While General Motors and Ford have essentially abandoned minivans in favor of the ever-popular crossover market, Kia, looking to snag some of those companies' deserted sales, has greatly improved its second-generation Sedona and benchmarked it against the leaders of the minivan pack.
While it doesn't displace the top minivans in the class, the latest Kia Sedona closes in on the soccer moms' perennial favorites from Chrysler, Honda, and Toyota. The Kia's above-average quality helps it nip at the heels of those three, and its lower price and longer warranty should make it possible for Kia to sell the 60,000 annual copies they're expecting. Like the three, the Kia's styling is highly anonymous, inoffensive, and uninteresting. In other words, it's easy to mistake the new Sedona behind you for a few-year-old Ford Windstar.
Pricing for the new Sedona, which went on sale in January, start at less than $24,000. With generous sharpening of the options-checking pencil, however, customers can elevate the price to more than $32,000. In the autumn of 2006, the lower-priced, short-wheelbase Sedona will arrive at dealerships at a price likely less than $21,000; the handy flat-fold feature won't be available for the third row of the more compact models, but Kia expects that these vans will make up only about ten percent of total Sedona sales. The last Sedona was a 4800-lb porker, but, despite its increased measurements all around (save the identical 69.3-inch height), the new Sedona (long-wheelbase) weighs in at a more competitive 4400 lb.
The extensive options list includes power-operated sliding doors and hatch, rear-seat DVD entertainment, leather-trimmed heated seats, sunroof, and automatic climate control. In addition, Harman/Becker space-saving flat speakers fit into the sliding doors and headliner of the Sedona's optional theaterlike, thirteen-speaker system. The Sedona's standard cabin clearly benefits from Kia's recent deliberate efforts to improve interior quality; plastic switchgear parts feature graining that is distinctive from the slippery, shiny bits we've grown to woefully expect from Kia. The finish in most places still lags a bit behind the competition, but the assembly quality and fit rivals the Japanese makers.
Applicants from the Snow Belt may be disappointed to learn that the Sedona comes without all-wheel-drive availability. The lone powertrain layout--a 242-hp 3.8-liter V-6 linked to the front wheels through an obedient five-speed manu-matic transmission--is highly capable in most situations, although it's sometimes slightly torque steery under wide-open throttle.
In hopes of distancing itself from its corporate cousin (and owner) Hyundai, Kia is trying to position itself as the sportier and more youthful of the two Korean marques. We don't buy the sporty part, since Kia doesn't sell anything we'd enjoy taking anywhere near a racetrack. That said, the Sedona does feature steering, body control, and roadholding ability that are all far better than what you'll find on the typical Toyota or 1979 Ford LTD. Strangely, the luxury EX model that we drove had a less sporty feel despite its one-inch-taller wheels and lower-profile tires. We don't really like minivans, but the Sedona is certainly a good one.