Still one of the best minivans on the market

by: HONDA MOTOR CO. - Honda added a touch of flair to its proven family-hauler, the acclaimed Odyssey.The 2013 Honda Odyssey is a real Mom Magnet.

The entire time I was driving it, women with children kept giving me the once over. Well, not me, actually, but the Odyssey. Redesigned last year with a sharp notch along the bottom of the side windows and a more tapered rear end, it is easily one of the most attractive family-haulers on the road today.

It’s been a long time since minivans were actually small. The original minivans, the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, were based on Chysler’s subcompact K-cars. But today’s minvans are stand-alone models with long wheelbases and much more interior room. They are almost as large as commercial cargo vans, but configured with up to three rows of seats to carry as many as eight people.

Despite its size, the Odyssey drives pretty well. It’s a Honda, so that means solid, secure and unexciting. But that’s what a driver needs when carrying a pack of children to school, shopping and soccer matches. The long wheelbase helps the Odyssey float over rough pavement, while the company’s tried and true 3.5-liter V6 provides good power in all driving situations.

Those looking more fun in a minivan should check out the Mazda5, which is also stylish-looking and can be ordered with a manual transission. The trade-off is interior room. The Mazda5 is a mini-minivan, while the Odyssey can carry eight people and a reasonable amount of luggage.

Not that long ago, many manufacturers offered minivans. But then they became the butt of jokes and consumers switched to Sport Utility Vehicles. Now only Chrysler, Dodge, Mazda, Nissan and Toyota offer them. Of the six, only the Toyota Sienna can be ordered with all-wheel-drive, a desirable option in the Pacific Northwest. Although our test Odyssey never felt unstable, we were not tempted to search out muddy roads, either.

Our test Odyssey was the Touring Elite model, which means it came with every conceivable option, including a rear DVD entertinment system to help keep the children quiet on long trips. Truth be told, only a couple of friends rode in the back on a few short trips, but they said it was comfortable enough. Getting in and out was easy, thanks to the dual electric sliding doors that can be closed with the touch of a button from the second row of seats. The second-row seats also folded forward to provide access to the third row, which was wide enough for three children or two adults with short legs.

Even with the third row up, there was a reasonable amount of cargo space behind it, aided by a deep well that seemed specifically design to hold a bag of golf clubs.

Despite being the top-of-the-line model, the interior included a lot of hard plastic surfaces. Although they might be easier to keep clean than leather and wood, the effect was underwhelming. The optional leather seats were very comfortable, however, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel felt good. The center console was button-laden, however, like most products from Honda and its upscale division, Acura. It doesn’t take long to figure them out, but then again, drivers might have to operate them while dealing with districtions from the rear seats.

More than a few reviewers have complained the steering in the Odyssey lacks precision. In fact, the reviewers might be trying too hard to find something serious to complain about. The Odyessey isn’t trying to be a sports car or even a sport wagon (see comments about Mazda5 above). It is a big box made to haul around a lot of people and equipment. The fact that it looks pretty good and rides well is a plus. It seemed to steer just fine to us.

Pricewise, the Odyssey is among the most expensive of the six minivans. It is also the only one that consistently lands in automotive Top 10 lists, which shows how well Honda understands its market. It is also the only one that generates second glances, thanks to last year’s styling changes that help separate from the competition.

Facts and figures (all models)

Model tested: 2012 Odyssey.

Manufacturer: Honda.

Class: Minivan.

Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.

Style: Four-door hatchback.

Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (248 hp, 250 lbs-ft).

Transmissions: Five-speed automatic; Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode – as tested.

EPA estimated city/highway/average mileage: (engine/transmission): 18/27/21 (3.5/five-speed); 19/28/22 (3.5/six-speed – as tested).

Price: Beginning at approximately $28,000 ($44,485 as tested).

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