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VANGUARD OF MINIVANS

Chrysler defined the modern minivan when it introduced its Dodge and Plymouth vans in the '80s and then ruled the segment for about a decade before some worthy competitors emerged, especially from Honda. Both of these vans have loads of features for hauling (cargo, kids) and entertaining (kids and more kids).

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2010 Honda Odyssey Touring

Price: $40,755 Touring base, $41,465 as tested. $26,885 start for base model

Seats: 8

Powertrain: 3.5-liter V-6 with five-speed automatic

Horsepower: 244 at 5,700 rpm

Torque: 245 at 4,900 rpm

Curb weight: 4,640 pounds

Dimensions in inches: Wheelbase 118.1, length 202.1, width 77.1

Fuel economy: 17 miles per gallon city, 25 mpg highway

Fuel type: Regular unleaded

Safety features: Vehicle stability with traction control, brake assist, air bags, side impact beams, active head restraints, backup camera

Web site: www.automobiles.honda.com/odyssey

Appearance: The new Honda Odyssey sports a more contemporary look with body hood creases and angular headlights.

Performance: The 3.5-liter V-6 has plenty of get-up-and-go. The steering and braking are responsive, and the stability and traction controls keep you from feeling top heavy.

Interior: Sit down and say "ahhh." The leather seats are plush and comfortable. Even the rear seats lean back. This van has room for eight, thanks to the PlusOne Seat, which bridges the gap in the second row. The third-row access can be changed by moving the seating configuration. For cargo space, the third row folds into the floor, and the second-row seats are removable. Lyra had no problems with a lumber run to Home Depot. The DVD screen and remote are built into the ceiling console. Each passenger gets a reading light and there are plenty of vents to keep everyone cool. Power side doors and tailgate make it easy to load groceries and kids. But having a separate remote fob was annoying. The built-in window screen is a nice touch. Oh, and did we mention there are 15 cup holders?

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2009 Chrysler Town & Country Touring FWD

Price: $30,465 Touring base, $33,780 as tested. $27,160 start for base model

Seats: 7

Powertrain: 3.8-liter V-6 with six-speed automatic

Horsepower: 197

Curb weight: 4,507 pounds

Dimensions in inches:Wheelbase 121.2, length 202.5, width 76.9

Fuel economy: 16 miles per gallon city, 23 mpg highway

Fuel type: Regular unleaded

Safety features: ABS, stability control, air bags

Web site: www.chrysler.com/en/2009/town_country

Appearance: The Chrysler Town & Country has a boxy look with a pronounced grille.

Performance: The 3.8-liter V-6 was adequate, but not much else really stood out, including the ride.

Interior: The gas and brake pedals adjust forward and backward, but Lyra found the brakes too close and the gas too far. She also discovered her pet peeve: creaky brake pedals. The center console has a classy analog clock in the center, but the AC and audio controls are too low to reach easily. The faux wood-grain accents can't cover up the cheap plastic interior. The bottom of the center bin seemed warped. Peter liked the abundant storage in the dash, panels and the floor (with seats up), plus the built-in flashlight. And we counted 13 cup holders.

The rear bucket seats were a bit uncomfortable. Perhaps that's because these are the Stow 'n Go seats that fold into the floor. The third row also folds this way, making for a nice open space for hauling cargo.

The built-in dual-screen entertainment system is top-notch, with the Sirius Backseat TV with Cartoon Network, Disney and Nickelodeon. It comes with a remote control and wireless headsets.

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The bottom line: Both vans were top-of-the-line models, and while we didn't compare them head-to-head, the Odyssey easily made the best impression. The T&C? We'd rent one for vacations.

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