My automotive world has been flipped upside down by the impending arrival of my third child, and I've found myself longing for a smart, stylish way to comfortably tote around my small brood. After a week test-driving the 2012 Odyssey, I believe it could be the answer to my conundrum.

With seating for eight and enough Latch anchors to handle a small preschool, there is no doubt the 2012 Honda Odyssey is the ultimate family mobile, and its head-turning exterior sets it apart from the ho-hum minivans.

My family was wowed by the Odyssey's intuitive technology and versatile three rows of seats. A 3.5-liter V-6 engine supplied enough power to merge onto the freeway without feeling like I was hauling the entire neighborhood (even though at times I was). It was as fun as a minivan could get, and at this stage in my life, that's all I ask for.

The Odyssey may be one of the pricier family vans, but its quality and features won over Cars.com's editors who crowned it the winner of the Ultimate Minivan Shootout. The Odyssey's base LX costs $29,205 (including an $830 destination charge), but my test car, the luxurious, jam-packed Touring Elite trim, cost $43,825.

EXTERIOR


The first time I saw the redesigned Odyssey I couldn't take my eyes off of it, which then caused me to trip on a curb in the parking lot. While its sporty lightning-bolt design may not be for everyone, it sure is for me. In fact, it's the only minivan that my childless best friend has ever complimented. "It doesn't really look like a minivan," she said. Granted, it was dark outside but I'll take it.

My test car had many family-friendly features such as optional power-sliding doors that make loading wee ones easy-breezy and a moderate step-in height that was workable for my 3-year-old — it also kept me from straining my back when buckling the kids into their child-safety seats. When running errands with small children in tow, these features were invaluable to my exhausted arms, strained back and thin patience.

Even with three roomy rows of seats, the Odyssey still has an impressive cargo area. There's a deep well in the rear cargo area where I fit a 66-quart storage container as well as a full size-rolling suitcase. Fitting a large stroller back there as well as groceries should be no problem.

The Odyssey has a 248-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 that uses regular unleaded gas. This powerful minivan is also the most fuel efficient in its class. The LX, EX and EX-L trims have a five-speed automatic transmission and get an EPA-estimated 18/27 mpg city/highway; the Touring and Touring Elite have a six-speed automatic and achieve 19/28 mpg. For my week of mostly city driving, I averaged 21.5 mpg.

SENSE AND STYLE


Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times

INTERIOR


With 15 cupholders and bottleholders, a built-in flip-up trash-bag holder in the second row and a chilled storage area, the 2012 Odyssey's designers knew which features would keep a busy parent happy.

However, the minivan's interior is home to my only complaint. While I loved the high-quality finishes and mostly intuitive technology, I was disappointed by the lack of a touch-screen for the standard navigation system on my Touring Elite test car. In its place was an 8-inch color screen that's controlled by a large knob in the middle of the center stack. It was frustrating to use, especially when inputting an address as I was forced to turn the knob to select each letter. It was cumbersome. However, my husband loved the knob and found it much easier to use than the usual touch-screen. Voice commands also can be used with the navigation system, but I normally have a car full of chatty toddlers, making this feature useless to me.

Regardless of my disappointment, the Odyssey still is my top pick for a family hauler and that's because of its versatile, well-thought-out second row. In the EX trim levels and higher, the second-row seats not only slide forward and backward independently of each other, but the outboard seats slide outward, providing an additional 3 inches of space.

Three inches may not seem like much, but in the world of child-safety seats, it means everything. Three inches of additional space allows parents to fit three safety seats across the second row, and what's even better is there are three sets of lower Latch anchors in the second row alone. The second row's middle seat also can slide forward more than 5 inches, putting a child within arm's reach of the front row.

The third row also is shockingly spacious and actually usable for the adult-sized set. It also comes equipped with two sets of lower Latch anchors, and it can be folded flat into the floor.

While the spacious three rows can hold up to eight passengers comfortably, depending on your trim level, it also can keep them entertained. My top-of-the-line Touring Elite test car had a 16.2-inch widescreen display — the screen can be split to show two images — as well as an amazing 650-watt surround-sound system with 12 speakers. If you're like me and would prefer to listen to something other than the latest Disney movie, the rear passengers can use the wireless headphones.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT


Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

SAFETY


The 2012 Odyssey earned an overall safety rating of five stars out of five in crash tests. It received five stars in frontal and side-impact crash tests and four stars in the rollover crash test. It's also been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To receive this designation, a car must earn the top score of Good in front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests.

In all trims but the base, the Odyssey packs an impressive five sets of Latch anchors in its rear two rows. The base LX gets four sets of Latch anchors. Thanks to the spacious interior, there's enough space for child-safety seats without compromising legroom for the adult passengers. Unfortunately some of the seat belt buckles are floppy, making it difficult for children in booster seats to buckle up independently. Find out how the Odyssey performed in Cars.com's Car Seat Check.

Standard safety features for the Odyssey are front-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system with traction control, active head restraints for the front row, a backup camera with front and rear parking sensors, and six airbags, including curtains for all rows. A blind spot warning system is standard on the Touring Elite trim, but unavailable on lower trims.

Get more safety information about the 2012 Honda Odyssey here.