Minivans get no respect, but they should — especially the 2021 Honda Odyssey Elite, the top-of-the-line version of the company's most family-friendly vehicle.
According to the conventional wisdom, consumers don't think minivans are cool and have turned their backs on them in favor of more rugged looking sport utility vehicles. Don't believe it. Some buyers may be that vain, but many families understand that minivans are much better suited to day-to-day life with children.
For starters, the side sliding doors make it much easier for kids to get in and out, especially in crowded parking lots where the conventional doors on SUVs cannot be fully opened when they are boxed in. And that is even more important when their young children have to be buckled in and out of safety seats in the rain.
Minivans also offer more interior room than equivalent SUVs for an obvious reason. They are are boxier, and boxes are inherently roomy. But, as the Honda Odyssey shows, that doesn't mean they have to look boring. To the contrary, the "floating roof" styling and sculpted sides introduced on the 2018 model give it a remarkably sleek look, which is enhanced by the revised front and rear ends, along with the new optional wheels, for 2021. In my opinion, the new Odyssey is not only the best looking minivan on the market, but better looking that most SUVs and a lot of cars, too.
But even more important, the 2021 Honda Odyssey is easier to drive than an SUV. The floor is lower, so stepping in and out is a breeze. And it feels more like a car than a truck on the road, which is more relaxing, especially on long trips.
Buyers have responded in droves to the current generation of the Odyssey that first debuted in 2017. Sales increased 34%, the next year, 38%, the year after that, and 41% by June 2020. The Odyssey has been the Number 1 selling minivan in America for the past 10 years and now accounts for 40% of the market segment share.
That trend is likely to continue next year with the 2021 version. Although the changes are smaller, they are important. In addition to the exterior tweaks, all models now comes standard with the company's excellent and updated Honda Sensing package of safety features and the 10-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters that was originally only available on the higher trim levels. Honda's proven 3.5-liter V6 returns as the only engine choice, but it is a good one, with 280 horsepower proving more than enough power for day-to-day driving, while returning up to 28 miles per gallon in EPA testing.
In a week of test driving, our 2020 Honda Odyssey Elite proved itself to be very comfortable, remarkably quiet, and even bordering on luxurious with its full leather interior and premium stereo. The ride was always smooth and solid. The level of technology was also amazing, including an onboard camera that provides a view of the rear seats on the large display screen — the perfect thing for harried parents trying to figure out what the rug rats behind them are up to in heavy traffic.
On a personal note, I think it's well past time we ditched the term minivan. There's nothing mini about the 2020 Honda Odyssey, or any other minivan on the market today. Yes, the original 1984 Chrysler models were pretty small, measuring just 180 inches long, 67 inches wide and 64 inches high. But the first Odyssey that debuted in 1994 was larger at 187 inches long, 71 inches wide and 65 inches high. And today, the fifth generation Odyssey has grown to 203 inches long, 78.5 inches wide and 69.5 inches high, with corresponding exterior room increases. If I were king, I'd require all auto writers to start using the term "family vans" to describe them, but I'll continue using the term minivans so everyone knows what I'm talking about.
Our test 2021 Honda Odyssey Elite was priced at just under $50,000, which is about the same as the starting price of the company's top-of-the-line Pilot SUV. For those that want to save money, the base Odyssey LX starts at around $31,000, which is actually less than the entry-level Pilot. Some people swear they wouldn't be caught dead in a minivan. For those with families who are more practical, take an Odyssey out for a test drive and decide for yourself. I bet you'll be impressed.
2021 Honda Odyssey Elite
Base price: $30,790 (LX)
Price as tested: $49,335 (as tested)
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (280 hp, 262 ft-lbs)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic with Eco mode (as tested)
EPA fuel economy: 19/28 mpg (as tested)
Length: 205.2 inches
Weight: 4,603 pounds
Final assembly point: Lincoln, Alabama
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