Parent Friendly, Kid Comfort

There are a lot of nuts and bolts to like about the Odyssey; it drives well and has lots of room. While the most notable additions for 2011 may seem gimmicky on the surface, they could be considered genius for those of us who transport little ones routinely. To see each trim level's features and pricing, check out our breakdown of all seven trims here.

The one feature that might entice more buyers than any other is the expandable second row of seats. In trim levels EX and above — which includes all but the base LX — you get an adjustable second row with full-size outboard seats and a smaller center seat. The three segments slide forward and back, and the two outboard seats can slide 1.5 inches sideways, adding 3 inches of width. This allows three large child-safety seats to fit across the row.

The Odyssey EX, EX-L and Touring trims have five sets of Latch anchors, two in the third row and the three in the second. Learning to move the seats sideways isn't exactly intuitive — given I've never seen another vehicle with the feature — but the effort it requires is minimal; even an older child may be able to handle it.

I tested my Britax Marathon child seat in the Odyssey, expanding the two outboard seats and latching the Britax in the center. The connectors are covered by sturdy plastic pieces that are easy to remove. Once it was in place, I could sit in the outboard seat comfortably. This added space is a godsend for families with three or more children.

Even if you have just one child requiring a safety seat, the middle seat is the safest in any vehicle. A pair of grandparents can flank the littlest in the safety seat in the second row, with three more children in the third row, and all will be comfortable.

The center seat can also slide forward more than the outboard seats, bringing it closer to the driver. In theory, this is so the driver has better access to a young child — though child-safety seats are recommended to face rearward until children are at least 1 year old, and some are now saying 2. The tradeoff for better access to a front-facing safety seat will be little feet kicking between the driver and front passenger. That might be a tough decision to make.

The third row is easier to get into than it was before, with a single lever to slide either second-row side seat forward. Once back there, an adult — say, one who is 5 feet 10 inches tall, like myself — actually has extra space for his knees and feet, even with the adjustable second row slid all the way back.

All the seats are comfortable when compared with the competition. The driver's seat sits upright a bit, like in most minivans. The second-row seats are nice and wide, so adults will be comfortable on road trips, and the third row has plenty of room for angst-ridden teens who want to be as far from the parental units as possible. The leather in the EX-L and Touring trim levels is quite nice, but it doesn't seem as rich as the previous generation, which was on par with the Acura luxury brand. The cloth upholstery in the LX and EX is a bit too nappy and thick for a modern car interior; it reminded me of a minivan from my own youth, in the 1980s. But the cloth seats themselves were comfortable.

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