It's definitely a nice minivan with seating for seven, though the back seat is intended more for children than adults. It packs all the upscale bells and whistles, along with some added beeps and tweets, that drivers and passengers expect in a modern minivan

Under the sloping hood is a 201-hp V6 with triple hydromounts to damp out engine noise and vibrations. It's mated to what Ford terms "fast transmission hydraulics" for quicker and smoother shifts. And the ride is smooth, acceleration good, even with a full load, and there's enough power to cruise at the speed limit despite hills. Torque is rated at 263 lb-ft and it can tow up to 3,500 lb.

That sloping hoods also hides the front end, making it hard to tell when you might run into a post, another car, or a wall until you get accustomed to the size of the Monterey. Ford engineers included front and rear sensors that beep or boing as you approach obstacles. The engineers call the devices parking sensors, but they could more appropriately be called parking-lot maneuvering sensors.

Power features abound, such as six-way seats up front, sliding doors right and left, a rear liftgate that goes up and down at the push of a button, and gas and brake pedals that adjust forward or back. Controls are well placed with a few on the steering wheel, and there are several storage compartments. A new feature, to me at least, is the conversation mirror, a fish-eyed mirror measuring about 3 by 2 in. that swings down from the overhead instrument panel. It lets the driver see who is talking. I suspect it's more a carryover from school buses and lets parents see who's misbehaving.

One way to keep the little tykes in line and quiet as church mice is to swing down the DVD screen and pop in one of the latest titles. It's hard to beat the factory installation, but at $1,400 it seems a bit overpriced.

Safety was certainly on Ford's front burners. The van carries self-sealing tires to fix flats, at least temporarily, a lowtire-pressure warning system, an antitheft device, dualstage front airbags, and the Safety Canopy. Rollover and side-impact sensors trigger deployment of side-curtain airbags that protect all three rows of passengers, as well as additional side airbags for the driver and front-row passengers. There are also three-point seat belts for everyone, even those in the third row.

One minor complaint is the restricted view. Like many vans, it has too many blindspots, especially over the driver's left shoulder. And while I'm all for creativity, making up names for colors is a bit much. The van was painted Norcea blue with a metallic clearcoat. I've never heard of Norcea blue and can't find a definition. Far as I can tell, the word's an acronym for North and Central America. So how descriptive is the term to you? Dark blue would be more honest and informative. With a few options such as the trailer towing package ($335), liftgate spoiler ($290), Advanced Trac stability, ($400, with discount), the DVD player ($1,400), and destination and delivery charges, the final ticket to ride comes to $38,010.