The Honda and the Dodge are both equipped with dual power-sliding doors. While the Dodge also features an electrically powered liftgate, the Kia isn't fitted with any power-operated apertures. To some, the power liftgate may seem creature-comfort overkill. But few would argue that the power sliding doors aren't convenient when scooping up youngsters caught in a downpour.

The Odyssey and the Grand Caravan have big, easy-read gauges with crispy calibration. Honda goes with austere black-faced units, while Dodge takes the sporty route with a white-faced cluster. The Kia features bright trim rings around gauges that just don't read well at a glance, day or night. Moreover, the Sedona's dash, with its faux woodgrain accents, is trying too hard to be upscale.

Honda and Dodge put their transmission selector levers on the column. This frees up space for swinging out of the passenger or driver seat and moving into the rear of the minivan when stopped. Kia positions its shift lever on the slightly bulging center console and compromises an easy move into the rear of the vehicle. The Honda's column shift suffers the same problem as the first-generation Odyssey minivan: It's too light and imprecise, making it easy to select third gear when you want Drive. Bright sunlight exacerbates the problem, as it makes it difficult to see the instrument-panel quadrant.

All these minivans offer second-row seats you can easily remove without tools (the Odyssey's seats feel lightest) and a wide, flat floor for those 4x8 building-material sheets. Honda adds to this flexibility with what it calls a "magic" third-row back seat. It folds and stows into a bay below the floor, providing room for large objects without fussy seat-removal procedures, back strain, or seat-storage problems. Mazda offers the same in its slightly smaller MPV, and we don't understand why every minivan isn't engineered to accommodate this feature.

In addition, the large open floor bay the seat folds into provides several cubic feet of extra stowage when the seat isn't nestled. The space is perfect for securing things like baby strollers in back. The downside is that road noise from the bay may force shouted conversations between those in the front buckets and the rear bench. And the Odyssey's spare tire is stored under the floor in an inconvenient location behind the driver's seat.

Handling takes on a different meaning in the minivan context; we don't expect them to be able to choose off M3s. That said, the Dodge feels the most agile among this trio. The Honda is a close second and feels better settled than the Dodge at fast-lane highway speeds. The Sedona rides a touch trucklike with suspension booming and some unsprung weight problems. It also posted the slowest pass through our high-speed handling course by a hefty margin.