Chrysler has just unleashed its new minivan, hoping to jump-start sales in a sector that's been shrinking for a decade. During this slide, the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna have moved their people movers upmarket, banking healthy margins on the back of tremendous customer loyalty. Meanwhile, Kia entered the fray with a more budget-minded alternative, the Sedona. Although Kia missed the obvious marketing opportunity (My, my my, Sedona), the not-so-fancy shmancy minivan has proven itself a sales winner. Why?
It sure ain't style. The Sedona has all the flair and pizzazz of a milk crate. All the minivan cues have reported for duty: a big, bulbous rear; a ridiculously raked front and sliding rear doors that leave monstrous, gaping apertures for child seat and stroller management. While these characteristics are pistonhead poison, not being revolting is the only aesthetic criterion for success in this utilitarian segment. Check.
The Sedona's interior combines economy-class design with business-class space. Fortunately, you don't have to deal with those piss-ant overhead air spigots; the Sedona features three climate zones, each with its own control panel and roof-mounted vents. The seven-seater has enough cupholders for a Vitamin drink demonstration squad. Sadly, only the Sedona's highest trim level offers a whine-suppression system (rear DVD).
To make sure the captain is sitting pretty, the Sedona's helm spot offers eight-way power adjustable seats. All four front-most seats (captain chairs) provide excellent back and thigh support– although the material did feel as rough as a three-day beard. The rear bench seats three non-shorts-wearing rug rats in comfort or three adults in purgatory.
The Sedona's two middle seats can be exorcised by anyone strong enough to pitch the family tent (less coordination required). At the pull of a strap, the rear seat folds into the floor Honda-style, leaving ample room for Costco carting.
While the Sedona does its best to ape the features that make the transplants' minivans a sales success, it knows wherein its lunch lies: safety and reliability. We're talking six airbags, a back-up sensor (that beeps maniacally), a five-star NHTSA crash rating all ‘round and a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty. Perfect.
The 3.8-liter V6 sheltering under the Sedona's hood pumps out 250hp through a very competent five-speed auto. The Sedona delivers its power evenly and predictably all across its rpm range, making it deceptively fast off the line. Discovering such an enthusiastic power train in such a soul-sapping vehicle is like discovering that the plain girl in your college geology class…
Of course, it's not as silky smooth as the Odyssey (the Sedona). Nor is it as unrelentingly uneventful as the Toyota Sienna. Anyway, in the Sedona's litany of family-focused chatter, the performance provides a much needed shout out to NASCAR Dad, who's otherwise in very real danger of losing his will to live.
If you expect this barge to handle like a similarly-priced [current gen] Town & Country, you're wrong. The power-assisted rack and pinion steering may be light enough for arthritis sufferers, but the Sedona's independent front suspension and multi-link rear feel tight and work right. In fact, the Sedona hits the road with some unexpected agility; you can actually slalom the van– say, around an errant shopping cart– without generating gastric bypass qualifying body roll.
Yes, anyone stupid enough to drive the Sedona quickly around a corner will encounter enough understeer to make an Impala SS seem like a sports car. But at family-friendly speeds, the Sedona brings the fight. You know; for a parking space.
Even better, the Sedona will do all this in peace and quiet. Engine and road noise are kept at a minimum. The Sedona coasts over most typical road imperfections with neither complaint nor disruption in its course– all the better to watch Disney movies in ambient, relaxed tranquility (and then explain to the kids why Bambi's mom died).
After driving the Sedona, it's apparent that Kia has decided to concede the wretched morsels at the bottom of the barrel to Dodge and go for the Japanese lions' share of the budget-minded Applebee's crowd.
Let's be frank with each other. DOA Mercedes R-Class notwithstanding, the minivan segment has no room for conspicuous consumption. At best, no one will care that your new Toyota Sienna costs more than a used Boxster. At worst, pistonheads will loathe you for dropping Boxster money on a set of wheels that slowly kills you on the inside.
If you're one of the enthusiast types who's resigned yourself to the tragic fate of minivan ownership, the Kia Sedona is a fantastic hearse. If you're a sensible sort who couldn't give a damn about driving dynamics or middle row seats that swivel to face the rear, the Kia Sedona pushes all the right buttons at the right price. It's a done deal.