Buying a minivan is, for most people, the vehicular equivalent of eating your vegetables. We know they’re healthy and good for us but we can’t shake the feeling we’d rather have a piece of cake. Or an SUV, in this case.
Honda and Toyota have been churning out minivans in this form since the mid-’90s, when the former did away with its original Odyssey that had four car-like swinging doors and the latter binned its weird-but-wonderful mid-engined Previa. Situating themselves at the upper end of the minivan price market, these two manufacturers have carved out a niche that enjoys good customer loyalty and decent profit margins.
How do the boxes-on-wheels from Toyota and Honda compare? Does one ring the parent bell louder than the other? Are there features in these things that make them more bearable to drive? Is it possible to get Jimmy to eat his vegetables?
We can’t help you with the last one. But the first two questions? That’s what we’re here for.
Honda Odyssey vs Toyota Sienna Comparison
Honda Odyssey: Regardless which of the six trims is selected, shoppers will find the same 3.5L V6 engine under the hood making 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque powering the front wheels. A nine-speed automatic transmission is standard across most of the line for 2019, which comes with paddle shifters even on the base model in case you’re feeling racy on the way to soccer practice. Snazzy Touring and Elite trims get a 10-speed box.
Toyota Sienna: Not unlike the Honda, this van is also powered by a 3.5L V6 engine, a 296-hp, 263 lb-ft of torque mill that is shared across the model line. The Sienna’s transmission has eight gears. All-wheel drive is available on every trim save for the cheap-seats L model. They both also qualify as Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicles, meaning they are very friendly to Johnny polar bear.
Bottom Line: Available all-wheel drive is a huge advantage for the Toyota, and making it an option on all but the cheapest trim is a very smart move. The Sienna also has about 50 more horsepower yet weighs about the same. Neither is a hot rod, but the Big T is more likely to merge into traffic with greater aplomb. If AWD is a priority for you, definitely go for the Sienna, but the Odyssey should do just fine in the snow with a good set of winter tires.
Honda Odyssey: Magic Slide second-row seats appear on trims EX and higher, allowing for side-to-side sliding of the two middle chairs for maximum separation of warring siblings or slid fore-and-aft for easy reach back to a kiddo in a baby seat. Easy to clean leather shows up on EX-L, a trim which is $7,000 more than a base LX. Touring and Elite models even have a built-in vacuum to clear up wayward Cheerios and gummy bears.
Toyota Sienna: Even on the base L model, a raft of USB charging ports (5) are found in the Sienna, including some in the way-back third row. This is in addition to a yaffle of 12V power outlets meaning that devices will be charged up and everyone will be happy. Moving up the food chain, LE vans gain sunshades for the windows and leather seats show up on the SE. Cupholders, storage areas, and cubbies abound to the point that if one of the kids loses their milkshake, you may not find it until it is too late.
Bottom Line: Honda’s too-useful Magic Seat system seals its win here, even if the feature is not available on the base trim. Allowing for either a bench of three, a smaller bench of two, or a pair of captain’s chairs, these seats are very versatile and their side-to-side sliding function really helps when securing little kiddos into a rear-facing (or any, really) car seat.
Honda Odyssey: Most Odyssey vans feature a large touchscreen infotainment system and all of them have an automatic climate control system. At the EX-L level, one will also find a power liftgate and available CabinTalk system, which allows the driver to admonish rear seat urchins by piping their voice through the stereo speakers. CabinWatch permits easy visual monitoring of rear seat passengers and even deploys infrared LEDs for visibility in low-light situations.
Toyota Sienna: Every Sienna has a snazzy touchscreen in the dashboard to handle music and Bluetooth duties. SE models and up can be fitted with a JBL audio system complete with a subwoofer so you can really blast Baby Shark on the way to daycare. The available rear-seat entertainment center is a massive 16.4-inch flip down screen that can be split in two so one kid can watch cartoons while the other jams out to a music video. Toyota also allows yelling at third-row minions via speaker but they call it EasySpeak.
Bottom Line: Both vans are laden with technology to keep kidlets sated and parents sane. It’s a tough call between the Odyssey’s vacuum cleaner and the Sienna’s jumbotron TV screen. However, given that the majority of youngsters have their hands on a mobile device these days, the 16.4-inch flip down screen is likely less practical than the OMG CLEAN THAT UP usefulness of an onboard vacuum. We’ll take the Honda here.
Honda Odyssey: Sunroof-less vans have 40.7 inches of headroom in the front row, with a penalty of two inches should a shopper choose to select the glass portal. Headroom in the second and third rows are 39.5 and 38.3 inches respectively, numbers that will look familiar when you read the Sienna section below. These two vans have essentially the same width, but the Odyssey is three inches longer. Be sure to account for that if you have a garage or tight condo parking space.
Toyota Sienna: Front row passengers will enjoy 41 and 65 inches of head- and shoulder room, respectively. Shave a couple of inches from that first measure if you pop for the expansive glass roof. Second- and third-row ankle-biters will have to make do with 39.7 and 38.3 inches of headroom. It should be noted their headroom measure is not impacted one whit by the presence of that glass roof. Ungrateful whelps.
Bottom Line: Headroom, legroom – heck, allroom – is as vast in the Toyota as it is in the Honda. Even if your brood consists of several future NBA stars, all hands will find plenty of stretch-em-out room in either of these big rectangular boxes.
Honda Odyssey: Taking the $4,000 walk from the base LX to EX trim brings the Honda Sensing suite of driving aids, a feature that includes helpful tools like collision mitigation braking and lane keeping sensors. Adaptive cruise control assists in maintaining a safe following distance behind detected vehicles in highway driving situations. The Odyssey earned a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS last year.
Toyota Sienna: Every family van from Toyota is equipped with the company’s Safety Sense-P package, kit that groups lane departure systems and dynamic radar cruise control. Snazzy versions gain blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert warning klaxons. As in the Odyssey, a raft of airbags are packed into the dash, seats, and roof.
Bottom Line: With its decision to not force families to step up the model food chain and pay more Toyota Safety Safety Sense by making it standard on the base trim, Toyota gets the win in this column. By not offering Honda Sensing on its base van, the company is essentially saying that poor families are less important than rich families. In fact, that’s the Odyssey’s marketing slogan (it isn’t, really).
Honda Odyssey: Binning all seats save for the driver and front-row passenger opens up 144.9 cubic feet of space, or 158 cubes if you follow Honda’s very creative measure of counting the open floor area between the two front seats. Leaving the second row in place but sliding the chairs to their forward limits exposes 92 cubic feet of room. Honda notes a 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood will fit in the cargo area. Nine-speed vans can haul 3,000 lbs, 10-speeds are good for 3,500 pounds.
Toyota Sienna: With the second row of seats removed, Sienna can swallow an even 150 cubic feet of gear. Leaving those same seats in place but scooting them as far forward as possible, 117.8 cubes of room is revealed. Towing is limited to 3,500 lbs or about the size of a lightweight camping trailer.
Bottom Line: The Toyota seems to have an edge in terms of outright measurement, but be sure to bring along some detritus that represents the activities for which you’ll actually be using the van – hockey bags, big totes, antique vases – when test driving. The shape of a cargo area is often just as important as its total volume.
Honda Odyssey: Every version of Honda’s van, regardless of whether it has a nine- or 10-speed automatic transmission, is rated at 19 mpg in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway cycle. The figure of 22 mpg combined is identical, too. Kinda makes you wonder why the company bothered to offer two different gearboxes; why not put the 10-speed in all of them? A Odysseys have a 19.5-gallon fuel tank and run just fine on regular unleaded.
Toyota Sienna: Front-wheel drive examples of the Sienna should get 19 mpg in town and 27 mpg on the freeway for a rating of 22 mpg combined. This is markedly similar to its Honda foil. Selecting all-wheel drive exacts a penalty, as you may expect. In the city, pilots of an AWD Sienna will find their ride getting 18 mpg and only 24 mpg in highway conditions. A combined rating of 20 mpg is very SUV-like.
Bottom Line: If a buyer selects an all-wheel-drive Sienna, they should be aware of the notable dent in their fuel bill compared to a front-drive unit. Other than that, both vans are within the noise and should provide extremely similar fuel economy performance.
Honda Odyssey: It’s a box.
Toyota Sienna: It’s a box.
Bottom Line: OK – that analysis may be slightly rude, but it is true. Neither the Odyssey nor Sienna is likely to set any hearts aflutter, no matter how much manufacturers try to pawn them off as cool (see: old ads for Sienna in SE trim billing it as a swagger wagon). Forced to choose, the Honda’s schnoz looks slightly better than the Gillette razor blade grille on the Toyota and Honda has finally figured out how to hide the sliding door tracks along Odyssey’s flanks. But, really – any selection here is like picking between broccoli and cauliflower.
Honda Odyssey: Starting at a $30,910 sticker price, the Honda quickly scales the financial food chain before topping out at $47,070 for a loaded Elite model with the 10-speed automatic transmission. It is worth noting that even this costly example is still a front-wheel-drive van since all-wheel drive is not currently available at any price. Volume EX trim, with Honda Sensing and those Magic Slide Seats, checks in at $34,160.
Toyota Sienna: The least expensive Sienna, the L model, bears an asking price of $31,315. A front-drive Limited Premium trim rises to $47,730. Adding all-wheel drive here is a $1,360 proposition, pushing the sticker uncomfortably close to $50,000. Popular LE trim, comparable to Honda’s EX, costs $34,135. Asking for an LE with power going to all four wheels costs $2,540 down at this end of the Sienna food chain.
Bottom Line: Using objective measures, the Odyssey is cheaper at just about every step of the totem pole. Comparably equipped, the Honda will be ever so slightly cheaper than the Toyota. Hey, every penny counts, especially when soccer registration is due.
The Verdict: Honda Odyssey vs Toyota Sienna Comparison
It’s tough to go wrong with either of these practical rigs if your vehicular goal is to schlep as many people and/or stuff at one time as possible. Both offer similar interior space, roughly the same level of kit, and their costs are within a stone’s throw of each other at just about every price point. Honda holds a slight practicality edge with its Magic Slide seats but they are not available on the base rig. Meanwhile, Toyota arguably enjoys a slim edge in the arena of safety since it includes driving aids on its cheapest van while Honda does not. The Toyota is also available with all-wheel drive, which Honda doesn’t offer on the Odyssey. The Odyssey does, however, offer that onboard vacuum and a more up to date dashboard.
Shop carefully, decide which features are important, and make sure the overall cargo area shape meets your needs. And don’t forget to eat your vegetables.