— The Honda Odyssey has always stood out in the minivan market because it feels so different from the driver's seat.
Most minivans drive like a plate of limp spaghetti. They're floppy, squishy and boring, which makes sense when you think about it. Nobody buys a minivan because they want an invigorating driving feel, just like nobody buys a sports car for the cup holders.
If you care about that sort of thing, though — which I do — you can't help but love the Odyssey for what it is: a solid, practical family hauler that just happens to drive with the precision of an Accord.
It has a reputation for dependability, too, which is one reason Odysseys are so expensive when you try to buy them used.
Ten years ago, Odyssey was head and shoulders above every minivan on the market. You would shut the sliding door on the Honda, hear the solid thud that sounded like a single slab of stone, and think, "This thing is going to last forever."
You could do the same thing on a Dodge and think, "I'll be lucky if this lasts a week."
The other minivan manufacturers have caught up with Honda recently, though, and you don't see as wide a gap between them anymore.
The products from Toyota, Nissan, Dodge and Chrysler have all been redesigned, presumably with the Odyssey in their sights. It certainly feels that way when you drive them and realize how much more Odyssey-like they're becoming with each passing year.
Even today, the Odyssey still stands out as being the best driving van on the market, despite the tougher competition. It accelerates, brakes and turns instantly, without the slightest delay that gives most minivans their rubbery, annoying feel.
All minivans are designed for families, so it's no surprise that the Odyssey is packed full of cup holders and storage compartments that make traveling with children easier.
Two features stood out to me on my test car, a fancy Touring Elite model that's great for road trips:
<li> A GIANT VIDEO SCREEN: Built-in DVD players have become common upgrades in minivans lately, but the Odyssey one-ups its competitors with a massive, 16.2-inch LCD screen that flips down from the ceiling.
It makes the cabin feel like Cowboys Stadium. Not only can it play DVD movies with wireless headphones and a remote control, but you can also hook up any video device with a high-definition HDMI input.</li>
<li> HONDA'S 'MAGIC SEAT': Minivan makers have long tried to beat each other up over how easy their seats are to fold down. Chrysler's Stow-n-Go seats are brilliant, but Honda's "Magic Seat" may be even better.
It lets you fold the seats down easily with one hand. Just pull on a little rope and, like the name suggests, the seat magically folds away. If you use your van for hauling things, it makes the process of converting between carrying people and carrying cargo much easier.</li>
Pricing starts at $28,575 for the LX model and ranges up to $43,925 for the Touring Elite with leather seats and lots of high-tech upgrades.
Derek Price reviews automobiles for CNHI News Service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What was tested?
2013 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite ($43,925). Options: None. Price as tested (including $830 destination charge): $44,755.
Why buy it?
It remains the best minivan for sale today, if by a smaller margin than in the past. It has a top-notch driving feel, solid construction and smart cabin design.
Why avoid it?
It costs more than many of its competitors. Its starting price is about $8,000 more than a base Dodge Grand Caravan.