Redesigned for 2011, driving the new Honda Odyssey has me rethinking my take on the traditional minivan.

First of all, my hats off to the Honda design team that came up with the rear-tapered monovolume shape and “lightning-bolt” belt line that really sets the Odyssey apart from the “box on wheels” perception of minivans.

This is not your average people mover.

Not by a long shot.

Although it comfortably seats eight passengers (seven in the Odyssey LX trim level), this is an impressive vehicle designed to meet a multitude of transportation needs.

This week I had the chance to drive the 2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite (the top of the line trim level).

With a base price starting below $28,000, consumers have their choice of five Odyssey trim levels for the 2011 model year — LX, EX, EX-L, Touring and Touring Elite.

A 3.5-liter V-6 engine with variable cylinder management to help improve fuel economy powers all Odyssey models.

Delivering 248 horsepower and requiring regular unleaded gasoline, it is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission — with the exception of the two Odyssey Touring trim levels, which are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Rated as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle, it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway (19/28 respectively for Touring trim levels).

Standard safety features include 2-point safety belts for all seating positions, dual-stage multiple-threshold front airbags, front side airbags, three-row side curtain airbags with rollover sensor, driver and front passenger active head restraints, Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution, vehicle stability assist with traction control, brake assist, tire pressure monitoring system, daytime running lights, side-impact door beams, LATCH child seat anchor system and child-proof rear door locks.

It has achieved the highest possible overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

It is also loaded with new features.

One of the many highlights includes the new “3-mode” second-row seat design that expands laterally, along with an easy to use 60/40 split third-row Magic Seat. The second row seat feature makes it easier to accommodate three passengers with more comfort and the new “wide mode” supports third-row pass-through access from the side with as many as two child seats placed in the second row. The third row provides improved legroom, along with better visibility out of the side windows.

Other new available features include a 16.2-inch ultrawide split-screen display and an auxiliary high-definition multimedia interface video input, an “intelligent” multi-information display with customizable wallpaper, integration of FM traffic data on navigation models and a 15GB memory hard disk drive-based audio system.

Performance on the road is exceptional. I only wish this model was available before our kids grew up and moved away. We could have used it, not only for daily commutes but especially on family trips.

For those in the market for a minivan, the 2011 Honda Odyssey is highly recommended for the test drive list.

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 20 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association.