It's all coming like a dream ... there's this voyager on his quest for the perfect odyssey who joins a caravan along with every villager he can transport from both town and country on an astro safari to a high-tech oasis, all the while casting the moonlit silhouette -- yep, and there's wind and stars, too -- of a noted lumina-ry (maybe it's the aura of the fabled great Lido himself) from atop a shiny, oh-so-sleek minivan. It's a long, drawn out tale, and it seems to take a dozen years or so to unfold.

Admittedly there's not much you can do to this tale by adding Previa or MPV, but by now perhaps the marketing folks for Toyota and Mazda are sorry they didn't watch a few more Star Trek episodes or read nightly from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

The big news for '96 in the minivan segment was played out early this year.

Chrysler folks trotted out an all-new herd of minivans -- Dodge Caravan, Plymouth Voyager and Chrysler Town and Country -- with long and short wheelbase, four engine choices and four trim levels in an attempt to improve on a package that for the last dozen years has kept them atop the market niche that they invented.

Engineers listened to customer suggestions and added nifty ideas of their own: more cargo space, a bigger greenhouse for greater visibility, an optional driver-side sliding door, rollers on the removable rear seats, and a windshield de-icer under the wiper blades.

Ford's Windstar, which made its debut as a 1995 model, offers some minor tweaks for 1996. The top-end 3.8L V-6 gets a significant power boost from 155 hp to 200 hp via split-port induction.

Lincoln-Mercury and Nissan do some refining to the Mercury Villager/Nissan Quest minivan. The pair get new bumpers, grilles, headlamps and body side moldings.

Honda jumps on the dual-badge bandwagon by offering its diminutive and somewhat underpowered Odyssey minivan to Isuzu dealers bearing an Oasis nameplate.

Toyota is content to ride with its Previa for now and wait 'til its Camry-inspired Georgetown-built minivan debuts in 1997. Mazda promises a redo of the MPV for this model year and GM offers brand new interiors on its Chevy Lumina APV/Pontiac Transsport/Olds Silhouette trio. Gm's aging plastic-bodied minivans will switch to restyled steel bodies for '97.

In the bulky-but-beautiful category, GM offers a complete redo of its full-size GMC Vandura -- renamed Savana -- and Chevy Van, incorporating major changes that landed on its big pickups and SUVs in '95. GM claims the pair of big vans were completely reengineered with major revisions in 4.6L, 5L, 5.7L and 7.4L gasoline engines and a new 6.5L diesel offering. Other niceties include standard 4-wheel ABS, air conditioning and dual air bags.