Honda’s Odyssey chugs into model year 2010 still ranked as the top minivan, a position built on a reputation for its quality and family friendliness.

And even though the minivan market has cooled considerably, especially with the growing popularity of crossover utility vehicles that essentially are minivans without the sliding doors, there still is a demand for these versatile family haulers.

The 2010 Odyssey went on sale this past week, carrying over from 2009 with no significant changes. Prices begin at $26,805 (plus $710) freight for the base LX model, and run as high has $40,755 for the fully equipped Touring model, which comes with such extras as leather seats, rear-seat DVD entertainment, premium audio, and a navigation system.

Sales of the Odyssey for 2009 are on pace to reach about 112,000 units, a decline of about 17 percent from last year’s 135,493, and a drop of 35 percent from 2007’s 173,046.

Still, in the current weak car market, 112,000 sales are significant.

The Odyssey’s decent fuel economy, up to 17 mpg city/25 highway for the 2009 EX-L model we tested ($33,155 plus $710 freight), puts it on par with most of the midsize crossovers, including the new Chevrolet Traverse (17/24).

The mileage is even better than that of Honda’s own Pilot (17/23) and the premium Acura MDX (15/20), two crossovers built on the same architecture as the Odyssey.

For the 2008 model year, the Odyssey was significantly updated, getting new exterior styling and a more-fuel-efficient 3.5-liter V-6 engine that comes with Honda’s revised Variable Cylinder Management system.

Premium features were added throughout the vehicle, including a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, a four-way power passenger seat, a rearview camera with display in the rearview mirror for models without the optional navigation system, and side mirrors with memory and reverse tilt-down.

Interior improvements included a new instrument panel and premium fabric for the seats, although we didn’t see the seat fabric because our tester had the leather seats (the “L” in our tester’s name stands for “leather”).

For 2009, Honda added a power-operated tailgate to the EX-L model as standard equipment.

The Odyssey has room for up to eight people, or seven with middle-row captain’s chairs such as we had in our test vehicle. There is lots of cargo space available when all of the seats are not needed for people.

Although this van is targeted at women, the largest group of minivan buyers, it’s definitely more stylish than vans of the past. It’s popular not only with young families with kids, but also empty nesters who like to take leisurely highway trips, and who sometimes need extra seats for grandkids.

The Odyssey’s appeal to women also comes from its perceived safety and dependability. Honda has a “Safety for Everyone” policy that applies throughout its lineup, which means that important safety features are standard, rather than optional.

Odyssey safety features include electronic stability control; antilock brakes with brake assist; advanced dual-stage front air bags; front side air bags; and three-row side-curtain air bags with a rollover sensor.

Also, the Odyssey has a front-end design that is meant to help not only the vehicle’s occupants, but also any pedestrian who might be struck by the vehicle. Other standard safety gear includes active front seat head restraints and daytime running lights.

The Odyssey earned the highest crash-safety rating – five stars – in front- and side-impact tests conducted by the federal government.

Styling is important to women, as well, although it’s usually on the list below dependability and safety. This newest Odyssey definitely has more curb appeal, although there were no radical changes from the previous generation.

The Odyssey provides plenty of storage areas and cubbies, and there is a new storage bin in the second-row PlusOne Seat (standard on EX, EX-L and Touring models).

Its seats have some useful innovations, including a third-row 60/40 split bench “Magic Seat,” which folds completely into the floor, when not needed, to provide a completely flat cargo floor. The second-row PlusOne seat is now standard on the Touring model, adding an eighth seating position in the place of the removable center console.

Odyssey has 38.4 cubic feet of cargo space even with the third seat in place. But with that seat folded into the floor, cargo space expands to 91.1 cubic feet – with room for five passengers remaining in the first two rows. But to expand cargo space further, the second-row seats must be removed.

Total interior volume is 209.8 cubic feet, more than the interiors of two of Honda’s compact Civic sedans combined.

Standard on the LX model are 16-inch wheels; EX and EX-L models get 16-inch alloy wheels; and all three have all-season tires. The Touring model comes with 17-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires.

Optional – and a great security feature – are Michelin PAX run-flat wheels and tires.

Other Odyssey standard features include dual-zone air conditioning on base models, and three-zone automatic climate control on EX, EX-L and Touring models; tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel; power windows/mirrors/door locks with keyless entry; and cruise control.

Options include the navigation system with voice recognition and built-in Zagat restaurant guide; and the rear DVD entertainment system with a pull-down screen.

Two engines are offered. The base engine is an all-aluminum, 3.5-liter V-6, standard on the entry-level LX and midlevel EX models. It’s rated at 244 horsepower and 240 foot-pounds of torque, and EPA ratings are 16 city/23 highway.

But the EX-L and Touring models come with a 3.5-liter aluminum V-6 engine with the variable cylinder system, rated at 244 horsepower and 245 foot-pounds of torque.

This is the same engine offered in the newest Accord. It’s designed to shut down two or three of the engine’s cylinders to save fuel while cruising at highway speeds. The previous Odyssey also offered a cylinder-deactivation system, but it cut the engine down to three cylinders; adding the four-cylinder mode gives it more flexibility, Honda said.

This is what gives the EX-L and Touring models their 17/25 mileage ratings.

Also added for 2009 were upgrades to the Odyssey’s audio system. It now comes with an auxiliary input jack so iPods or other portable music players can be directly attached, and the compact-disc player now is able to play music files that are in the MP3 and WMA formats.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at 210-250-3236;

2009/2010 Honda Odyssey minivan

The package: Four-door, seven- or eight-passenger, V-6 powered minivan.

Highlights: Redesigned for 2008, this is Honda’s popular family hauler, based on the architecture of the Accord sedan.

Negatives: Center row seat must be removed to increase cargo space, rather than folding into the floor.

Overall length: 202.1 inches.

Curb weight: 4,387-4,693 pounds.

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6 (LX, EX models); 3.5-liter V-6 (EL-L, Touring models).

Transmission: Five-speed automatic.

Power/torque: 244 HP./240 foot-pounds; 244 HP./245 foot-pounds.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Cargo volume: 38.4 cubic feet (behind third row); 91.1 cubic feet (behind second row, third seat folded).

Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Side air bags: Front seat-mounted, three-row side-curtain.

EPA fuel economy: 16 city/23 highway (LX, EX); 17 city/25 highway (EX-L, Touring).

Fuel capacity/type: 21 gallons/unleaded regular.

Main competitors: Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna.

Base price range (2010): $26,805-$40,755 plus $710 freight.

Price as tested: $33,765, including freight (2009 EX-L); 2010 price: $34,115, with freight.

On the Road rating: 8.7 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.

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