(AP) — Minivans don't have quite the same appeal that they did more than 20 years ago when they debuted. But one minivan — the Honda Odyssey — has been reliably racking up annual sales records until this year.

It appears the 12 percent drop in Odyssey sales in the first five months of 2007 comes as shoppers turn to Honda's smaller vehicles, like the Civic and Fit cars and CR-V sport utility vehicle.

But families that need more room — and three rows of seats — shouldn't forget Honda's most generously sized vehicle that's a recommended buy of Consumer Reports and the winner of numerous accolades, including top minivan this year by Car and Driver magazine.

Families will appreciate that the Odyssey comes with all safety equipment standard, including stability control with rollover sensors, and earned across-the-board, five-out-of-five-star ratings in federal government frontal and side crash tests.

Families also should know that the Odyssey has the second-highest government fuel economy ratings among 2007 minivans. A 2007 front-wheel drive Odyssey with V-6 and automatic transmission is rated at 19 miles a gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway.

The only competitive minivan with a higher rating — of 20/26 mpg — is a shorter-length, 2007 Dodge Caravan with four-cylinder engine.

But there is a drawback. All these good things about the Odyssey come at a price.

This spring, the Odyssey became the minivan with the highest starting retail price on the market. Previously, the more than $27,000 Buick Terraza minivan held this position, but Buick stopped production of the slow-selling Terraza early this year.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a 2007 Odyssey is $26,240 for an LX with seven seats and 244-horsepower V-6.

This is higher than the starting prices for the competing 2007 Toyota Sienna, Nissan Quest, Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan. Indeed, it's some $5,000 more than the starting price for a 2007 Kia Sedona minivan which, like the Odyssey, has all safety equipment standard and earned five out of five stars in government frontal and side crash testing.

So what's so special about the Odyssey?

It's a lot bigger than you might expect from Honda.

Offered with seven or eight seats, the Odyssey is nearly 17 feet long, which makes it the second-longest Honda-badged vehicle in showrooms, after the Honda Ridgeline pickup truck. There's ample space for passengers to get comfortable, especially in the back two rows, and headroom is a noteworthy 38.4 inches in the third row.

This is more than what's found in the third rows of the Sienna, Sedona, Town & Country and Quest.

There's also 41.1 inches of legroom for the Odyssey's third-row seats, which is more than the legroom in any of the three rows, even the front row, of the Chevrolet Uplander minivan. And the third row easily flips and folds into a deep cavity just aft of the rear bumper, leaving a flat load floor.

The wide openings at the dual, second-row, sliding doors help ease passenger entry and exit, and I noticed the power sliding door mechanism on the test Odyssey operated with much less fuss and, thankfully, quieter beeping and confusion than occurred in Odysseys of earlier years.

On acceleration, power came on smoothly and steadily from the 3.5-liter, single overhead cam V-6. This engine is mated to a five-speed automatic that adeptly manages how the power is delivered to the wheels.

Torque, or that quick, get up and go force, peaks at 240 foot-pounds at 5,000 rpm, which compares with 245 foot-pounds at 4,750 rpm in a Toyota Sienna with 266-horsepower V-6.

Still, as heavy as the Odyssey is — more than 4,300 pounds — it doesn't behave like a listless, heavy, ill-handling vehicle. There's good car body control, even as this van carries passengers with a satisfyingly compliant ride. I never felt any harshness over road bumps.

Yet, the Odyssey didn't feel loose and unwieldy, and it admirably gripped the pavement in off-camber curves.

Overall in city traffic and on highways, the Odyssey was an easy traveler, and the interior was quiet — at least when I was in there without kids.

But it can be difficult for a driver to see pedestrians and cars when making left-hand turns at intersections because of the sizable metal pillars around the Odyssey's windshield. Be sure to crane your neck around the pillars for a good view as you turn.

I also dislike that sensors to help alert a driver that an obstacle is behind the Odyssey while the van is backing up are offered only in the top-of-the-line model, which has a starting price of more than $37,000. (Automakers do not consider rear park assist systems like this to be "safety" equipment.)

The fuel range is around 525 miles for the Odyssey's 21-gallon tank, though upper, Touring models have an extra feature on the V-6 that can shut off three cylinders to save gas when the vehicle is coasting and during other driving conditions. This can stretch the van's range to around 545 miles.

Fit and finish, inside and out, on the test Odyssey were exemplary, and there were plenty of storage spots for all kinds of toys, notebooks and drinks.

2007 HONDA ODYSSEY EX-L BY THE NUMBERS
BASE PRICE: $25,645 for base LX; $28,695 for EX with cloth seats; $31,095 for EX with leather seats; $32,695 for EX with leather and DVD player.
AS TESTED: $33,290.
TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, seven-passenger minivan.
ENGINE: 3.5-liter, single overhead cam V-6 with VTEC.
MILEAGE: 19 mpg (city), 26 mpg (highway).
TOP SPEED: 119 mph.
LENGTH: 201 inches.
WHEELBASE: 118.1 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 4,475 pounds.
BUILT AT: Lincoln, Ala.
OPTIONS: None.
DESTINATION CHARGE: $595.