In 1996, New York's Taxi and Limousine Commission expanded the list of vehicles approved for taxi duty to include the Odyssey (on the recommendation of the commissioner's 7-year-old grandson). I predicted that the mean streets and ornery taxi drivers would make quick work of these lightweight, independently suspended vanlets, but they proved immensely popular and astonishingly sturdy.

Laura's van has held up similarly, needing only one set of struts, new axles (CV joints), some oil leak repairs, and general maintenance. Wind and road noise are high by today's standards, but few if any rattles or squeaks can be heard over the din. The little four struggles on hills with five aboard, especially with the air-conditioning on, and the four-speed automatic shifts abruptly. But among today's three-row people-carriers, about the only thing that steers and brakes as nimbly as this is the Mazda5 (which measures 6.1 inches shorter, 1.6 inch narrower, and 0.4 inch lower, offering far less leg and shoulder room in the rear seats).

The 4x8 sheet goods have to ride on a big angle and hang way out the back (a fatal flaw that helped keep annual sales in the low 20,000s). Middle-row seats fold and slide forward to access the third row, or dump and fold up against the front seats with hydraulic assist for hauling cargo, but they don't come out. Twist one knob to fold the third-row seatback, twist another to release and fold it into the floor. Elegantly light and simple.

This probably ranks as my most successful car recommendation ever. The new one's a pretty safe bet, too.

2011 Honda Odyssey
Base price $28,000-$42,000 (est) REAL NUMBERS TK 9/8/10
Vehicle layout Front-engine, FWD, 7-8-pass, 4-door van
Engine 3.5L/248-hp/250-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmissions 5- or 6-speed automatic
Curb weight 4350-4550 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 118.1 in
Length x width x height 202.9 x 79.2 x 68.4 in
0-62 mph 7.8-8.2 sec (MT est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 18-19 / 27-28 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.87-0.92 lb/mile
On sale in U.S. September, 2010