2021 Honda Odyssey: A family-friendly crossover alternative

Even if it's still a bit of a mom car

Photos courtesy of Honda

Crossovers are some of the most popular vehicles in America, and it’s easy to see why: The driving position is elevated and comfortable; there’s lots of cargo space; and, because it’s built on the same platform as a car, it doesn’t have a trucky ride.

It’s all things to all people. Sure, they can’t be as sporty as a car or go off-roading like an actual SUV, but no one cares. For trips to Whole Foods or schlepping the kids to soccer practice, they’re perfect. But long before the crossover boom, we had an ideal vehicle for the after-school run: the humble minivan.

For folks of a certain age, it was almost a given that your parents would, at some point, have a minivan. Mine had a Dodge Caravan, the first one that had sliding doors on both sides. And much to my chagrin, sitting in the third row most of the time, it did not have the optional rear-seat climate control system.

But with sliding doors, removable seats, and a spacious interior, it was perfect for family road trips and hauling epic amounts of trash to the town dump. Like a crossover, minivans get decent gas mileage and have a solid, car-like ride. They can haul tons of gear and people, and they’re easy to get in and out of — much easier than a crossover, in fact, if you have difficulty moving around.

But then, one day, the minivan suddenly became uncool. It became a mom car as if features like good visibility and lots of legroom were drawbacks. And soon enough, the crossover came along, and the minivan was history. Or is it?

Over the past decade, the Honda Odyssey has been America’s bestselling minivan. And moving 1.1 million of them in that time is no small feat, though Honda sold almost four times as many CR-Vs over the same period. The point is that the minivan is far from dead, though it occupies a bit of a niche position these days.

But what a minivan this is. I drove the top-of-the-line 2021 Honda Odyssey Elite this week and came away very impressed. It has the standard minivan features you’d expect. We have captain’s chairs in the second row, power sliding doors, and a third-row bench seat that yeets away into the floor with a modest yank. But Honda also stuffed it with all sorts of surprise-and-delight goodies that are perfect for anyone trying to get their kids from point A to point B and back again.

Those captain’s chairs that I mentioned are perfect for giving each kid their own space, but it does impede access to the rear bench seat a bit by forcing people to climb over those chairs to get to the back. In the Odyssey, each captain’s chair is equipped with a handle near the floor that allows it to slide horizontally. This means you can push the chairs together to create a pseudo-bench or just to give better access to the third row.

There’s a power moonroof above the front seats, so mom and dad get to see some sky. Backseat passengers get something to look at, too, thanks to a flip-down TV screen in the ceiling. This is nothing new, of course, but it comes with a Blu-Ray player and two pairs of Bluetooth headphones so the kids can quietly watch Frozen 2 for the 12,000th time without the parents going insane.

If your kids are a little young for headphones, there’s even a camera mounted in the roof above the second row so you can spy/watch over/see if your kids are asleep on the infotainment screen. There’s a less high-tech drop-down mirror in the ceiling, too, if you want to be a bit more analog.

That old Dodge Caravan didn’t have roll-down power windows in the sliding doors, but the Odyssey does. Sure, this is normal these days, but I would have killed for some fresh air when I was in the third row as a teenager. The Odyssey has rear-seat climate, too, another standard feature for minivans in 2021. There are also manual roll-up sunshades to keep the sun off the little ones on a long trip. Honda’s designers have done their research.

Perhaps my favorite feature in the 2021 Odyssey is the brilliantly clever HondaVAC. It’s an actual Shop-Vac vacuum cleaner hidden away in a side-wall of the rear cargo area. Pull open a door, and a hose pops out, allowing you to suck up whatever bits of Cheerios, Cheetos, or chorizo that end up scattered about the rear seats.

Unfortunately, as of the 2022 model year, the HondaVAC is no longer. Shop-Vac, the supplier that sold the mini-vac to Honda, has gone out of business. At least the twelve glorious full-sized cup holders won’t be going anywhere.

About Jordan Golson 176 Articles
Jordan Golson is North State Journal's automotive reporter. He covers cars - both foreign and domestic - from around the globe.