Toyota Sienna vs Honda Odyssey

For those who need the style and prestige that only driving a minivan can yield… the Toyota Sienna is all new for 2021 and contains much exciting technology (see Electric AWD implemented by Toyota for the 2021 Sienna minivan).

Our 2018 Honda Odyssey recently needed an oil change. While it was getting worked on, I test-drove a 2021 Honda Odyssey (apparently identical to our 2018 with the exception of the graphics on one switch) and walked across the driveway to the Toyota dealer and test-drove a 2021 Toyota Sienna XLE FWD.

The Sienna seems a little noisier inside at 50 mph. The handling and acceleration are less responsive. Stomping on the gas pedal does not result in anything dramatic happening whereas the Odyssey can be a 1980s-grade sports car if you need it to be. There is a wireless charger in the center of the dashboard in a place that would keep the phone out of everyone’s way. But why is it useful? You have to plug in the phone to get Apple CarPlay to work. At that point the phone is charging from the cable. The iPhone 12 Pro Max kept sliding off the precise spot where it needed to be to charge and the charge indicator would then flash.

One plus: the Sienna has a regular shifter for the transmission, instead of a confusing set of push buttons.

The “kick to open” sliding doors don’t work if you leave the keys in the car as we often do when we’re inside the airport fence, for example. So it ends up being an inconsistent interface (works when you have key in pocket; doesn’t work when keys are in car).

Nit: There are (plastic?) chrome buttons all around the touch screen that look cheap.

The other big problem with the Sienna XLE is that it seems to be far more expensive per month than the comparable Honda EX-L, at least when leased (which I think is the most reasonable way to look at the true cost of a car). The Sienna is a hybrid so it gets much better gas mileage, but it could still never save enough in fuel to overcome the extra lease cost ($150 or more per month).

Here’s the monster grille on the Sienna that I tested:

This would be great for a “form follows function” textbook example. The grille is mostly blocked off so as to reduce drag. There is a small hole in the middle for air to come in and cool the engine.

Our family decision: Change it up by replacing our leased white 2018 Honda Odyssey with a leased white 2021 Honda Odyssey.

Loosely related… what happens when MIT geniuses go shopping for cars? “Electric Cars Are Better for the Planet – and Often Your Budget, Too”:

New data published Thursday shows that despite the higher sticker price, electric cars may actually save drivers money in the long-run.

To reach this conclusion, a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculated both the carbon dioxide emissions and full lifetime cost — including purchase price, maintenance and fuel — for nearly every new car model on the market.

My comment:

How can the budget assertions of this article make any sense? A mid-sized Nissan Altima leases for $290/month (spreading the up front payment over 36 months). The Tesla web site shows the lease cost of the Tesla 3 at $525/month. The Tesla’s higher capital cost and high cost of bodywork means that the insurance for the Tesla will be much more expensive than for the conventional gas-powered mid-size car. Even if electricity were free, the Tesla would still be more expensive over the three-year lease. (Here in Massachusetts, the electricity for a Tesla actually costs MORE per mile than the gasoline for an Accord, Altima, Camry, or similar.) Maintenance costs? The conventional car will be under warranty for the entire lease period. It might need a couple of oil changes at $50/each. The Tesla will burn through tires (at least all of my friends’ Teslas have). I wonder if the research was done by people who had never shopped for a car.

Via facts, figures, and research, our best academics have proven that something that costs $525/month is cheaper than something that costs $290/month.

Update: Consumer Reports finally released their test results on the Sienna. Honda did better on the road test (85 vs. 79), “third seat comfort,” “interior fit and finish,” and “trunk/cargo area.” The Toyota was better for predicted reliability and fuel economy. In CR’s scoring system, the Sienna ended up higher overall, but for a lease customer the reliability is irrelevant (since the warranty extends for the full three years of the lease). The superior fuel economy is nice, but, as noted above, saving the planet won’t save you any money because the Sienna lease costs so much more every month.

17 thoughts on “Toyota Sienna vs Honda Odyssey

  1. Inre the Sienna’s “American Rage Filled Id” grille treatment: I wonder if some of those slats/louvers are active? On other Toyota models (including Prius, RAV4, etc.) they use either electrical (or maybe vacuum?) actuators to modulate airflow and change the aerodynamics according to outside temperature, etc., etc. Ditto on some of the Ford F150 models. I’m sure others as well. Toyota calls them “Active Grille Shutters.”

    So for something that used to be simple like passing air through the grille, now you have actuators, sensors, moving parts and presumably a dedicated control module in the car’s network. And if they become obstructed or iced over – presumably the system must sense that, too.

    It would be interesting to know if that’s true of the Sienna, because it affects MPG, among other things.

  2. I loved the comments on that article. Some of the ones that weren’t NYT Choices:

    “EVs are going to put an awful lot of mechanics out of business, since there’s very little that goes wrong with a motor with one moving part, and a transmission with one direct drive gear, all in a sealed housing.”


    “I’m all for electric vehicles but I do have concerns that funds for highway repairs and maintenance will decrease as fuel tax receipts decline. That said, politicians will need to reconsider how road construction and repairs will be funded in the near future as the electric vehicle becomes mainstream.”

    Followed up by:

    “@EJ McCarthy In WA, it has already been considered – we EV owners pay through the vehicle registration tax. It is effectively more per mile for average annual mileage than the equivalent (by weight) ICE vehicle, and essentially reduces the state incentive (no sales tax).”

    “In California there’s an extra charge added to the electric vehicle license for the highway repair fund.”

    I didn’t find a single comment related to battery recycling (admittedly I did not look at all 700+ comments)! It is the elephant that is not even in the room!

  3. How is Honda Odyssey’s front wheel drive in New England winter? Have you drove it to skiing destinations in the Berkshires or Vermont? In a mild snow/sleet/ice? Does it have adequate power and torque for hill driving in bad weather? 1980th – sports car label implies that it might be able to brave it.

    • FWD minivans are great in the snow due to high overall weight and the majority over the driving wheels. The Odyssey can go through 6 inches of fresh snow fairly easily. Probably comparable to an AWD small car. Winter tires would be the real answer to your challenge, but we have never felt the need. Certainly you will never run out of power in the Odyssey! Remember that it can tow 3,500 lbs.

  4. Isn’t it a good thing if the lease price is higher? Does it not account for important market factors
    that can be hard to determine by visual inspection or test drive, such as long term reliability, satisfaction and resale value?

    • Senorpablo, higher lease price is an indicator of lower residual value after the lease expire. Reliable vehicles that last 300K+ miles have very low lease price because lease return will sell for higher price. Cars that loose original value fast have higher lease prices.

    • It might be a BETTER car if people are willing to pay more per month to own and drive it. The MIT and NYT folks, however, are saying that it is a LESS EXPENSIVE car.

    • Anonymous, you can try implying anything from it but for equivalent vehicles lower lease price is indicator of higher resale value which is an indicator of lasting reliability and rate of cost of ownership. Of course, luxury car lease will cost more then Honda car lease reflecting overall higher price of a luxury car. But Chevrolet Malibu lease price is much higher then Honda Accord lease price despite both vehicles being in the same segment and same manufacturer suggested prices range as new – because Honda Accord has much higher resale value. I would say if NYT states something assume either opposite or something different from NYT message. I respect MIT brand but I’d rather believe my own eyes.

    • LSI – I was thinking about it wrong, your explanation of residual value effect on lease price makes sense.

  5. Do you plan to keep your 2018 Honda Odyssey for many years?

    One thing that I am curious about is the potential excessive build-up of carbon on the Odyssey’s cylinder valves. The 2018 Honda Odyssey uses the J35Y6 engine, which uses direct gasoline injection(Source: ). Direct injection engines have been known to have excessive carbon buildup occurring on cylinder valves after several years/several tens of thousands of miles of usage. If that happens, it would require cleaning, which might require partial engine disassembly.

    Like many other manufacturers, Toyota also switched to using direct fuel injection on their gasoline engines, but unlike most manufacturers, they also retained port fuel injection(Source: ). Port fuel injection can effectively eliminate excessive carbon buildup on cylinder valves, obviating the need for periodic valve cleaning, leading to better reliability and reduced maintenance cost.

    • @Bob: The problem of direct fuel injection causing or contributing to carbon build up on the back side of the intake valves quickly becomes a quasi-religious debate among owners of these cars, with various recommendations. The first thing to say is that Honda appears to have been well aware of the potential for the problem and took steps to minimize its occurrence through the engine management software. However, using substandard gasoline can definitely exacerbate the problem. Honda recommends what they call TOP TIER High Detergent gasoline with less than 15% ethanol content. Change your oil according to the manufacturer’s recommended service interval and use premium oil and filters. This is because of the PCV crankcase ventilation system. Cleaner oil, better gas = less junk to deposit on the back of the intake valves.

      From that point, things get contentious. If you notice the car is running “rough” especially at idle, there are various methods of cleaning the valves. Here’s a pretty good video. It’s not a difficult or expensive process if things haven’t gotten far out of hand.

      Then you get people who recommend installing catch cans, which I won’t go into.

      From what I’ve been able to gather on the Honda engines, their fuel system engineering (including the injector timing at different critical points) is very good, and it’s not a severe problem plaguing these cars. It occasionally does happen if people use substandard gas and don’t keep their oil changed regularly. Those folks find they have rough idle and other symptoms that develop over time and then they try the cleaning methods. My $0.02.

    • @Bob: Also I should say that earlier TDI models and especially those with turbocharged engines and the attendant complicated PCV systems seem to get the worst of this. The Odyssey doesn’t have a turbocharger. Honda has a well-earned reputation for its engineering competence, and my sense is that the 2018 models are probably very good at minimizing the problem. I learned about this issue from watching Ford TechMakuloco’s videos about the Ford Ecoboost engines, and some of the Ford powertrain engineering can make you want to laugh (or cry).

      The 2018+ Odyssey uses the J35Y6 VCM engine, an advanced variant of the series, and normally-aspirated. I’m willing to bet that it manages the deposit problem very well if the owner adheres to the fuel and oil recommendations along with the rest of the scheduled maintenance. Philg strikes me as a “by the book” kind of owner, so if he has a problem, there’s always that video featuring the guy with the can of CRC cleaner!

    • We are turning this one in on a leased 2021. It is a headache to own aircraft and be responsible for their maintenance. Leasing a car and having it be someone else’s problem is an affordable luxury!

  6. In my experience regularly maintained Honda engine outlasts regularly maintained Toyota engine.

  7. Weird seeing homeowners praise leasing cars. That would change if the government subsidized car loans, deducted car interest from taxes, & made the carless subsidize aftermarket exhaust pipes for car owners.

    Now that most states are banning gas car sales & by implication, gas stations, it might make sense to lease to bridge the gap between now & the disappearance of gas stations.

    • lion2: Leasing a house makes perfect sense in Germany, where the landlord cannot kick you out so long as you’re paying the rent. Leasing a suburban house in the U.S. does not make sense. There are few professional landlords in this business. The typical lease is 12 months, at which point the landlord can and will say “I’ve decided to sell the house so you’re moving out.” Leasing a car, though, all of the option power is with the consumer. Honda cannot take the car back after 1 year. The consumer can call Honda and say “I want to extend four months” and the cheerful agents on the phone will extend on reasonable terms.

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