Karl Brauer, Editor in Chief
Minivan shoppers familiar with the Edmunds.com take on this market segment already know where we stand. If you need to carry a large number of people over long distances in maximum comfort, you buy a minivan. Not as flashy as a crossover or as "rugged" as an SUV, the minivan is simply the most capable vehicle type when it comes to carting family and friends (or paying customers, if you work at an airport) from one place to another.
Loyal Edmunds readers also know which minivan to buy when it's time to move people around; at least they do if they want the best combination of value, comfort, convenience, safety and reliability: The Honda Odyssey.
We come to this conclusion not by whim or coin toss. This decision is based on the results of our 2001 Minivan Comparison Test in which the Odyssey soundly trounced the competition. Since that test, we've seen an updated Chevrolet Venture with all-wheel drive, a more powerful and feature-laden Mazda MPV and a more value-oriented Dodge Grand Caravan. Even the already-stellar Odyssey saw major upgrades for 2002, giving it the highest horsepower rating in the segment (240), along with leather and DVD entertainment options.
Amidst all this heavy shelling between industry titans strides the newly introduced Sedona from the little company called Kia. This is the same Korean car company that produces the Rio, Spectra and Sportage, and as such, we weren't expecting to find a serious minivan competitor with the word Kia stamped anywhere on it.
We were wrong.
Our initial experience with the Sedona came during a First Drive event last summer. After some brief seat time, we were left with the impression that the Kia would be a solid entry in this hotly contested field, despite the absence of some key features like power-sliding doors and an on-board entertainment system. A recent one-week loan cemented that first impression while further elevating our opinion of the Sedona. To put it simply, this is a great minivan.
Now before getting into what we like about this Kia, we should first address an issue that will undoubtedly be the subject of many an angry e-mail. "How can you guys recommend the Kia after its terrible performance in IIHS crash testing?" will likely be the opening line of said e-mails. These cries will come from the fact that the Sedona's front airbags deployed during the Insurance Institutes for Highway Safety's 5-mph front-impact testing, resulting in more than $4,000 in damage. The van also suffered nearly $3,000 in rear-end damage during low-speed rear-impact testing, earning it a "Poor" overall rating for repair costs.
Certainly we're not fans of over-anxious airbags or rear bodywork that crumbles in a low-speed crash, but are we going to pan an otherwise excellent minivan for just this one issue? No, especially when, in terms of passenger safety, the Sedona has earned five-star crash ratings and a four-star rollover rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In recently released IIHS offset scores, the Sedona earned an "Acceptable" rating. Look at it this way: You could have a low-speed front impact that causes thousands of dollars of damage, pay for the repairs yourself (as opposed to calling your insurance agent) and still not be into a Sedona for as much money as most of its competitors cost.
This brings us to the primary advantage the Sedona has over every other minivan. A base Sedona LX complete with a 3.5-liter 195-horsepower V6, five-speed automatic transmission, one-touch power front windows, power door locks, front and rear air conditioning, cruise control, seven-passenger seating, AM/FM cassette and three power outlets costs just $19,590, including destination charge. Spring for the Sedona EX and you get remote keyless entry, a CD player, an eight-way power driver seat, four-way power passenger seat, foglights, automatic headlights, alloy wheels, roof rack, and various leather and wood trim throughout the interior. Quite a deal for $20,590.
Actually, it wouldn't be a deal if, despite its low price, the Sedona were a poor excuse for a minivan but it's not. In fact, the more we drove it, the more we found to like about it. For instance, if you're into storage bins and/or cupholders, stop wasting the Honda and Dodge dealerships' time and just buy a Sedona. Our storage sleuthing uncovered the following: a medium-sized glovebox, a storage bin with a door in the dash above the glovebox, another upper dash bin with a door above the center stack, a bin with a door at the bottom of the center stack, a small pocket next to the power point (perfect for cell phones), a small coin holder (rubberized) on the lower left side of the dash, one small and one large pocket in each front door and a credit card-sized holder (great for commonly used ID or access cards) under the left climate control vent in the dash. Whew!
And cupholders? This van has more drink slots than a vending machine. Just like the Odyssey (in fact, we could swear it has the same part number), the Sedona uses a folding center tray that houses four cupholders, with the rear section able to slide back for second-row passengers. There's also a pullout drawer in the lower center stack that can hold two drinks, plus four more cupholders in the third-row area.
But don't think that the Sedona won us over just by having the best combination of storage bins and cupholders we've ever seen in a minivan (which it does). The overall interior design and material quality are also first rate. Kia was careful to employ soft-touch material in all the important areas, such as the upper door and side panels where you're likely to rest an arm. Our van also had the $850 leather interior option, so the seats had an adequately supple feel to them. Carpet and headliner material was plush, as well, especially for a van priced less than $24,000.
In terms of comfort and convenience, the Kia has a few advantages over the rest of the field. Both front seats, for instance, offer ratcheting armrests that can be set at various angles. Most vans have just two armrest positions up or down. Better still, passenger comfort is high in any of the Sedona's seven seating positions because of its highly versatile seat design. Not only are both front seats power-operated on EX versions, but the second- and third-row seats can slide fore and aft by several inches. This allows owners to position the seats for a specific task at hand. Looking for additional cargo room? Slide that third-row seat forward. In search of max legroom to carry seven adults? Slide both second-row captain's chairs and the third-row bench back as far as they go and you'll have plenty. Unfortunately, the third-row bench does not fold flat into the floor as in the Odyssey, MPV and the family of General Motors vans, but having it slide back and forth over such a wide range is a worthy consolation prize. About the only dimension that is a bit tight inside the Sedona is headroom in the rear seating areas, though this 6-foot author never had a problem.
When the inevitable time comes to remove those rear seats, the Sedona offers a quick and easy release mechanism, but the seats themselves didn't want to lock into a folded position as they do in most other vans. This left the seat back and seat bottom to flop around during removal and installation, greatly hampering efforts to install these rather hefty chairs smoothly.
Thankfully, not everything on the Sedona was as cumbersome as the rear seat removal. The sliding doors have to be some of the lightest we've experienced. They offer smooth, fluid-like action that almost makes us forget about the power-operated doors on the Kia's competitors. The super-smooth sliding doors combine with a quick and easy flip-forward seat mechanism on the second-row captain's chairs, plus a plethora of roof-mounted grab handles, to make getting in and out of the van, even for third-row passengers, a breeze.
Other interior highlights include easy-to-use dial controls for the climate control system, an onboard computer with exterior temp display above the windshield and large buttons in the center stack for cruise control, foglights, interior lighting and rear defrost. We'd like to see illuminated cruise control buttons, but we appreciate their steering wheel location for easy access. We weren't impressed by the dim, cheap-looking sound system display that proved tough to read during daylight hours. The same could be said for tiny air conditioning and recirculate lights located on buttons beneath the climate control dials. The gauge cluster was rather small, as well, but fully legible at all times. Finally, we have to applaud Kia for offering not one, not two, not three, but four power points throughout the van. Two are in the center stack, plus another in the third-row seating area and a final plug in the cargo area. Grab the radar detector, cell phone, PlayStation and the 12-volt portable cooler.
Obviously, the Kia is designed with road trips in mind, but is it road trip-worthy? A 195-horsepower V6 might not suggest it can hang with the many 200-plus horsepower vans out there. However, as one of only three minivans currently available with a five-speed automatic (Honda's Odyssey and Mazda's MPV being the others), it makes the most of the 195 horses while never feeling slow. Off-the-line power is superb, likely due to an ultra-low first gear. This gearing, combined with a rather touchy throttle pedal, actually made it tough to launch the van smoothly until we acclimated. The transmission always picked the right gear, but felt slushy on occasion during upshifts. Ultimately, after driving the Sedona several hundred miles with plenty of cargo and over some tall mountains, we can honestly say that it never felt slow, despite the engine's lack of peak horsepower. Performance testing had the van to 60 mph in 10.4 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 17.8 seconds, betraying the van's limited power reserves despite its peppy feel around town. Relatively low EPA ratings of 15 mpg in town and 20 mpg on the highway further suggest a hard-working 3.5-liter V6. We averaged 18 mpg over our test vehicle's week-long stay.
These numbers hint toward another characteristic of the Sedona that it is one of the heaviest minivans on the market. It weighs in at a stout 4,700 pounds. That's about 400 to 700 pounds more than most other minivans, meaning the drivetrain has its work cut out for it. And while acceleration is respectable for such a portly people mover, braking suffered, with 152 feet required to halt it from 60 mph. This number is actually not bad for a non-ABS-equipped minivan weighing close to 5,000 pounds (with a driver on board). The problem is that ABS, even on a low-priced minivan, should be standard. You can get it for a relatively cheap $595, but as a family-oriented vehicle, we think ABS should be included (even if the price has to go up a little).
Despite its hefty curb weight, the van felt comfortable and stable on the road, and it hustled through the slalom at a rapid 59.6 mph. This was despite the squishy and noisy 15-inch Hankook tires. Upgrade the van with some 16-inch wheels and 60 series rubber from a mainstream company, and you'd likely have a nimble vehicle that's still comfortable during the long haul. Steering is nicely weighted and responsive, and visibility is excellent except for some rear window blockage from the third-row headrests.
Has Kia convinced us to give up our Odyssey longings and hang out in Sedona? Not a chance if money isn't a primary concern and we want our navigation system and/or DVD entertainment. But if such fat-cat features are viewed as excessive or unnecessary, and if purchase price and warranty coverage are a primary factor in buying your next minivan, you can't overlook the Sedona. As a pure cost/benefit study, this one's tough to beat.
Road Test Editor John DiPietro says: Kia played its cards right with this minivan. Starting with the basics, the company gave it a responsive powertrain. Even though the V6 doesn't quite make 200 horses, the five-speed automatic's quick reactions and ideal gearing make the most of it, giving the Sedona a sprightly feel around town and respectable passing and merging ability at freeway speeds. And the handling and ride balance are agreeable, as well, with ideal control efforts and linearity in steering and brakes.
Minivan requirements, such as comfy seats and plenty of easily accessible stowage cubbies (that include a Honda-like flip-up tray between the front seats) make the cabin inviting. Chrome door handles, soft-touch materials all around and fine build quality were evident; even the inside of the door map pockets was smooth no rough flashing to be felt there.
There were still a few areas that needed work, however. The radio display is washed out nearly all the time (even with the instrument illumination turned all the way up), the trip computer doesn't calculate fuel mileage and the gas filler flap was floppy. And although the Sedona posted excellent crash test scores, it was reported that the airbags deployed during an IIHS bumper-bash test, making for a huge repair cost. I asked a Kia representative about this and was told that it was an anomaly; we'll have to see how that plays out.
With a price tag at least five grand less than competition, top crash-test scores, competent performance, a nice ride and a strong warranty, I don't see how Kia can miss. Kudos to Kia!
Consumer Advice Editor Phil Reed says: The Sedona may do for Kia what the Elantra is doing for Hyundai take a second-rate Korean car manufacturer and make it a serious contender.
The Sedona drives like a Honda Odyssey. Wait now, before we get too overheated about this, let's qualify that. The delivery of power feels as good as or better than an Odyssey. Step on the gas pedal and you get an immediate response. Mid-range acceleration is also first-rate. The news on the handling isn't as good, as it is a bit wallowy and soft like the Honda but that isn't necessarily a bad thing in a minivan that is made to eat up the highway miles painlessly.
The comparisons to the Odyssey end with the performance and handling. The Sedona's interior is attractive and comfortable (power adjustable leather seats on a $23,000 van!) with a collapsible center tray that is the height of convenience. But moving rearward, the plaudits end. Backseat headroom is tight and there isn't the feeling of spaciousness that distinguishes the Odyssey. The exterior styling of the Sedona is clean and the chrome door handles are a nice touch. Overall, it looks a bit like the Dodge Caravan.
There is no question that Kia has packed this van chock full of features for this sticker price. What isn't immediately apparent is whether the reliability will compare to the Honda Odyssey. Only time and Kia's warranty will answer that question.
System Score: 7.0
Components: We've listened to a few Kias over the last several years and haven't been overly impressed with either the stereos or the vehicles. However, the same could have been said not too long ago about Hyundai, the corporate owner of Kia, and we've all noted the turnaround that company has made in recent times. This vehicle represents a watermark of sorts for Kia: Not only is the Sedona a respectable minivan, but who could have predicted that it would have such a decent stereo? Not us and we're supposed to know these things.
This system begins with a well-appointed head unit in the upper-center portion of the dash. Although it's not the world's greatest radio, it's a quantum leap over the other Kias we've evaluated. On the plus side, it has four built-in equalization curves (Flat, Pops, Classic, Rock) for flexible sound contouring, a large detented volume knob that provides an excellent user interface, and both cassette and CD players. On the down side, the preset buttons are too crowded, the topography of the head unit is too flat, and there are no steering wheel controls for the stereo. Also, something several of our editors commented upon: The radio's LED display washes out in daylight; even with no direct sunlight on it, it's very hard to read. Several of us kept fiddling with the headlight switch, convinced that we had inadvertently turned on the headlights and thus dimmed the radio's readout, but this was not the case.
Speakers are very generous in this minivan. A pair of 6-by-9s grace the rear quarter-panels. A pair of 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers occupy the lower-front portion of the front doors. And a pair of 1-inch dome tweeters sit atop the dashboard, firing upward into the windshield glass.
Performance: This system produces great bass. If you put it on the "Rock" setting, you get a real boom-mobile. The soundstage is quite good, due to the dash-mounted tweets, and gain limiting has been built into the system, so that even at full gain there is very little distortion. One bummer: We found the highs and mids (at least at the flat setting, which is where we test everything) muddy and dull, even muted, which detracts somewhat from the otherwise excellent sound quality of this system. The good news is this is easily fixed by kicking in the "Rock," setting, which artificially trumps up the highs and lows. At this setting, however, we found the bass almost too much at times, but geez, aren't we ever satisfied?
Best Feature: Deep bass response.
Worst Feature: Dimly lit LED display.
Conclusion: While this system isn't perfect, it's a major move forward for Kia. With the exception of the poor LED readout, we found this stereo very livable. Scott Memmer
"Don't I win something for having the first real world incident? I was stopped at a red light and was rear ended by a teenager putting on mascara. Fortunately, she was rolling at 5 mi. or less. Boy, was I surprised to feel the lurch! After a thorough inspection, there wasn't even a scratch. I'm relieved to know the bumpers don't crumble with every impact." By mom23grls, "My 2002+ Kia Sedona," Apr 05, 2002 (09:04 pm)
"Very busy time for me hauling campers with my Sedona to and from everywhere. I have now almost 7000 miles since my Jan 13 purchase date. I still think the seats are uncomfortable. There is a steel rail about 1/4 inch thick that runs about 3-4" in from the outside edge of the seats, from front to back. It jabs me in the hamstring area and I find myself shifting from time to time. My Previa seats were far superior. Other that that, no complaints. Excellent towing van, great power. There is no better front wheel drive mini van for towing out there, not even close." By excelent3, "My 2002+ Kia Sedona," Apr 07, 2002 (06:28 am)
"Just bought the printed version of the Sedona review in the April Car & Driver issue. All Sedona owners and prospective purchasers should buy the magazine just to get the picture of the underside of the van in the article. This is one tough van. All suspension and structural components are heavier gauge or stronger steel than other vans. Note the solid steel braces from the frame rails to the front suspension subframe. No wonder the van is extremely rigid." By mcperr, "My 2002+ Kia Sedona," Apr 04, 2002 (04:12 pm)
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