Driving the Odyssey confirms that it is indeed worthy of being a member of our All-Stars team. This Honda has most anything you could want in a minivan -- a cleverly designed dash and a center console with lots of storage cubbies, a versatile layout with a third row that folds into a storage well in the floor (if only the second row folded the same way), an entertainment system with a 16.2" split screen, navigation, etc. Plus, the materials in the interior are all first-rate, and it's also very nice to drive. Despite its minivan proportions, it drives like a smaller vehicle, with no shakes or rattles and a well-tuned suspension that effectively minimizes the effects of the winter's increasingly pothole-marred roads. The Odyssey also gets 28 mpg on the highway (27 mpg if you opt for a lower trim level with the five-speed transmission), which could be a big selling point with gas prices edging their way up to $3.50 per gallon. The only thing I don't like about this vehicle is its styling. The odd kickdown on the side glass is jarring - the mismatched lines almost make it look as if a separate vehicle were welded onto the rear third of the minivan.
- Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
The XLT Premium Wagon is a new addition to the Transit Connect lineup for 2011 that adds a few creature comforts in an effort to turn this compact cargo van into a legitimate people mover. But adding two windows over the rear wheels and trimming out the cargo hold in plastic is hardly enough to put the utilitarian Transit Connect on a plane with family-friendly compact crossovers, mid-size sedans, and minivans. This Transit Connect’s $24,710 price tag doesn’t leave much room for comparison with traditional minivans, which start at about $30,000 these days, but smaller options like the Mazda 5 and the forthcoming Ford C-Max offer reasonable utility in a more comfortable package. Those who are less concerned with moving gear might entertain a Hyundai Sonata, which will deliver a 66-hp boost, 9-mpg highway fuel economy gain, and a significantly more spacious rear seat. A small crossover like a Chevrolet Equinox blends both a spacious backseat and a fairly large cargo hold with a flexible sliding rear seat.
It doesn’t take a marketing genius to recognize the inherent risk in adding a crossover to a brand called “Mini.” Indeed, a high-riding, Austrian-built four-wheel-drive vehicle sounds like a quick and easy way to pour a decade’s worth of brand equity down the drain. However, the Countryman is a triumph of strong execution over questionable judgment, which is a fancy way of saying it’s really nice.