First Place: 2007 Honda Odyssey EX-L
This Honda has all the competitors covered when it comes to driver confidence. It feels purposeful, motivated, even athletic in a way the others do not. The steering knows where straight ahead is, and carving away from that heading always feels precise. The Odyssey's driving position is one of the best in the business. The dash has large dials with bold markings. The column has tilting and telescoping adjustments. The driver's seat is easily the most comfortable of the group.
As the others' engines are upsized, the Odyssey's 244-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 is feeling outgunned these days. Acceleration is about average for the group, handling grip and braking were somewhat better than average.
Although the smart-looking puckered-leather trim gives the interior a luxurious appearance, the on-road mood is definitely businesslike. The suspension motions are stiffer than the others, and the interior is quite loud, with notable wind noise and plenty of roar and thump from down where the rubber meets the road. It'll take a raised voice to scold miscreants in the third row.
The Odyssey is the only eight-passenger hauler of the group, thanks to a clever mother-in-law seat in the middle of the second row. The backrest can be folded forward to make a center armrest. The only hitch: The seat cushion must be removed first to open the space. What, then, do you do with the neatly wrapped leather cushion? The others here all seat seven.
The Odyssey seats are firmer and higher than the others, and we gave them very good marks for comfort. Both rows have excellent foot space under the rows ahead. Mom approved of the small storage compartment under the second-row floor.
We liked the way the seats can be moved, too, just one touch to fold-slide the second row out of the way. But the passage thus opened to the third row is narrow. The curb-side seat in the middle row can be repositioned away from the door if you want to leave more floor space. The third row stows easily, just a 15-pound pull to fold the backrest and another 15 pounds to lower the stack level with the floor. A 21-pound pull lifts it back up. This is for the wider section of the split bench, the narrower side is even easier.
Minivans are the sum of lots of little pluses and minuses, but the Odyssey's intuitive, confident stride over the road has once again won us over.
Second Place: 2007 Toyota Sienna LE
If choosing a minivan came down to the powertrain, this Toyota would be a slam-dunk. The 3.5-liter DOHC V-6 is the strong, silent type, rushing to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, nearly a second ahead of the next-best Dodge. In fact, the Toyota earned top marks in every acceleration measure. And it does so with little more than a purr from beyond the fire wall.
Less satisfying are the generally aloof responses of the controls. The brakes feel wooden, and stops were long at 201 feet. The steering lacks sharpness. What you get instead of confident handling is a soft, quiet ride that makes the others seem a bit rude. One of our testers noted "butt burn" from the driver's seat, the result of a shape that forces a thin person's weight uncomfortably forward on the cushion.
The second-row captain's chairs were rated highest for comfort. At 67 pounds, they're heavier to remove than the Hyundai's, but better-placed handles make them easier to manage. The door panels are scooped out to give exceptionally good elbow space. Third-row comfort was about average; headroom is scant back there.
Folding the seats drew low marks because of the effort required to unlatch them from their fixed position on the floor. Stowing the third row required as much as a 40-pound pull on a strap. Interestingly, Hyundai appeared to use exactly the same folding mechanism -- even the instructions on the pull straps were in a similar typeface -- but the pull never exceeded 26 pounds.
Instead of a full console between the front seats, the Toyota and the Hyundai use the Honda-style fold-down table with a cup holder at each corner and a large tray in the middle. Hyundai advances the idea with a pull-to-extend feature that lengthens the tray. Toyota adds a lidded bin and splendid surface detailing. This table is an excellent feature for those who want to maintain the walk-through space.
The Sienna has large front-door pockets, exceeded in size only by the Odyssey's. The dash has two glove boxes, one stacked over the other, as do the Caravan and the Entourage. The upper box on the Toyota is sized for gloves and little more.
Mom said the third-row shoulder belts will dig into youngsters' necks, and the floaty ride motions back there could cause bouts of carsickness. Oh, dear.