All-new for 2005, the Honda Odyssey transforms from people mover to a vehicle which, in its upper trim lines, more resembles a luxury sedan than a simple minivan.

Notable features include fully independent suspension, seating for eight in the EX models thanks to a small, stowable seat, better ergonomics, improved crash protection and a rotating Lazy Susan storage tray under the floor.

The big news is its 3.5-litre engine which, in the three upper trim lines, comes with Variable Cylinder Management. Under light load, such as highway cruising, the system deactivates the three rear cylinders for extra fuel economy. The transition is absolutely seamless and impossible to detect. With all six cylinders firing, the 255 hp engine is the most powerful in its class. It makes the Odyssey a pleasure to drive; the drive-by-wire throttle system provides instant acceleration, and crisp handling is more car-like than minivan.

Honda builds up its trim lines rather than offer stand-alone options. In base LX form, the Odyssey offers four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and traction control, air conditioning, variable intermittent wipers, heated power mirrors, power locks with keyless entry, power windows (including those in both sliding doors), seven-passenger seating, and CD player with four speakers.

The EX adds dual power sliding doors, dual front climate control, conversation mirror, Lazy Susan in-floor storage, integrated second-row sunshades, eight-way power driver’s seat, six-CD system with six speakers, and eight-passenger seating with stowable second-row “PlusOne” seat.

The EX with Leather adds leather seating, as well as heated front seats and power moonroof. The EX with Leather/RES also includes a rear DVD entertainment system with nine-inch flip-down screen, wireless headphones and wireless remote control.

The top-line Touring adds fog lights, automatic headlamps, front and rear parking sensors and backup camera, voice-activated navigation system, dual front and rear automatic climate control, two extra cupholders (bringing the total to 17 – for seven people!), power-adjustable pedals, removable second-row centre console, and premium six-CD system with seven speakers.

Even seven adults can stretch out in comfort in this minivan; third-row passengers receive ample legroom and sufficient shoulder space. Pull on a handle, and the 60/40 third row cleverly flips and folds into a storage well to create a flat floor. The second row of seats is removable, but it’s heavy grunt-work. Chrysler’s Stow ’n Go under-floor seat storage is still the champion, but the Town & Country Limited edition is $75 more than the Odyssey Touring, and that’s before you price out the Chrysler’s optional navigation system.

The Honda Odyssey is built in Lincoln, Alabama.

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