We were surprised when Kia didn't make us pile into the redesigned 2006 Kia Sedona family-style for the drive to Sea World.
Granted, we were all past the age of squealing with delight over feeding fish to dolphins, but the Sedona has always seemed like the ideal vehicle to take to Sea World — and not just because it seats seven. Here's a minivan that comes decently equipped without breaking the $25,000 barrier. That takes the edge off dropping $200 just to get your family of four into the park.
For 2006 the Sedona has grown to the size of a Honda Odyssey. It now has all the must-have features for a modern-day minivan, including side airbags and a fold-flat third-row seat. It's also about $2,000 more than last year's model.
Although the Sedona is still more affordable than most competitors, Kia hopes 60,000 buyers will realize there's more to this minivan than a low price and a long warranty.
Built on an all-new platform shared with the '07 Hyundai Entourage, the 2006 Sedona rides on a 119-inch wheelbase and measures 202 inches from nose to tail. It's 8 inches longer than last year's model and hits dealers this month.
Kia, however, believes there's still a market for a smaller, lower-cost minivan to compete with the Dodge Caravan and Mazda 5, so the company will offer a shorter, 114-inch-wheelbase version in September 2006.
We test-drove only the large Sedona, which is available in two well-equipped trim levels. Priced at $23,665, the base LX provides a 60/40 third-row bench, second-row captain's chairs, front-seat side airbags, head curtain airbags for all three rows, tri-zone air conditioning, an eight-speaker CD stereo, keyless entry, stability control and 16-inch wheels.
Upgrading to the EX will cost you $26,265. It offers an eight-way power driver seat, nicer cloth upholstery, an MP3-compatible stereo, automatic headlights, an auto-dimming mirror, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Additionally, the EX gives you access to optional power-sliding doors and a power liftgate ($1,000), as well as the Luxury Package ($2,400), which includes leather upholstery, auto climate control, seat heaters, adjustable pedals, driver-seat memory, a sunroof, steering wheel audio controls, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and rear parking sensors.
For safety reasons, we think the parking sensors and adjustable pedals should also be available to LX buyers.
Fewer pounds, more power
Although a comfortable cruiser, the original Sedona wasn't very inspiring to drive. Acceleration was mediocre, handling was sloppy and fuel economy was a dismal 16 city/22 highway. Obesity was the chief culprit. At 4,800 pounds, the '05 Sedona was the heaviest minivan on the market.
Wisely, Kia put it on a diet for 2006. The switch to an all-aluminum V6, a lighter transmission and an independent, multilink rear suspension all contributed to a 400-pound weight loss.
The new 3.8-liter V6 also has the best power stats in the minivan segment. Gas up with premium and it delivers 244 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque. That's exactly as much horsepower as the Odyssey's V6 along with 13 more lb-ft of torque. Fill the tank with regular and Kia says you'll still get 242 hp and 251 lb-ft.
As before, a five-speed automatic routes power to the front wheels. Fuel economy is now a livable 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway.
On the road, the V6 provides a broad range of usable torque thanks to its continuously variable intake valve timing. Aggressive driving can confuse the transmission, but for the most part shifts are smooth and well-timed.
Improved ride and handling
Along with the new suspension, the '06 Sedona has a 2-inch-wider front track and a 3-inch-wider rear track, which benefits handling. It also gets better tires. Instead of last year's skinny 15s, the LX has 225/70R16 Hankook rubber while the EX has 235/60R17 Michelins. The tires aren't run-flats as on some competitors, so to help you avoid a flat in the first place, Kia has installed a pressure-monitoring system with sensors for each tire.
Ride quality is comfortable and controlled, but handling still isn't athletic. Although the Sedona responds predictably and holds its own around corners, compared to the Odyssey there's more body roll and the steering isn't as precise.
You had to pay extra for ABS on last year's Sedona. It's standard on the 2006, along with four-wheel disc brakes, BrakeAssist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution.
Inside, the Sedona is more functional than stylish. Still, most materials are above average in quality, and all the places where you're likely to rest an arm are softly padded.
Ergonomics are a mix. The tri-zone climate controls are tricky to use while driving, particularly the manual setup. Yet the corporate-issue audio head unit is simple to operate, and Sedonas with steering wheel controls have a handy mute button. The optional seat heaters have five settings adjustable via an Audi-inspired thumbwheel.
Any Sedona can be equipped with a rear entertainment system ($1,200), but for $500 more, EX buyers can combine it with a 605-watt Infinity audio system that allows DVD playback in 7.1 surround sound through 13 speakers. We only had regular CDs, but sound quality was still some of the best we've ever heard in a minivan.
We were also impressed by the level of calm in the Sedona's cabin. When we turned down the old-school Metallica, carrying on a conversation with rear passengers was no problem at 80-plus mph.
Carrying around a phone, sunglasses, purse and bottled water was also no problem because the Sedona has a dozen different slots and containers, our favorite being the double glovebox. We also like the folding center tray but wish it had a rubberized surface.
Total cupholder count is 14.
but still a little tight
Shoulder room is up throughout the van, but the Sedona still doesn't feel quite as roomy as the Odyssey.
Legroom is ample in all three rows, and fore/aft-adjustable second-row chairs allow you to divvy up the room between second- and third-row passengers. Headroom is still snug, though, and we suspect that's why the third-row bench is mounted so low to the floor. It's still usable for children, but teenagers won't be happy back here.
The front seats are well shaped and supportive, but the leather-upholstered chairs offer slightly more cushioning than the cloth variety. Anti-whiplash head restraints are standard up front.
Dropping the third-row seats into the floor isn't the one-handed procedure it is in the Honda, but it's no more difficult than in the Toyota Sienna. The second-row seats are removable, but given the bulk of the chairs, it's not something you'll want to do every day. Cargo capacity tops out at 141.5 cubic feet, a healthy figure but still shy of what the Grand Caravan, Odyssey and Sienna offer.
After shuffling among three Sedonas in one day, we don't think it's necessary to spend a grand on the power-sliding doors: The manual doors are lightweight and easy to use. Likewise, the standard manual liftgate requires minimal muscle to close.
No longer feels like a compromise
With its larger interior, additional features and improved driving dynamics, the 2006 Kia Sedona easily justifies the extra $2,000 Kia is asking. Load up on every option and you're still sitting pretty at $31,990. The only major feature you can't get from the factory is a navigation system.
A comparably equipped Odyssey or Grand Caravan would cost about $1,000 more. A comparably equipped Sienna would cost about $4,000 more.
That's at least four more trips to Sea World. Tell Shamu we said hello.