When I picked up our 2010 Honda Odyssey Touring model for a week-long test drive, it wasn't the navigation system, satellite radio or DVD entertainment system that I noticed first.
It was the leather seats.
"Thank God for that," I told my wife.
We were about to give the Odyssey the ultimate torture test: My family was heading up to the cottage with my sister-in-law and her family. That's eight people in total, including four kids from 18 months to seven years old, all in one vehicle.
I've done the math, and the number of food and beverage spills on a road trip is directly proportional to the number of kids multiplied by the total kilometres driven. In other words, the seats would be covered in granola bar crumbs and apple juice by the time we returned from our 400-kilometre journey.
But at least I'd be able to wipe the seats clean with a damp cloth.
Comforted by this thought, I steered the vehicle on to the highway while my brother-in-law popped The Sword in the Stone into the DVD player.
When you're behind the wheel of the Odyssey, it doesn't take long to appreciate the vehicle's charms. Despite its size, the Odyssey handles well, with crisp steering and minimal body lean. It also accelerates quietly and smoothly, thanks to the 244-hp, V-6 engine. A minivan that's fun to drive? You bet.
Inside the cabin, the Odyssey's fit and finish is excellent, from the myriad storage bins and cup holders down to the floor mats, which snap together with the precision of a jigsaw puzzle. For easy cleaning, just unsnap the mats and give them a shake. (I'm a bit of a neat-nik, if you haven't guessed already.)
Equally impressive are the Odyssey's seating configurations. With all eight available seats in position, it can ferry around half of a pee-wee hockey team. Fold the third-row seats into the floor and the Odyssey is transformed into a moving van. I was able to get a jogging stroller into the back with ease - without folding it up.
The top-of-the-line Touring model takes the Odyssey to another level of luxury, with the aforementioned DVD player and navigation system, plus a rear-view camera, Bluetooth wireless telephone interface, fog lights, seven-speaker audio system and other features. With all these goodies, the Touring model retails for $49,690.
Combine all of that with excellent crash-test results and reliability, and you understand why the Odyssey is consistently one of the top-rated minivans.
That's not to say it's perfect. With two child seats in the second row, accessing the third row is a challenge because the second-row seats won't fold forward. When we stopped for a bathroom break, we found it easier for my five-year-old daughter - who was sitting in the third row - to climb out the rear hatch. No big deal, except when she did it, all of the other kids wanted to. Fun, wow!
The middle seats in the second and third rows are also fairly narrow and not exactly relaxing on longer journeys.
"It was cramped back there," said my wife, who sat in the third row between our two kids. "It would be perfectly fine for driving around town, but for long distances it's not that comfortable. It's tolerable, but it felt a bit claustrophobic."
Honda will start selling an all-new 2011 Odyssey in late October that will address some of these shortcomings. The redesigned Odyssey is to have more interior room, improved access to the third row, better fuel economy and bolder styling that is intended to appeal to car buyers who aren't comfortable with the minivan image.
If I was in the market for a minivan, I know what I'd do: Try to find a deal on a 2010 Odyssey while dealers clear their inventory. The current model gets so many things right, a few small shortcomings are tolerable. After all, it's not like I would be driving around with eight people very often.
When we got home, the first thing I did was clean the vehicle. As I suspected, there were crumbs everywhere. But after an hour or so with a vacuum cleaner and a damp cloth, the Odyssey was like new again.
The hardest part was giving it back.
2010 Honda Odyssey Touring
Base Price: $49,690; as tested, $51,280 (including freight)
Engine: 3.5-litre, SOHC, V-6
Horsepower/Torque: 244 hp/245 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.3 city/7.8 highway; regular gas