Admit to driving a minivan and you’re sure to endure a torrent of derision, snide remarks and remarkable rudeness. You have to wonder why.
For these naysayers most likely drive crossover utility vehicles. They perceive them as being hip, but let’s be honest, a family sled is a family sled is a family sled. And if you need to haul a lot of people or cargo or both, nothing beats a minivan. They deliver remarkable functionality at a reasonable price.
Exhibit A: the 2016 Kia Sedona, which starts at $26,400.
That’s $3,745 less than the basic Honda Pilot.
Both vehicles have front-wheel drive, ample ground clearance for inclement weather, three rows of seats, and a V-6 engine with six-speed automatic transmission that can tow 3,500 pounds. Nevertheless, the Sedona holds more cargo when all seats are occupied and more with all seats stowed.
There’s a reason for that. The pricier Pilot is 6.9 inches shorter in length than the Sedona, resulting in reduced cargo capacity and shrunken second- and third-row legroom.
The Pilot is, however, 360 pounds lighter, so its additional 4 horsepower should make it a faster vehicle. But the best family bus isn’t the fastest; it’s the one that’s most useful at the lowest cost, and it’s in these categories where the Sedona truly shines.
While not America’s most popular minivan — it ranked fifth of six minivans in 2015 sales — it’s certainly stylish. Credit its makeover last year by Kia’s crack design team, led by former Volkswagen designer Peter Schreyer and chief designer Tom Kearns. Their team endowed the Sedona with a surprisingly sinister, urbane look anchored by Kia’s distinctive tiger-nose grille. Clearly, this is not your father’s family truckster.
The vibe continues inside, especially on the top-of-the-line SXL model, where a two-tone interior, leather seating with contrasting piping, piano black and metallic accents, a wood-trimmed and heated steering wheel, and dual sunroofs give the cabin the feeling of first class accommodations. The second row bucket seats feature what Kia calls its lounge seating, which allows passengers to recline their seats as if in the living room, although doing so takes two steeps, one for the feet and another for the backrest. It’s sweet, but those taller than 6 feet will find foot room tight should they decide to recline.
The Sedona is offered in five trim levels, which in ascending order are: the L, LX, EX, SX and SXL. Of those, the mid-level EX is the best deal.
This package features such niceties as high performance dampers (for better ride and handling), 18-inch alloy wheels, power sliding doors, wiper de-icer, dual gloveboxes, tri-zone air-conditioning, automatic up-down power windows, a smart key with pushbutton start, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
All Sedonas come with a double overhead cam 3.3-liter V-6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. This combination generates 276 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Power is strong under most circumstances, although the van is geared for fuel economy, not fun. You’ll be planting your foot a lot to request more power. The transmission shifts smoothly most of the time, making the cabin a serene, spacious family room.
No one buys a minivan for its handling, although it’s an important factor for keeping your family safe. You might need your vehicle to safely perform a last-minute emergency maneuver, and here’s where the Sedona proved surprising.
Like corporate cousin Hyundai, Kia has been tightening the soft ride preferred by South Korean consumers. So while there’s ample softness to absorb the worst road shocks, the Sedona’s body remains stable, endowing the driver with confidence. Body lean is well-controlled, so this minivan can hustle through corners with surprising agility. However, the Sedona is a little too long and heavy to make it much fun, even if it can handle a twisting road more deftly than you would suspect.
And that’s what makes this new Kia so endearing. It can handle any chore thrown at it — and do it with a dash of style.
Best of all, it comes with a generous suite of standard safety gear, including electronic stability control, traction control, brake assist, electronic brake force distribution, anti-lock brakes, cornering brake control, hill start assist, and rollover mitigation.
Quibbles? A couple. The second row seats in my tester were welcome but vibrated constantly, not unlike overanxious hamsters. The infotainment system was easy to use but constantly dropped the Bluetooth audio connection. Finally, the seat padding was thin enough to feel the springs through the leather driver’s seat.
In the final analysis, you’ll find the Kia Sedona to be a compelling buy among family haulers, and the model’s relatively low sales means that unlike Toyota, Honda, Chrysler or Dodge owners, you won’t see your ride coming and going too often.
So let’s do this. Let’s not tell them how fine a ride the Kia Sedona is. It will be our little secret.
Base prices: $26,400-$39,900 (baseline Sedona L, premium Sedona SX Limited)
Engine: Double-overhead-cam 3.3-liter V-6
Torque: 248 pound-feet
Fuel type: Regular unleaded
Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy (city/highway): 18/24
Wheelbase: 120.5 inches
Length: 201.4 inches
Cargo capacity: 33.9-142 cubic feet (depending on number of seats in use)
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Curb weight: 4,414-4,658 pounds (baseline, fully loaded)
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration safety rating: 5 stars