by: Chris Chase
I could begin this review with the usual chatter about how the popularity of SUVs and crossovers drastically reduced demand for the more-practical minivan. Instead, however, I’d like to suggest an alternate reason for the disappearance of so many minivan models in the last few years: What if the rise of crossover utilities simply revealed which vans weren’t up to the task, leaving behind the best of the breed?
It’s not a far-fetched theory: go out minivan shopping today, and you’ll find just five models to choose from, two of which are sold in the same showrooms: the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country twins trace their roots back to the first minivans, introduced in 1983 and based on the then-ubiquitous K-Car. Built around a fantastic engine and smart design, these two are the segment’s value leaders. Honda has its Odyssey, notable for its tighter-than-expected handling and the availability of a brilliant built-in vacuum cleaner. At Toyota, the Sienna is a well-conceived vehicle that trades on that brand’s strong reliability.
That leaves Kia’s Sedona as the outlier: it’s the newest nameplate of the bunch (the first Sedona was sold as a 2002 model) and the only one that hails from Korea, since Kia’s parent company, Hyundai, gave up after selling its Entourage from 2006 through 2009.
Clearly, Kia recognizes the minivan’s boring-car stigma, choosing to market this third-generation 2016 Sedona to its North American audience as a multi-purpose vehicle, a label more commonly attached to people-movers sold in Europe. That notion is reinforced by how well Kia’s designers have masked the Sedona’s extra size compared to the Sorento, with which it shares many of its styling cues. This is a minivan, but Kia really doesn’t want you to think so at first glance.
It’s the Sedona’s interior that gives it away: a three-place third row usable by adults is a big advantage over the rearmost seating offered in the smaller Sorento, and our SXL tester had second-row reclining captain’s chairs that move side-to-side to allow easier access to the back row.
Even with the third row in place, there’s a notable amount of cargo space available behind it. Not enough for seven passengers’ worth of luggage for a road trip, mind you, but certainly plenty for a trip to the grocery store. Less appealing is how those heavy second-row seats have to be removed–a two-person job–if you want to turn your Sedona into a cargo hauler for a day. Unlike the Grand Caravan, there’s no option for second-row seats that easily fold into the floor and out of the way.
Sedona gets its motivation from a 3.3-litre V6 engine that generates 276 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque, and comes with a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a smooth powertrain that moves this van along nicely, but without the crispness the Odyssey is known for, a theme carries through to the rest of the Kia’s driving experience.
It’s a comfortable van that’s very pleasant to drive, but if you’re at all resentful of the need for a vehicle this large, you may find yourself wishing for something that drives with more personality: even the Sienna, with a feel very similar to the Camry sedan, is a more engaging vehicle for drivers, thanks to a suspension that works harder at keeping the chassis planted over rough roads. Not even a driver-selectable power steering system does much to improve the feel from behind the Kia’s wheel.
None of this is necessarily a slight against the Sedona, but rather proof that there are different strokes for various folks, even in such a pragmatic vehicle segment.
For reasons we can’t figure out, the Sedona’s fuel consumption estimates vary widely depending on which trim level you look at: the SX is the thriftiest at 12.9/9.5 L/100 km (city/highway), and the base LX uses nominally more fuel. By the time you get to the SXL model I tested, however, the ratings have risen to 14.2/10.5, putting this van well above the class average. Then consider that my tester averaged 15.1 L/100 km in city driving, making it less efficient in real-world use than a Sorento crossover I tested not long after, despite the added weight and friction of that crossover’s all-wheel drive system.
If you can get around that, Sedona’s top-end SXL model is a lovely vehicle, with an interior trimmed in two-tone leather, boasting a heated steering wheel for cold weather and ventilated front seats for hot summer days. There’s also a dual sunroof setup unique in that both panes of glass tilt and slide, so that rear-seat passengers can also enjoy the open-air experience.
Other notable SXL features include navigation, three-zone automatic climate control, a 360-degree parking camera system, lane departure warning, and frontal collision warning.
Kia is known for packing its vehicles full of features at surprisingly low prices, but even here, you still only get what you pay for: a Sedona decked out in SXL goes for more than $46,000. That’s not out of line with its competitors, and in fact for that money it comes with more kit than similarly-priced versions of the Odyssey and Sienna. There’s no denying the Dodge and Chrysler vans are the true value leaders in the field though, once you factor in that company’s aggressive incentives.
Objectively speaking, the Sedona is not the best minivan out there, but we get the feeling that doesn’t matter to Kia. What does count is this company’s well-conceived effort to transform the minivan from a family workhorse into a stylish, luxury transportation machine. If you’re smitten with a van’s unbeatable practicality but are leery of this segment’s oh-so-vanilla reputation, Kia’s latest Sedona could be just the vehicle for you.