Admittedly, the minivan market has shrunk with the limitless rise of the SUV. But there are still compelling reasons to opt for an Odyssey over a competitively priced sports utility. The first reason is the utter convenience it offers in performing life's most mundane tasks. This benefit became obvious after a trip to the supermarket. As if dealing with all the Covid 19 restrictions isn't daunting enough, the tedious transfer of grocery bags from cart to vehicle becomes the final annoyance if you're driving an SUV. You know the routine. Flip the tailgate up, either by remote control or manually. Heft the bags out of the cart and over the high transom of the SUV then figure out a way to stabilize the load during transit so the eggs don't land in your lap.
The Odyssey offers a better solution. From the driver's seat, you can slide either left or right side door open or closed with the touch of the appropriate button on the dash. Or you can accomplish the task by simply pulling up either exterior door handle. Slide your grocery bags behind the front seat, where they are stabilized by the twin captain's chairs of the Elite's second row. Off you go in a matter of seconds, and best of all you won't face a cleanup in Aisle 3 when you get home. We even used its roomy interior as a stationary classroom. My wife and I settled into the rear captain's chairs, inserted a DVD tutorial disc on finance into the DVD slot, donned the provided stereo headphones, and went to business school for a couple of hours while relaxing inside the comfy confines of the Odyssey.
The latest Odyssey, gently revised for 2021, is chock full of new surprises that build on its existing strength. It's got svelte new exterior sheet metal for '21, which catches the light in flattering ways, especially when painted the optional ($395) Forest Mist Metallic shade of our test vehicle. Honda's also toned down the shiny front grill and fog light surrounds with new black plastic, added a piano black cross bar to the aft end, and installed more powerful LED headlights up front. Now, all levels of Odyssey, from base to Touring to Elite, are equipped with Honda Sensing, a safety suite that includes adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, lane keeping assist, and road departure mitigation. New features of Honda Sensing for 2021 include low speed follow for cruise control and pedestrian emergency braking.
Some years ago, Honda introduced the then current generation of Odyssey at the Barber Motorsports Park race track near Birmingham, Alabama. This locale made sense since the Odyssey is built in nearby Lincoln, Alabama. But at the time I was initially confused about why a race track was chosen to showcase something as prosaic as a family van. After a couple of laps at Barber, however, I started to understand the wisdom of the locale, because the Odyssey handled the sinuous road course with effortless ease. The latest Elite version carries on that premium handling tradition with 19 inch alloy rims that are new for 2021. These intriguing wheels, which look like they're spinning while standing still, are shod with long life (TW 480) Bridgestone Turanza EL 440 radials (235/55R19) that acquitted themselves well on a winding trip up coastal Route 1 to Stinson Beach.
The Odyssey makes a good case for not buying an SUV. It may lack the cool factor of parading around in something you will never once use off road. But in everyday situations, the huge, spacious, ultra handy and surprisingly quick Honda Odyssey fits every bill except myth fabrication.
2021 HONDA ODYSSEY ELITE
ENGINE: 3.5 liter V6, VTEC with Variable Cylinder Management
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 19MPG City/28MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $49,335
HYPES: Abundant Power, Big As Your House
GRIPES: Rough Edges on Lower Steering Wheel Spokes
STAR RATING: 9 Stars out of 10