Thanks to the Greek poet Homer, the term “odyssey” has been synonymous with epic voyages – a foreboding term connected to angry gods, curses, 6-headed monsters, whirlpools and crashing on the rocks.

The war hero Odysseus survived 10 years of such lethal traps as he sailed aimlessly home to Ithaca after winning the Trojan War.

But that’s ancient history, and today the Odyssey is more than required reading. It’s also required driving for anyone with children or a frequent need to haul lots of people and stuff.

For its superb flexibility, outstanding comfort and ability to calm the stormy seas of a child’s tantrum, Honda’s fourth-generation minivan earns a Ward’s 10 Best Interiors award for 2011.

Minivans deserve more respect than they get. Fold-away seats, cupholders and back-seat DVD players are among the innovations tested, then perfected, in the modern minivan.

And with car-based unibody construction, no minivan requires V-8 power. With fuel prices broaching $4 a gallon, is there a smarter fuel-efficient vehicle that accommodates seven or eight occupants?

Minivans are all about the interior, and in that regard the Odyssey triumphs with high-quality materials, expert fit-and-finish and clever cubbies throughout.

From the optional “cool box” refrigerator below the center stack to the “Wide-Mode” second row that can accommodate three baby seats to the remarkably spacious third row, the Odyssey interior delivers everything a family could want.

With two fullsize captain’s chairs able to slide laterally toward the doors and a middle seat that is nearly 4 ins. (10-cm) wider than in the previous model, the new Odyssey is a smartly conceived 8-passenger vehicle, cemented with easy access to the third row.

Honda might face some criticism for not including a power function for folding the third row into the floor, especially in a vehicle that stickers for $44,030.

But the seats fold manually with such simplicity (just one light yank on the strap) that money saved for the necessary motors was well spent elsewhere – say, on the removable front center console and flip-up trash-bag ring, or the argument-preventing ultrawide 16.2-in. (41-cm) dual-screen entertainment system for rear occupants.

Designed, engineered and assembled in North America, the Odyssey was the second-best selling minivan in the U.S. in the year’s first quarter, behind the Dodge Grand Caravan. The rivalry will continue as these two brands slug it out in the family-hauler sector.

If Odysseus could have driven home to Ithaca in Honda’s newest minivan, the course of literary history surely would have been altered.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com