With refined cabins and literally dozens of family-friendly features, a few of today’s minivans might appeal to any car shopper, not just the minivan set. The Kia Sedona is not one of them. As competent as the current generation is, it’s still stuck in utilitarian land.
The thing is, that’s all it needs to be. Minivan buyers who want to love what they drive can fork over thousands more for a Honda Odyssey or one of Chrysler’s decked-out haulers. Give the kids enough time, and they’ll still demolish it like yesterday’s kitchen linoleum. Kia’s alternative is safe, swallows plenty of cargo and executes the features it has well enough. It never rises beyond its calling, but it gets the job done at a bargain price. Call me a cynic, but I think that’s what a minivan ought to do.
The seven-seat Sedona was redesigned for 2006. Sister company Hyundai introduced the related Entourage for 2007; click here to compare the 2008 Sedona with the Entourage and a 2007 Sedona. Today’s Sedona comes in short- and long-wheelbase LX trim levels, as well as a long-wheelbase EX, which I drove.
Minivans rarely venture into the styling wilderness — Nissan tried with the Quest, and it’s still finding its way back — but Kia’s contender seems especially conservative. Its oversized headlights and body-colored grille flow into each other well enough, but neither element is the sort of thing anyone will remember.
The Sedona LX has 16-inch steel wheels and body-colored moldings; EX models add 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights and a chrome tailgate strip. At 202 inches long, the long-wheelbase Sedona sits within an inch of most major competitors, and its 39.6-foot turning circle competes with the Quest and with Chrysler’s twins, the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country. The Odyssey and Toyota Sienna manage sub-37-foot circles.
Short-wheelbase models have a 5.1-inch shorter wheelbase and measure about a foot shorter overall. Besides the soon-to-be discontinued Chevrolet Uplander, Kia is the only automaker to offer a short-wheelbase minivan; the Entourage comes only in long-wheelbase form.
Inside, the cabin’s overlapping surfaces lack the finish quality you’ll find in an Odyssey or Quest, but the upper-dash plastics are precisely fitted and soft to the touch, which is something I can’t say of the low-rent surfaces in Chrysler’s minivans. Buttons reside where you’d expect them to: The two largest dash knobs intuitively control fan speed for the front and rear cabin, and controls for the optional power seats are on the doors — an easier location than along the sides of the chairs.
The Sedona’s upper and lower glove compartments and pull-out storage bins at knee level are typical minivan fare, and a center storage tray between the front seats folds to allow a pass-thru to the rear. Some competitors have entire consoles to swallow purses and diaper bags, but that’s a trade-off for the versatility of converting the area into an aisle (though the uplevel consoles in the Sienna and Grand Caravan are removable so you can do just that). The Sedona’s setup mirrors the collapsible tray in the Odyssey. I prefer a closed compartment.
My test car came with leather upholstery. Its quality is closer to the leather in Chrysler’s minivans than the Odyssey’s upscale cowhide, but it proved supportive enough during a three-hour Labor Day weekend slog between Chicago and Milwaukee. Six-foot-plus drivers may find the seats don’t move back far enough. Making matters worse, the steering wheel lacks a telescoping adjustment, something the Odyssey and Sienna both provide. Power-adjustable pedals are optional on the Sedona EX.
Second-row captain’s chairs are standard, and their wide range of adjustments should leave adults with plenty of headroom and legroom. Move the seats forward a few clicks, and there’s adult-friendly legroom in the third row; like most third rows, however, the seat is too low to the ground for adequate thigh support. Best to put the kids back there.
Entertainment options include a rear DVD player with an 8-inch flip-down screen, as well as a 13-speaker Infinity stereo. My tester came thus equipped, and the stereo belted out some of the most disappointing audio quality since … the optional Bose stereo in the last Quest that came through the Cars.com fleet. Are minivans where acoustics go to die? On a more practical front, the Sedona’s stereo lacks an auxiliary jack for iPods or other MP3 players, something many competitors have standard. Kia says one is on its way for 2009 models. I also hope the optional steering-wheel audio controls, which can change volume but won’t advance CD tracks or radio stations, will get an overhaul.
I helped a friend move across town — next year I must go into hiding the first week of September — and the Sedona’s 141.5 cubic feet of maximum cargo volume fit half the contents of a studio apartment, including a double bed and box frame. Like its peers, the long-wheelbase Sedona’s third row folds in a 60/40-split into a rear cavity to create a flat load floor; the third row in the short-wheelbase Sedona lacks this feature, so its seatback simply folds down in a 50/50 split over the cushions. Maximum cargo space requires hauling out the removable second-row chairs, too, which is no easy task; Chrysler and Nissan offer more convenient fold-flat second-row seats.
With the seats up, cargo room behind the long-wheelbase Sedona’s third row totals a disappointing 32.2 cubic feet, a figure the Sienna beats by 11.4 cubic feet. Maximum cargo volume is much more competitive. The short-wheelbase Sedona LX loses significant cargo volume and passenger volume, which takes the biggest hit in the second row, dropping nearly 4 inches of legroom compared to the second row in the long-wheelbase Sedona. Here’s how the cargo numbers compare:
|Cargo Room (cu. ft.)
|Dodge Grand Caravan
|Kia Sedona LWB
|Kia Sedona SWB
A 250-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic come standard. The same drivetrain, albeit with tweaks to its specific output, powers Kia’s Amanti sedan and Sorento SUV, not to mention a number of Hyundai models. It’s a competent ally in many of them, but the Sedona saddles it with up to 4,646 pounds of curb weight. That’s more than the front-wheel-drive Sienna, Grand Caravan or Quest. Power around town is adequate, but the Sedona’s gas pedal feels a bit lazy. I detected no major lag, but it’s less responsive than the get-up-and-go accelerators in the Odyssey and Quest. Leadfoots will prefer the 4.0-liter Grand Caravan or Town & Country, which is something of a mom-racer among minivans.
The Sedona moves quickly enough when pushed, though there is significant torque steer under hard acceleration. The automatic upshifts smoothly around town, but it takes awhile to downshift — something I’ve harped about with Kia and Hyundai’s other five-speed automatics. Accelerate out of a slow corner, and the transmission often loiters in third or fourth gear when you need second, leaving you wanting for power to get back up to cruising speed. I found highway kickdown similarly indecisive, but when the right gear finally came along, I was able to easily pass others, even with four adults and some light luggage in back.
Like other minivans, the Sedona has a four-wheel-independent suspension. Ride quality on the highway is acceptable, with low wind and road noise overall, but the suspension responds loudly to bumps. The steering feels less power-assisted and heavier to turn at lower speeds than I’d expect for a minivan. In quick maneuvers, it yields vague responses with plenty of body roll — on par for minivans.
Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are standard. The pedal feels mushy, and hard stops elicit plenty of forward suspension dive. Gas mileage is an EPA-estimated 16/23 mpg city/highway; that’s at the low end of minivans, but not unreasonable. When properly equipped, the Sedona can tow 3,500 pounds — again, competitive.
After scoring Good — the top grade — in frontal, side and rear crash tests, the Sedona and Entourage were named Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That’s certainly laudable, but it doesn’t give Kia a major competitive edge. The Odyssey is also an IIHS Top Safety Pick, and the Sienna, Quest and Chrysler twins received Good front and side-impact scores.
Standard safety features on the Sedona include front and side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags for all three rows. Front active head restraints are also standard, as are antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system.
Reliability has been problematic. In Consumer Reports owner surveys, the current-generation Sedona scored poorly in body hardware, paint quality, and squeaks and rattles. The publication predicts new-car reliability to be worse than average. Kia counters with its impressive 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, so if things break, at least it shouldn’t cost you to fix them.
Excluding the destination charge, the short-wheelbase Sedona LX starts at just $20,695; the long-wheelbase LX runs an extra $2,900 but also adds the fold-into-the-floor third row and upgraded cloth upholstery. Standard features on both include power front and second-row windows, keyless entry, tri-zone manual A/C, cruise control and an eight-speaker CD stereo. Not bad for an entry-level trim.
The EX adds power front seats, power rear-quarter windows and alloy wheels; heated leather upholstery, automatic climate control, parking sensors, a DVD system and a moonroof are optional, as are power sliding doors and a power tailgate. Fully loaded, the Sedona tops out just over $31,000. That’s some $9,000 less than loaded competitors, but Kia doesn’t offer features like a navigation system or backup camera. Many of them do.
Crossovers notwithstanding, the most cargo room and kid-friendly features for the buck still belong to the minivan. Buyers don’t seem to care. They’re deserting the minivan segment at a steady pace, leaving its purveyors in a sales stall. For the Sedona and Entourage, it’s more of a freefall: In August alone, sales were down 70 percent. Kia says the numbers don’t have anything to do with supply issues; rather, the minivan market is just in a funk.
Bad news for Kia is good news for you. Cash incentives on the Sedona total $4,000 to $5,000 right now, so getting one out the door for under $20,000 is entirely possible. It won’t match Honda’s cabin quality or Chrysler’s feature content, but it meets all the basic needs a minivan should — and it saves you a bundle. For some parents, I suspect that’s exactly the appeal they’re looking for.