The Honda Odyssey, the former standout and industry wonder, is now 27 years and stagnant. But it’s not the minivan’s fault.
Sales of sport utility vehicles, crossovers and pickup trucks continue to increase, dominating the industry. Minivans’ success, like the fate of sedans, have floundered.
In 1996, a year after it debuted in the United States, the Odyssey had its best sales year, just shy of 178,000. In 2109, the versatile family hauler, which has the same top reputation as the rest of the Honda lineup, fell to 99,000. It was the minivan’s first sales year under the six-figure plateau.
Last year, in the business malaise of the coronavirus, Odyssey sales fell another 16 percent to 83,000, about 47 percent of its top year.
The 2021 Honda Odyssey remains versatile
The 2021 Odyssey, with notable upgrades in the fourth year of its fifth-generation, doesn’t deserve the model’s sales doldrums. Despite its strictly-by-the-numbers, out-to-pasture status, the Odyssey remains as versatile as it was in its 1995 debut.
At least the Odyssey is still with us. More than a dozen minivans in the past 15 years, the Buick Terraza to the Saturn Relay, the Chrysler Voyager to the Nissan Quest, are defunct.
The 2021 Honda Odyssey is offered in LX, EX, EX-L, Elite and Touring trims. Pricing begins at about $32,000. With everything available included in the top-line offering, the cost approaches $50,000. It’s about $10,000 more than the average price of a new car in the United States.
All Odyssey models have 3.5-liter V-6 engines with 280 horsepower and 10-speed automatic transmissions with front-wheel drive.
Unlike many sedans and SUVs, the Honda gets it right. With its spacious three rows, it’s assigned as an eight-occupant vehicle. With the easily storable third-row secured in the floor, the Odyssey has substantial cargo space, 88.6 cubic feet. It’s a generous chunk of real estate for a vehicle not called a utility vehicle. The flush-closing sliding rear side doors remain from previous years.
Safety reigns. The Odyssey received top crash ratings from the two industry kingpins. It’s largely because the new model is the first with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, active lane control, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition
Cosmetic changes add a modern look, taking the Odyssey further away from minivans’ staid reputations. The Honda Odyssey has a wider grille, with its chrome bar relocated from the center to the top where it meets new LED headlights. The 19-inch alloy wheels have a new design on upper-level trims. The fog lights and front fascia also have new looks.
The Odyssey’s best attribute is its smooth, quiet ride. It’s a comfortable, steady, family-compliant hauler best suited for long hauls. Despite its size, the minivan also does well in city driving. Push-button gearing and adept steering make for easy maneuvering.
Everything about the Odyssey is accomplished without complications. Acceleration is adequate for passing. All rows of seating are well-padded and adjustable with ease.
Choosing one of the higher-level trims of the Honda Odyssey is preferable.
The EX-L adds leather-trimmed seats, moonroof, power tailgate and an in-car PA system, a rear entertainment system with a 10.2-inch high-resolution screen.
The Touring trim includes adds a built-in vacuum, an in-car camera to watch the second and third rows, wi-fi hotspot capability and LED headlights and fog lights. Always-appreciated heated and cooled front seats and a heated steering wheel are standard on the Elite trim with 19-inch alloy wheels and a wireless phone charger.
Gas mileage averages are 19 miles per gallon in city driving, 28 mpg on the freeway. Top competitors like the Chrysler Pacifica and Toyota Sienna are available in hybrids; the Odyssey isn’t.
But it’s far from a deal-breaker. Long-live the minivan, with the Honda Odyssey leading the convoy.
Article Last Updated: February 7, 2021.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.