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Before three-row crossover SUVs arrived, the minivan was the vehicle of choice for many families and more than 20 manufacturers courted those buyers.

Alas, minivans today appear to be an endangered species, with just a handful remaining and, from a retail sales standpoint, only three still relevant: Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.

With the exception of the aging Dodge Grand Caravan, which Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has confirmed is going away at some still unconfirmed date, the minivan sales leader is Pacifica, with Sienna a close second. But Odyssey still finishes in the money and so, for 2018, Honda presents us with an all-new edition.

The third product to ride Honda's larger-vehicle platform — the others are Pilot and Ridgeline — Odyssey is offered in five trims, all motivated by a direct-injection, 3.5-liter, 280-hp V-6 whose power is sent to the front wheels via a nine-speed automatic in lower trims and a 10-speed (!) in Touring and Elite.

We drove Elite and found its acceleration more than adequate — hey, if you want a hot rod, get a Civic Type R — and its multi-gear transmission a real smoothie, contributing to the cabin's quiet demeanor. Surprising was the firmness of the ride, but the payoff is better-than-expected handling from this people-hauler.

Size-wise, the fifth-generation 2018 Odyssey is virtually identical to its predecessor and, consequently, still provides generous room in Rows 1 and 2 and usable space in Row 3.

Regarding cargo versatility, the third row folds into the floor with remarkable ease, but the second row doesn't stow, Pacifica-like, in the floor, nor does it fold and tumble on edge. So, if those middle row chairs are in the way of cargo, the only choice is to haul them out — a real pain.

On the other hand, our Elite's pair of fore/aft-adjustable middle row captain's chairs included a clever side-to-side movement, which allows a host of seating options for siblings: one kid outboard, the baby in the middle and slid forward for easy access from the front passenger seat; the middle-row seats together for fun and games; or the seats separated to create a demilitarized zone between siblings.

Odyssey innovations for 2018 include CabinWatch, whose inboard camera lets front-seated mom and dad keep an eye on rear-seated kids via the center stack's 8-inch display screen; CabinTalk, which enables the driver to talk to second- and third-row passengers through speakers or rear-entertainment headphones (you can now say, "Don't make me come back there!" with your "inside" voice); and Connected Rear Entertainment, through which second- and third-row passengers can consume PBS Kids, iHeart Radio, Spotify and more.

With the middle row intransigent with cargo, this new Odyssey isn't the most haul-stuff friendly ride in town, but from a family convenience point of view, it's a gem.


Dan Wiese is a freelance automotive writer. He is a regular contributor to the Post-Dispatch and to AAA Midwest Traveler magazine's online Web Bonus. You can e-mail him at drivingwithdan@gmail.com

This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

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