DEL MAR, Calif. -- I couldn't get expectant mother Amy Bowman out of my mind as I test-drove the redesigned 2006 Kia Sedona minivan in late January.
The 32-year-old Royal Oak resident and member of the 2006 Detroit News Automotive Consumer panel is the perfect candidate for a minivan, which many automakers tout as a "life-stage" vehicle. Her first baby is due in June and she's been shopping for a vehicle that will fit her growing family, as well as her two big dogs, Lucy and Sugar.
But when we toured the Detroit auto show in early January, Bowman turned her nose up at every minivan we passed, from Chrysler's highly respected models to Toyota's radical F3R concept, with its cocktail-lounge lighting and seats.
"I won't buy one," Bowman said. "They are so functional, but it's the stereotype that goes along with them that I don't like. You know, the 'mom' thing. It's about image."
At a glance, the second-generation Sedona, which is on sale now, is unlikely to change her mind.
And that's too bad because if you can get past Kia's refusal to do anything to make minivans more visually appealing to young, hip moms like Bowman, the new Sedona actually stacks up admirably against many of its competitors, including safety leaders such as the Honda Odyssey.
Unlike Nissan, which tried to entice men and "hip moms" into the minivan fold a few years ago with its quirky Quest, the Korean automaker has opted to be very conservative and stick with the classic, boxy minivan silhouette. Because of this, the front-wheel-drive Sedona can be described as clean -- and boring. There is literally nothing to distinguish it from the rest of the minivan pack on the outside or to make you feel like any kind of a trendsetter.
Kia hasn't broken any new ground in the cabin either or even approached the level of flexibility found in such products as the Dodge Grand Caravan, with its Stow 'n' Go second-row seats that fold flat into the floor. The Sedona's second-row seats cannot be tucked away into the floor to create more cargo space.
But Kia has done a good job of paying strict attention to the basics, even redesigning the Sedona's 14 cupholders to make them larger. You get a sturdy, capable family hauler loaded with standard safety equipment at a price that is often thousands less than the competition. Think of the Sedona as the Costco or Wal-Mart of minivans -- and drive it with your head held high.
If the Koreans excel at anything, it's making decent knockoffs, and they've done that quite well with the new Sedona. They even stole the wide-angle "conversation" mirror from the old Ford Windstar minivan, which allows you to easily see rear-seat passengers from the driver's seat.
If you put the Sedona up against such class leaders as the Odyssey or the Toyota Sienna, you could make a convincing case for going with Kia, especially if every penny counts.
For 2006, Kia has outfitted the Sedona with a new DOHC 3.8-liter V-6 engine that generates 244 horsepower, a 25-percent increase over the previous powerplant. It's identical in output to the 3.5-liter V-6 in the base 2006 Odyssey. Both have standard five-speed automatic transmissions.
The base Odyssey comes with an impressive list of standard safety features, including antilock brakes, vehicle stability control with traction control, front side air bags and side curtain air bag protection for outboard occupants in all three rows. The long-wheelbase Sedona exactly matches each one of the standard features.
But the base Odyssey LX carries a price tag of $25,895, including a $550 destination charge. The base Sedona LX starts at $23,665, including $670 for shipping, while the uplevel Sedona EX starts at $26,265, including destination. The Sedona trumps the Odyssey in terms of warranty, with an industry-leading 10-year/100,000-miles powertrain warranty. The Odyssey's powertrain warranty is good for five years/60,000 miles.
Despite my basic admiration for the Sedona, I wondered if the Koreans ever bothered to get a woman behind the wheel before they signed off on the project. For instance, the base model doesn't have lighted vanity mirrors, but it does have an ashtray built into the instrument panel. Any good mother -- and the good ones quit smoking -- would object to that.
The test Sedonas I drove -- early production models -- included a base model and a top-of-the-line EX. They were equipped with a third row seat that manually stows into the floor, much like the one in the Odyssey. It's fairly easy to get the split-folding third row into the floor. The sections aren't too heavy or difficult to reach, and they include grocery-bag hooks like the ones in the Dodge minivan.
Sitting in the third row is another matter, because your knees are higher than your hips -- not a good position for long trips. On the plus side, the third-row passengers can open the power vents without help from the driver, and the side windows go down about three-quarters of the way. The second-row seats flip-and-fold with one touch, but at 60 pounds each, they are extremely heavy to remove.
Kia continues to make advances in the quality of its cabin materials. I never got the feeling that I was driving an inferior product or being penalized because of the minivan's affordable price tag.
The EX model I drove was outfitted with lots of extras, including a $1,700 entertainment package that included a 6-disc in-dash CD changer, 13 Infinity speakers and a rear-seat DVD video system. The V-6 engine seemed to perform with more oomph in the base model, perhaps because it didn't have to cope with the weight of all the optional, power-robbing gadgets on my fully loaded version.
The Sedona is equipped with standard power rack-and-pinion steering. It is easy to maneuver and to park, although it seemed to have a bigger-than-expected turning circle at almost 40 feet. A short-wheelbase version of the Kia minivan launches in September. Unlike some of its competitors, the Sedona does not come in an all-wheel-drive model.
Fuel economy is estimated at 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway, which is similar to what you get in a competitor like the Odyssey. The base Odyssey is rated at 19 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
Both vehicles have a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds. Kia says there will be late availability on the trailer hitch in the Sedona and it will cost $375. Expect to pay an additional $1,000 for a power package, which includes power sliding doors and a power liftgate.
When I got back home from my drive, I gave Bowman a call and described the benefits of the Sedona to her. But she remained unconvinced -- and she said she had added sedans to her list of unacceptable products for her new role in life.
"I haven't had a baby yet," she reminded me. "And I still won't buy a minivan."
I'm going to check back with her in six months when she's loaded down with a stroller and a diaper bag. The Kia, and its many minivan brethren, may start looking good at that point.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||May 2, 2005|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||June 4, 2006|
|Mark Glover||The Sacramento Bee||June 2, 2006|
|Dan Neil||Los Angeles Times||May 31, 2006|
|Kristin Varela||Mother Proof||May 22, 2006|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||March 16, 2006|
|Anita Lienert||The Detroit Newspapers||February 8, 2006|
People Who Viewed This Car Also Viewed
Closest Dealers Listing this Car
Featured Services for the Kia Sedona
- Sell your current car quickly and easily on Cars.com.