Minivan. The word conjures up images of a boxy, boring, kid-hauling vehicle. Not so with the . Yes, it will haul kids, patio furniture, luggage, and the like. But it has some luxurious features that, with some imagination, may make you forget you're cruising in a kid-mobile.

Brushed-aluminum accents on the gages and emblems, power leather seats, and an optional rear-entertainment system defy the traditional minivan image. The rear-entertainment system, for example, features a 6.4-in. LCD screen that is roof mounted and folds flat when not in use. A removable VCR with video game plug-and-play capabilities sits in the console between the front seats. Rear passengers have access to controls for the system. All this fun links to a sound system that includes a CD/cassette player with an optional six-disc CD changer. The six-disc changer proved quite beneficial on a long drive to Pennsylvania as it happily accepted discs for an entire book on CD, keeping me awake and entertained. I wasn't able to test the VCR until I arrived at my destination. Then I loaded my four and two-year-old nieces, Emma and Annie, into the van with a videotape of Oklahoma. The picture was surprisingly sharp and clear, and the sound system was excellent as well, prompting us to launch into a rousing chorus of "Surrey with the Fringe on Top."

The Villager Sport is not all fancy features and no substance. It has a surprisingly smooth, carlike ride. Modified half-shafts deliver power from the transaxle to the front wheels, reducing shudder on takeoff and smoothing acceleration, according to Ford engineers. The independent front suspension has gas-pressurized, hydraulic combined shocks and struts, letting each front wheel react to bumps in the road. The rear suspension features gas-pressurized shocks, leaf springs, and a beam axle.

To test the suspension, I hurried over to my favorite brutally uneven railroad tracks. It wasn't a perfectly smooth, luxury-sedan ride over the tracks, but the Villager did surprisingly well with nominal bounce and no bone-jarring thumps.

A 3.3-liter V6 powers the Villager, putting out 170 hp at 4,800rpm and 200 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm. The V6 provides adequate get-up-and-go, although I would like to see some more kick under the hood. Also, our test vehicle was equipped with optional ABS for an extra $590.

A couple of fun features include a storage drawer located under the front passenger seat and an adjustable shelf behind the third-row seats. The shelf moves into three positions, is removable, and holds up to 30 lb. A permanently attached cargo net keeps items in place.

But, with every rose, there are thorns. First, the front-seat armrests, which are great while driving, get in the way of buckling your seat belt. Also, the darned overdrive button on the end of the steering-column-mounted gear-shift turned off or on whenever I shifted.

Those small annoyances aside, I think the Villager Sport is a bargain. Base price is $25,735. Adding on options and destination charges bumps up the price to $30,185.

Sherri Koucky