Several automakers have attempted to sex up their minivans in the past, but the results have never been particularly spectacular (or sexy).
|Engine: 3.3 liter V6, 276 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: 17-18 MPG city, 22-25 MPG highway (varies by trim level)
Price: $26,795 up to $44,940; $32,995 EX model is the expected volume-seller
In an effort to broaden the appeal of the Sedona, Kia is taking a unique approach by imbuing it with the class and grace of their higher-end cars and SUVs. Note the big alloy wheels and the chrome-ringed grille, which looks a lot like the one on the K900. The Sedona’s slightly-squared-off nose attempts (with limited success) to break the one-box shape, while the bottom edge of the front and rear bumpers bear a passing resemblance to the skid plates used on off-road SUVs. And why shouldn’t they? The average minivan owner is just as likely to go off-road as the average SUV owner. They’re even attempting to ditch the minivan label — Kia refers to the Sedona as a multi-purpose vehicle, or MPV, which is the term the world outside of North America uses for minvans.
Don’t get us wrong: no one with functional ocular nerves would mistake the Sedona for anything other than a minivan, but at least it’s a handsome minivan. Er, sorry, a handsome MPV.
Leaving the Shift Lever Behind
Inside, Kia has taken things a bit further. Check out the dashboard: most minivans have all of their controls, including the transmission shifter, up on the dash, leaving room for a “pass-through” between the front seats (though most vans clutter this space with a big storage box). The Sedona uses a traditional center console with a center-mounted shifter, same as you’ll find in a car or an SUV. This eliminates pass-through possibilities, but the minivan owners surveyed by Kia said they rarely use this function anyway.
And the driving experience is most definitely not minivan-like. Kia hedged their bet by having us test-drive the top-of-the-line SX model, which gets a stiffer suspension and better steering than the L, LX and EX models.
The ride is taut yet smooth and very quiet, and the steering response is far better than any other front-drive Kia save the Cadenza. The Sedona drives like a well-sorted SUV, something we’d regard as an insult ten years ago, but today can be considered a compliment. Still, in the interest of fair journalism and not being suckered by a minivan MPV with sharp turn-in, we ought to reserve judgment until we drive the EX model, which is expected to be the volume seller.
All Sedonas look the same under the hood, where the curious interloper will find a 3.3-liter V6 with direct fuel injection attached to a home-grown six-speed automatic transmission. Power output is 276 hp and 248 lb-ft, enough to let the Sedona merge with confidence. The engine runs smoothly and quietly with an authoritative roar under hard acceleration.
Fuel economy estimates vary by trim level: L, LX and EX models, which use an engine-driven power steering pump, are EPA-rated at 18 MPG city and 24 MPG on the highway. The SX model gets fuel-saving electric power steering, which bumps the highway figure up to 25 MPG. But the top-of-the-line SX Limited, which uses electric power steering but weighs more, is rated at just 17 MPG city and 22 MPG highway. These figures are comparable to the 2015 Toyota Sienna, which is rated at 18/25 across the board, but pale compared to the Honda Odyssey at 19/28.
Of course, if you ask a loyal minivan buyer – and there are a lot of ’em – they’ll tell you that minivans are all about functionality. So how does the Sedona stack up?
Pretty well, as it happens. Kia offers the Sedona in seven- and eight-seat configurations, with either twin buckets or a three-place bench in the second row. Despite the presence of the big console between the front seats, back seaters still get the all-in-one-room feel that makes minivans such wonderful family cars. Third row access (or extra storage space) is facilitated by what Kia calls the “Slide-N-Stow” function, in which the second-row seat cushion pops up to a near-vertical position and the whole seat slides forward, flat against the front seatback. The exception to this rule is the SX Limited, which features airplane-style reclining seats, complete with a fold-out leg-rest — a very nice way to while away long boring drives.
Things are not quite so rosy in the third row. We found the seat to be a bit SUV-like, in that it’s mounted closer to the floor than it ought to be and lacks thigh support for adult-sized occupants. It’s a better place to sit than the third row of Chrysler and Dodge’s minivans, which have an awkward seat-bottom angle, but we found the third row seats of the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey to be a bit more comfortable. Sedona SX Limited models suffer a bit because there’s less toe-space under those fancy business-class second-row seats, so the third row feels even more cramped.
Like most minivans, this MPV has a deep luggage well behind the third-row seat, with plenty of space for groceries or suitcases. The third-row seat can be folded down into this well, leaving a flat cargo floor. Kia doesn’t offer an electric-folding rear seat as do some high-end vans, but well-placed levers and straps make it easy to fold and deploy the seat. With the second-row Slide-N-Stow seats in their full-forward position, maximum cargo space is 142 cubic feet, which trails all competing minivans save the Nissan Quest. And if you opt for the SX Limited, those first-class seats can’t be removed at all.
As you’d expect from Kia, value-for-money is a strong point. The entry-level Kia Sedona L includes front and rear air conditioning, a Bluetooth and USB-compatible stereo, and stain-resistant Yes Essentials seat upholstery, though it lacks a backup camera, which we think every large family vehicle ought to have. Priced at $26,705, it undercuts most of the minivan market; only the Dodge Caravan, the commercial-grade Ford Transit Connect, and the sub-sized Mazda5 are less expensive.
Typically Generous Equipment
The LX model adds minivan must-haves like tinted rear windows, a rear view camera, and a roof rack, with a power driver’s seat thrown in for good measure, and it’s still a good deal at $28,995. But Kia reckons most buyers will go for the $32,995 Sedona EX, which adds leather-trimmed seats, power sliding doors, and a power tailgate; the latter automatically opens when you stand behind the van with the key fob in your pocket, very handy for when your arms are full of groceries or toddlers. If you’re looking to part with as much of your cash as possible, a top-of-the-line Sedona SX with all of the options (including navigation and rear-seat DVD player) lists for $44,940, which is less than the full-boat versions of the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna.
We admire Kia’s credible attempt to make the humble minivan into a more stylish and appealing package; no question, the 2015 Kia Sedona is a far more interesting prospect than most vans. But it does make a few concessions that affect functionality, and isn’t functionality what makes minivans so useful? We like the Sedona a lot, but it’s hard to argue against proven players like the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.