We wish Ambrose Bierce had lived long enough to include the word “minivan” in his Devil’s Dictionary, a reference work for the comprehensively disenchanted that defines “year” as “a period of 365 disappointments” and self-esteem as “an erroneous appraisal.” We want to know how the Socrates of cynics would classify the method of conveyance that enthusiasts won’t stop hating, but we just can’t get rid of.
Today, the minivan is adored for practical reasons – every single one on the market excels at its intended purpose. Dealers say minivans have great margins and they can’t keep them in stock even when these vehicles sticker north of $40,000. A market consolidated to five automakers means strong sales for the segment leaders. Combined sales of the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country lead through June of this year with 75,840 units. The Toyota Sienna is in second at 71,381 sales, the Honda Odyssey has sold 62,636, and the Nissan Quest is barely a blip at 5,400. But the three big minivan brands aren’t the only game in town. The rival Kia Sedona is an incredibly compelling package, as 20,608 owners have discovered so far in 2015.The Sedona’s aesthetic is a box that’s outside-the-box. Taken from the three-quarter view the profile is close to an urban cargo van with windows; it’s a handsome package. It’s the same width as its predecessor but 2.4 inches lower, wearing Kia’s strongly horizontal frontal identity. We like the tabbed grille, and the intensity of the sheetmetal in front counters the chrome accents. But our SXL tester sure has a lot of brightwork – more than other minivans.
From the side, the Sedona keeps up the muscular tones with a stout body that’s light on distracting details. But it’s hard to miss some similarities to the Odyssey – the way the glasshouse narrows toward the rear, the kink at the C-pillar, the driver’s side sliding door rail running nearly to the rear lights. Yet you’d never mistake the two because the Kia, fuller and more upright everywhere, is bolder than the slinking Odyssey. It’s not an old-fashioned way to haul kids, it’s a way to haul kids and make a statement.
Inside the cabin, that statement ends with an exclamation point. Ward’s Auto put the Sedona on its 2015 10 Best Interiors list, an accolade warranted because everything inside oozes quality. The two-tone Nappa leather and plastics are fantastic, the graphics in the OLED dash gauge cluster are crisp, the fit and the finish in general are outstanding.
The UVO infotainment screen is a cinch to operate. However, the third-generation system is also the most infuriating aspect of the Sedona. After a successful Bluetooth pairing, UVO would try to download the phone’s contact list, and it failed every single time. It would then alert the entire cabin to the failure by making a ridiculously lengthy announcement suggesting we call Kia customer care. This announcement interrupted whatever else was playing on the stereo. Turning down the volume cut back on the loudness of the announcement, but it turned down the main volume. This, especially after having come from the plug-and-play simplicity of Android Auto, was infuriating, and drove us to the owner’s manual to figure out how to make it stop. But that’s our only gripe about the entire Sedona package, and could be dismissed as a bug between UVO and one specific phone.
The SXL trim’s amenities support perceptions of genuine luxury. The mirrors unfold and door handles light up as you approach, the tailgate automatically raises when it detects the key nearby for three seconds, there’s a panoramic glass roof, optional lane-keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, forward collision warning, and cameras everywhere.
The captain’s chairs in the second-row are as comfortable as those in the front when they’re upright, and are genuinely first class when laid back with footrests extended. The three manual levers for their operation are the only frugal cabin features, but they keep kids from incessantly messing with electronic controls. We had no problems accessing and hanging out in the third row, and on a Home Depot run the rear bench dropped into the cargo floor with just a few clicks and tugs.When compared to its marquee rivals, the Sedona diverges from minivan protocol by placing a center console between the seats instead of a pass-through. It has less cargo room than the Sienna, Town & Country, and Odyssey in terms of space behind the second row. The Sedona has 78.4 cubic feet, the Sienna 87.1, the Town & Country 83.3, and the Odyssey 93.1. The Kia is also down about five cubic feet behind the third row compared to the Japanese minivans (but slightly bigger than the Chrysler). What’s more, the top-level SXL trim can’t be had in an eight-seat configuration.
The van’s 3.3-liter V6 makes 276 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque in the Sedona, and it never feels underpowered. Kia tuned the six-speed automatic transmission to be eager with downshifts – a nice nod in an otherwise heavy, non-sporty van.
The suspension keeps all 4,720 pounds in check and delivers a ride so silky, it’s comparable to automakers far more prestigious than Kia. More door seals and extra noise insulation are part of the 2015 package, so the ride is quiet, too. There’s no suspension chatter or disconcerting flex – the chassis is 76 percent high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel, with additional reinforcements in places like the A-pillars. The thick steering wheel and sharp feel get good marks, too. The same week we had the Sedona we had a European luxury crossover, and when given the choice of what to drive we always took the Kia. Seriously.
That said, the Sedona is thirsty, for reasons that aren’t obvious from the spec sheet. It has 18 more horsepower and weighs 139 pounds more than the Odyssey, but gets 17 miles per gallon in the city, 22 mpg on the highway. That’s 2 city mpg and 6 highway mpg less than its Honda counterpart. The numbers are closer when comparing the Sienna, the Toyota returning 18 city, 25 highway. The Sedona’s consumption might be traced to the upright front end’s brick-like aerodynamics. What you pay for at the pump returns dividends in style, the Kia being distinguished from and better looking than anything in the segment.
The Sedona SXL does well in the competitive price argument, though. Our tester, the highest trim offered, starts at $40,595, including $895 for destination. Adding a single option, the Technology Package, with features like smart cruise control and the surround-view monitor, brings the pre-tax price to $43,295. The front-wheel drive Sienna Limited starts at $42,535, the Odyssey Touring starts at $42,910, both of those are one level below the most expensive trim, and they don’t come with features like xenon headlights, surround view, or adaptive cruise control. The Town & Country Limited Platinum costs $41,290, but also lacks some features found on the top-spec Kia.
As a single guy with no kids, this author tends to agree more with the “never in my life” crowd instead of those who maintain minivans rock. Kia gives away its stance on the matter by not using the word “minivan” anywhere in its Sedona press materials – it opts for “multi-purpose vehicle.” But after a week with the Sedona, we vote that this minivan totally rocks.