The running joke in our house is that until cryogenic freezing is available over the counter, a van is the best way to take the kids on long trips.
That front-wheel-drive minivans are more spacious and practical than SUVs is beyond doubt. Devoid of all-wheel-drive hardware, the minivans use nifty platforms that swallow seats in deep wells, leaving a huge cabin that rivals some downtown condo units. Minivans work because the more kids you can seat in three rows, the quieter the trek will be (without medication).
Canadians still have a soft spot for minivans. We’ve been assembling the segment-defining Chrysler minivans in Ontario since their inception in 1983. Unfortunately, production of the Dodge Grand Caravan as a whole will end this month, but the new Pacifica will continue.
Minivans accounted for just 3.2% of vehicle sales in Canada in 2019. Ford and General Motors retired their minivans years ago, as did Nissan with its quirky Quest. The Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey continue to evolve and find takers.
After years of watching others eat their lunch in the segment, Kia has revamped its Sedona minivan for 2015. It’s back sleeker, shinier and way cooler than its predecessor, so much so that it might just be the best-looking family van with sliding doors.
Designed to impress, the Sedona no longer has to rely on rock-bottom monthly payments. Kia has specified plenty of high-strength steel for its all-new platform, which, along with structural adhesives and large-diameter welds, has increased torsional stiffness by 36% over any rival van. These changes, along with numerous sound deadening materials, make the Sedona one of the quietest vans on the market.
The new Sedona has been molded a few centimeters shorter overall, on a wheelbase stretched almost 4 centimeters. The rigid platform combined with the multi-link rear suspension provides better ride and handling characteristics. Surprisingly, the engineers retained a hydraulic power steering system rather than adopting a more efficient electric steering assist.
More space between the axles should provide more room for passengers, and there’s more legroom for middle-row occupants, but the third row and cargo area feel a little pinched. The split-folding third-row seat and the well into which it collapses are smaller than those of the Odyssey and Sienna. Most models offer a three-seat center row of seats, although SX models offer a pair of reclining captain’s chairs with extendable legrests.
The dash is neat, but Kia likes to position the buttons in even rows, which doesn’t always feel intuitive. Climate controls can be confusing, at least at first. Serial minivan buyers might be surprised by the fixed console between the front seats. Traditionally, this space was left clear in minivans, allowing moms to easily get to the back seats to do justice to serious harm. Newer vans offer flexible consoles and trays that can be removed as needed. At least the Sedona unit can chill drinks.
Powertrain and updates
The sole powertrain is an all-aluminum 3.3L direct-injected V6 good for 276 horsepower and 248 lb-ft. of torque, working through a conventional six-speed automatic transmission – the same combo shared with Kia’s sport-ute Sorento.
In U.S. government crash tests, the Sedona earned the highest rating of five stars for overall crash protection, with five stars for full frontal crash safety and five stars for side crash safety. . The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Sedona its highest rating of “good” in its crash tests.
While the Sedona appeared largely unchanged throughout its third-generation production run, it received a number of minor equipment upgrades to keep it competitive. 2016 models got a rear-view camera standard, while 2017 introduced Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with more standard features trickling down to cheaper versions.
A mid-cycle refresh for 2019 included updated front and rear styling that barely registered with passers-by. Notably, the minivan replaced its aging six-speed automatic with an eight-speed unit. New options included a wireless smartphone charger, Harman Kardon audio system, rear seat entertainment system, electronic parking brake, and driver attention monitor.
Driving the Sedona
Kia’s minivan handles well in traffic and on the road, the little V-6 pulling hard in most situations, although passing on a two-lane highway can get a bit hairy if the van is completely charged. Zero to 97 km/h is achieved in 7.4 seconds, which is roughly equal to the course of the segment leaders.
Thanks to its stiff platform, the Sedona rides confidently, with the suspension benefiting from the granite foundation. There’s no denying that the minivan feels big and heavy, as evidenced by the distant sound of 19-inch tires pounding the expansion joints of a bridge span. Four-wheel disc brakes eliminate speeding effortlessly and better than most minivans.
Where the Sedona disappoints most, according to owners, is its penchant for fuel. Drivers typically report around 14.5 L/100 km in the city and 11 L/100 km on the highway. In our own extended road test, which took us to Florida a few years ago, we averaged 10.2 L/100 km at super-legal speeds. The 2019 and newer Sedona should be slightly more frugal thanks to the eight-speed automatic transmission.
Owners talk about reliability
There’s no doubt that SUVs dominate sales these days, making the venerable breadbox with sliding doors an anachronistic choice for families who want plenty of room for passengers and cargo. Still, there is nothing to apologize for. Sedona buyers get a refined V-6 engine and a nicely appointed cabin that can accommodate seven or eight long-haul passengers.
You’d expect a vehicle with a five-year factory warranty to be reliable, and Kia delivers plenty. There were no devastating issues that plagued the Sedona property for buyers, although there were a series of minor electrical issues worth noting.
The most common issues are reported with the lighting system, which may turn off intermittently when using the turn signals. The fault sometimes appears when the headlights are set to Auto mode. Others blame a sensitive alternator or poor battery that needs early replacement.
Likewise, power sliding doors can sometimes fail to lock properly, allowing the doors to open while driving. The doors lock when operated manually. A few owners had to replace the motors powering the doors – a big expense after warranty.
Since the 3.3L V6 uses direct injection, Kia specifies frequent cleaning of the intake manifold to keep the engine running at its best. An owner warns buyers that if they skip regular cleaning, engine cylinder heads may need costly repair. Others note that the heavy-duty van quickly crushes its standard Hankook tires.
Overall, the Sedona is an attractive, value-laden, and worthy contender in the dwindling, but still relevant, minivan market. Although less than frugal, its smooth V-6 engine and transmission are durable companions over the long haul, and its rugged construction and good safety ratings inspire confidence. Respect the van, man.
BODY STYLE: Seven or eight passenger minibus
DRIVING METHOD: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, six- or eight-speed automatic transmission
MOTOR: 3.3-liter V6 (276 hp, 248 lb-ft)
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular) 12.7/9.9/11.3 L/100 km city/highway/combined
LOAD VOLUME: 960 liters (33.9 cu. ft.) behind third row
TOWING NOTE: 3,500 lbs. (1,588 kilograms)
THE PRICE: $15,500 (2015); $25,000 (2019)