The Korean automaker isn't convinced that the minivan's "family box" reputation is truly warranted, and it sees an opportunity to snare younger, more active buyers by designing, engineering and marketing the Sedona as something versatile, edgy and comfortable. While that logic may seem both a bit familiar and somewhat far-fetched, Kia says forty-five percent of minivan buyers don't actually have kids and are instead simply looking for space, so the approach should be based at least in part on sound reasoning.
I spent an afternoon in Northern California behind the wheel of Kia's new non-minivan with a healthy does of skepticism about its new strategy, but an open mind, as well. Does the Sedona's execution live up to Kia's lofty criteria and expectations of what a nontraditional minivan should be? Will buyers ditch their CUVs for something with a little more junk in the trunk? Read on to find out.
I took hold of a top-of-the-line Sedona SX Limited on a hot day in California's Half Moon Bay and set out for a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway and over the mountains via CA-84 towards Palo Alto. It's a road I often drive due to its relatively low traffic volume and abundance of curves, but I'm generally behind the wheel of something a bit more nimble. Conquering these turns in a hulking, three-row 4,720-pound people mover was something new, so I grabbed the keys and set out on my way, unsure of how it was going to go.
2015 Kia Sedona Specifications
Engine: 3.3L V6
Power: 276 HP / 248 LB-FT
Transmission: 6-Speed Auto
Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 4,720 LBS
Towing: 3,500 LBS
Cargo: 142 CU-FT (max)
MPG: 17 City / 22 HWY (est.)
Base Price: $25,900
As-Tested Price: $42,995
Kia's new Sedona comes out swinging at minivan establishment with its striking exterior design. Being that it's the first thing potential customers will note, it's important for this vehicle to not embody the traditional muted looks of the family hauler. The company says the Sedona's design is an attempt at mixing minivan characteristics with those of a CUV by giving it a sportier and more energetic look that is, in essence, reflective of its ideal buyer. Despite its traditional family values, the minivan market is no stranger to avant-garde design, having entertained the swoopy 2004-2009 Nissan Quest, a design that met with more quizzical stares than sales.
Thankfully, the Sedona's look isn't as polarizing as all that. It greets the onlooker with Kia's now-trademark tabbed grille, a visually enticing combination of black and chrome. Squinty headlights with LEDs, chrome accents and fog lights complete a package that is still not going to be for everyone, but is likely to win more friends than Nissan's bold effort did.
In profile, the Sedona is barely reminiscent of the outgoing generation's milquetoast proportions. The wheelbase is 1.6-inches longer and is paired with reduced front and rear overhangs mated with a much sleeker windshield. Chrome accents abound here, including one used to accentuate the roofline by running from the A-pillar to the rear, lending the Sedona a more aerodynamic appearance. A strong character line running from the front fender to the rear gives the design further presence. In the back, the Sedona now comes with LED taillights, an integrated bumper guard and a standard roof spoiler.
he design is unquestionably sharp, and Kia has done a nice job of giving this vehicle a great deal of presence by emphasizing the front end. At the end of the day, though, there's no mistaking it for anything other than a minivan. The good news here is that this vehicle is also unmistakably a Kia, which boasts a stable of great-looking vehicles. The Sedona completes the automaker's design transformation and now falls directly into place beside its attractive siblings like the Forte and Optima through the use of trademark exterior characteristics like the aforementioned grille and character lines.
The interior of the Sedona is intended to be a comfortable, luxurious space, similar to what Chrysler has done with the Town & Country, albeit in a more modern idiom appropriate of a new vehicle carrying a 2015 model year. In the range-topping SX Limited trim I drove, the cabin is all this and then some. Kia has clearly ported over the interior philosophy from its new, upscale Cadenza and K900 sedans, incorporating tons of space for the driver and passengers, as well as the inclusion of a wealth of great materials like polished metal, wood grain and available Nappa leather.
Aesthetically, my tester gave me the feel of a modern study, with its rich smell and warm two-tone color palette. Kia also boasts that the Sedona is the only vehicle in its class to include YES Essentials fabric technology as standard, which provides anti-microbial protection from spills, anti-static protection from electric shocks (apparently this is more of a problem than we realized), as well as stain-repelling and stain-releasing fabric characteristics.
It's tough to find much to complain about in the driver's seat, especially in a loaded version of this minivan. The seats are great, providing adequate support around turns and limiting driver fatigue over longer periods of time. Soft-touch materials abound, and most everything is ergonomically laid out so the driver doesn't have to search for radio or climate control buttons. There tends to be a lot of distance between the driver and the infotainment in minivans and midsize utilities, so we're happy to report that the controls are within easy reach, preventing strain and allowing the driver to keep their eyes on the road.
Outward visibility is good up front, with a hip point on the driver's seat that has been lifted slightly to allow for a better view out of the windscreen. The pillars do create blind spots, as is the case with nearly any vehicle, but the large rear windows minimize this safety hazard, as does an optional blind spot detection system. Visibility out the rear has suffered a bit due to the exterior redesign, but it's still passable.
Up front, the driver also gets to experience the latest iteration of UVO, Kia's infotainment system. This version contains a few firsts for Kia, many of which are aimed at keeping Sedona owners' teen drivers safe and in check. New features include geo-fencing, which alerts parents via smartphone when the vehicle exceeds a predetermined distance from home; speed alert, which notifies the parent when their teen is driving too fast; and curfew alert, which rats kids out when they're cruising around too late. Basically, the system functions to make life as a teenager safer (if a lot less fun), as mom and/or dad can always be watching when they hand over the keys.
But that's not the whole story with UVO. The system is among the best in the industry thanks to its smooth operation and clean user interface. It includes a wealth of helpful apps, including Pandora, Yelp!, iHeart Radio, Siri "Eye's Free" technology, Google local search and real-time traffic, weather, fuel prices, movie times and stock prices.
The second row is available in either a two-seat captain chair configuration or three-seat bench situation. With my tester, this was unquestionably the place to be. The Sedona can come equipped with reclining, heated captains chairs with footrests, said to be inspired by first-class travel on the world's premier airlines. And they are just fantastic. Kicking back and letting the seat support nearly every joint in your body makes riding along on an extended trip utterly blissful. The only issue is the seats aren't powered, meaning it requires some yanking and pulling to get them into their desired position.
A Kia official told us that the Sedona is quite popular in Korea as a celebrity vehicle, what with the comfort of these second-row seats and the huge amount of space available to customize with video screens, gaming consoles and whatever else Korean movie and music stars need to have.
The other option in the second row is called Slide-n-Stow seating. This setup uses captains chairs that are also quite comfortable, but more focused on versatility than repose. With the pull of a lever, the seats effortlessly fold up and forward, either creating a massive entryway to the rear row, or opening up the Sedona's interior for maximum storage. Notably, these seats are not removable. We didn't have the opportunity to test out the bench seating, as Kia opted to provide only seven-passenger Sedona models on this drive.
The third row is, as is the case with most three-row vehicles, a place better left to kids and adults of a smaller stature. Kia deserves credit for its creativity in hollowing out the bottom of the second row seats in order to provide more legroom back there, but it still isn't a place we'd want to be for more than short periods of time. Two adults is the absolute maximum in this row.
A cavernous cargo area is an absolute must in this segment. With the third row in its upright position, the Sedona boasts 33.9 cubic feet of space, which is accomplished by designing the trunk to have a deep bottom that extends well beyond the base of the seats. For more space, the third row easily folds down to provide 78.4 cubic feet. With the Slid-n-Stow second row, the Sedona can provide a total of 142.0 cubic feet of space. According to a Kia officials, that's enough for a 4-foot by 8-foot slab of sheetrock, but we can't help but note that it's also well shy of the Chrysler Town & Country's 163.5 cubes, let alone the Honda Odyssey's 172.6.
Miscellaneous comfort and convenience features include high-power (2.1-amp) USB charging ports and 115-volt AC outlets, a dual glove box that offers a cooled lower storage area and a handy "Smart Power Liftgate" that opens the rear hatch automatically when the key fob is sensed nearby for three seconds. It's a great convenience feature for when you've got armfuls of groceries or progeny.
I'm a big fan of the Sedona's interior. Kia designed this vehicle with the intention of bringing something both premium and versatile to market, and after spending a couple hours in it, there's no question in my mind that they've succeeded. Pricing does get a bit wild when adding some of these features, however, and that's a concern when assessing this vehicle's sales outlook (more on this in a bit), but there's no question that Kia has something praiseworthy on its hands here.
The Sedona drives like, well, a minivan. It employs the automaker's 3.3L GDI V6, which is also found on the Sorento and Cadenza. The engine makes 276 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque and is paired to a conventional six-speed automatic transmission. Off the line, this all-boxes-checked minivan's weight is noticeable, as the engine has to huff-and-puff a bit to get it up to speed (a base LX model weighs 4,414 lbs). But the V6 has been tweaked a little bit to provide more mid-range torque – a welcome upgrade that is evident when accelerating in the 40-60 mph range. The transmission can be a bit hesitant, with a noticeable split-second delay when both up and downshifting before the next gear is found and engaged. This is especially obvious when employing the Sedona's manual shift mode (kudos for including one, though, Kia).
The Sedona utilizes an all-new chassis that Kia claims is 36-percent stiffer than its closest competitor. This has been accomplished through the use of advanced high-strength steels and press-hardened steel and provides a much more rigid foundation that improves the vehicle's handling over the previous generation. This rigidness doesn't translate to a harsh ride, however, as Amplitude Selected Dampers (ASD) along with an independent rear suspension work to keep things silky smooth. Further improvements to the chassis include revised rear crossmember bushings, an isolated rear subframe with longer trailing arms and added rear strut reinforcement.
I enjoyed my drive along the snaking stretch of CA-84 that runs through the Santa Cruz Mountains, but despite its evident competence, the Sedona is not designed for conquering an undulating road in a hurry. The vehicle's weight really makes the engine work to get it up to speed and the brakes strain to rein it back in. And, in spite of the improvements in rigidity, there's still a great deal of body roll.
But this is a vehicle intended for staid drives from one point to the next. For that, it's successful. Overall, the ride is quiet, comfortable and poised. The Sedona is stable at high speeds and the improvements to the suspension make it an excellent candidate for long road trips. Steering – which is electric in the SX and SX Limited trims but conventional hydraulic in the others – is light, which isn't a bad thing for a vehicle in this class, and weighting stays relatively consistent at different speeds. Inputs to the wheel are met with surprisingly quick responses, and there is enough feedback to inspire confidence around turns at speed. The turning radius is reasonable and, with the help of parking sensors and cameras, navigating hectic parking lots is easy.
Rougher roads do upset the premium feel of this vehicle a bit, as road noise and vibration become more noticeable, but that's true for this minivan's classmates, too. Bottom line: Kia has done tremendously well in translating the premium look and feel of the exterior and interior to the Sedona's driving dynamics. It's a smooth operator that makes driving an enjoyable, trouble-free experience.
Fuel economy ratings are competitive, but not stellar. The base trims are rated at 18 miles per gallon city, 24 mpg highway, and the higher SX Limited gets 17/22. For comparison's sake, the 2014 Odyssey gets 19/28, the Town & Country yields 17/25 and the 2014 Toyota Sienna gets 18/25 (figures for the updated 2015 model are not yet available).
The final notable aspect of this new 2015 Sedona is safety, which is something potential buyers surely pay close attention to. Unsurprisingly, officials say the company is shooting for a five-star overall crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Its new frame was designed not only to reduce weight and improve rigidity, but also enhance durability and collision protection. New reinforced pillars that distribute impact loads with ultra-high-strength steel tubes installed inside the A-pillars improve the roof strength, too. There's a long list of onboard active and passive safety technology, both standard and optional. This includes a number of active safety features like forward collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert and blind spot detection.
The 2015 Kia Sedona does a great job balancing luxury, comfort, versatility and flexibility. As that was essentially Kia's goal from the start, the execution of this vehicle can be marked as a success. But, one big question remains: when it hits dealers in late September/early October, will it sell?
The Sedona isn't the bargain-basement commodity special it once was, as evidenced by this loaded $42,995-tester. Yes, it comes with a wealth of features and is among the more comfortable vehicles we've been in recently, but that price tag could be tough to stomach for Kia's supposed younger buyers (even if it's still thousands less than its range-topping siblings from Asia). Additionally, while engineers and marketing mavens have pulled out all the stops to shake the "boring minivan" reputation, efforts can only go so far in changing what is a widespread, deeply entrenched cultural perception.
Kia deserves credit for its ambition and great work in designing and engineering this vehicle, but it's going to take something special to improve the fortunes of this moribund segment.