Review and photos by
Jil McIntosh, CanadianDriver.com
Despite the rising popularity of SUVs and CUVs, and the discontinuation of minivans by a few manufacturers, I might well paraphrase Mark Twain in that any reports of their demise are far from accurate. Honda, Nissan and Toyota have all released redesigns of their vans, while my tester, the Kia Sedona, undergoes numerous changes for 2011.
The most noticeable one is a new engine, a 3.5-litre V6 that replaces the previous 3.8-litre V6. Horsepower rises significantly, while torque falls slightly: the new engine produces 271 horsepower in place of the previous 244, and torque is now 248 lb.-ft., versus the 253 lb.-ft. of the 3.8-litre. As is usual these days, fuel economy improves despite the rise in pony-power. The new engine is rated at 11.5 L/100 km (25 mpg Imp) in the city and 8.0 (35) on the highway; in combined winter driving, I averaged 12.3 (23).
Other changes include stability and traction control now standard on all models – these used to be unavailable on the base trim line – along with a new grille, standard Bluetooth connectivity (but don’t drive and talk anyway), and new standard features on the various trims. Pricing starts at $27,995 for the base LX model, while my top-line tester, the EX-Luxury, was $39,995. A navigation system, which can only be added to the EX-Luxury, is an additional $1,000.
The Sedona competes in a field that isn’t quite as crowded as it used to be, although there are still several worthy competitors. Only the base versions of the Dodge Grand Caravan, at $22,995, and the base front-wheel drive Toyota Sienna, at $27,900, undercut the least-expensive Sedona, and only the Grand Caravan, and its siblings Chrysler Town & Country and Volkswagen Routan, out-power it at 283 horses. (At the time of writing, pricing hadn’t been announced for the 2011 Nissan Quest.) The Dodge/Chrysler minivans are the only ones to offer fold-into-the-floor or swiveling second-row seats, and Toyota is the only one available with a four-cylinder engine or, with the V6, an all-wheel drive option – but all of the vans are similar in size and, depending on the trim lines, offer most of the expected features such as rear-seat entertainment systems and power-operated doors and liftgate. Missing from the list is the Sedona’s twin, the Hyundai Entourage, which is now sold only to fleets and is not available to consumers.
While it’s hard to do anything too radical to a shoebox, the Sedona’s design is smooth and clean and the chrome-ringed grille, now the signature for Kia vehicles, suits it nicely. The 17-inch wheels, body-colour door handles and fog lights are part of the EX family of trim levels. The EX Power, one notch below my EX-Luxury, adds power-sliding doors, power liftgate, and power-adjustable pedals. While not absolutely necessary, those electric doors are very nice when running errands. When you open them with the key fob, young passengers can scramble in while you’re loading items into the cargo area, without having to put down your packages first to open the liftgate or, for smaller children, open the doors for them.
The Sedona’s engine feels wickedly strong. I’d just gotten out of a less-powerful vehicle and so gave the throttle some firm foot when the red light turned green. To my surprise, I got a burst of wheelspin before the traction control took over. The Sedona is so eager that it’s sometimes tough to accelerate moderately away from a stop, but on the other hand, its performance when loaded with passengers is quite satisfactory, and that is the idea of a minivan, after all. The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly, and includes a manual mode on the gearshift lever. Such a program is often handy on lesser-powered vans for extra oomph when passing traffic or climbing hills, but the Sedona has more than enough when left in Drive. In this case, its use will mostly be for those who are trying to forget that they’re driving a minivan instead of a sports car.
The steering was lighter than I generally like, although my husband preferred it, since he frequently suffers pain in his shoulders and so doesn’t like too much steering effort. I expect the steering weight will also be popular with much of its target audience when spinning it around tight parking lots. Still, it’s a big van, and the back-up camera came in very handy during a jaunt to the mall at the height of the holiday season, a time when it seems like every person on the planet forgets the purpose of those parking-lot lines and it’s necessary to get creative when squeezing into the last spot. The exterior mirrors also tip down when the transmission is put into reverse, which also helps considerably for staying between the lines.
The ride is quite smooth, but while you don’t feel most of the bumps, you certainly hear them, along with quite a bit of road racket. The Sedona is a noisy van and gives the impression that there was some skimping on the sound-deadening material. It cheapened the driving experience, especially in a model equipped with several luxury features.
Heated leather seats are included with the EX-Luxury, their power adjustment operated by a Mercedes-style set of switches on the door. I found them quite comfortable, even on a two-hour drive. The second-row captain’s chairs fold and tumble forward for access to the third row and can be removed entirely if desired for extra cargo space, although it’s not an easy task to unlatch them and then lift these heavy units out. I was fine in the second row for a short stint, although an adult passenger who rode in them a little longer said he found them a little too firm for his liking. The third-row bench seat is very hard on the butt. It’s divided into two sections, each of which folds separately and completely flat into the cargo well at the rear of the vehicle. It takes a bit of practice to get the fold-up-fold-down sequence right the first time, even with the instructions printed on the seats, but once you have the hang of it, it’s easy to do.
The Sedona’s cabin is a bit more plasticky-looking than some of its rivals, but for the most part it’s put together well, with even gaps and good panel fit. As with all minivans, cubbies abound. There’s a tray between the front seats that can be folded down, and when it is, it’s possible to walk from the front seats right through to the third-row bench, allowing parents to park the vehicle and tend to children without having to open the doors and get out – a nice touch during inclement weather.
For the most part, the controls are simple to figure out and use, especially the stereo, which is equipped with Sirius satellite radio on the Luxury trim level. That model also has automatic climate control, although I had to keep remembering that the temperature was controlled by a toggle switch; I always seemed to reach for the large dial, which instead looked after the fan speed. The rear-seat climate can either be handled by the second-row passengers themselves, or if smaller children are back there, from the front panel. The only real negative for the climate system was in the small handles used to open and close the panel vents. They were hard to move and, since they folded almost flat when the vents were closed, it was difficult to open the vents again; you must wedge a fingernail under them to pull them up. Most of the controls were backlit at night, but not the passenger’s lock button and window switch, which could benefit from some illumination.
Controls for the power sliding doors, power liftgate and sunroof are clustered into the overhead console, and they’re nice and simple. I especially like the pictographs that indicate if you’re tilting, sliding or closing the sunroof, which makes it easy to select the right one. The power liftgate can be deactivated from this console as well, if desired, should you not want small children able to open it easily.
The Sedona comes with the longest warranty of its rivals: five years or 100,000 km on almost everything. All of the others cover the powertrain for that long, but their comprehensive coverage is only three years or 60,000 km (four years or 80,000 for Routan).
Finding the “right” minivan can often be tougher than finding the “right” car, because much depends on how much abuse the van is going to take. If it’s going to be predominantly a long-term A-to-B vehicle, stuffed with muddy boots and messy snacks, then something like the base Grand Caravan, at $5,000 less than the base Sedona, might be the best choice for the wallet. Should it be more about adults wanting a comfortable ride with lots of luggage space – and you simply can’t beat a minivan for a road trip – then a pricier, most luxurious model may be the ticket. Either way, don’t miss the Sedona when making up your test-drive list. For its price and performance, it’s more than worthy of a second look.
Pricing: 2011 Kia Sedona EX Luxury
Base price: $39,995
Options: $ 150 (Metallic paint)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $41,895
Crash test results
Jil McIntosh is a freelance writer, a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and Assistant Editor for CanadianDriver.com. Her personal website can be found at http://www.JilMcIntosh.com