Preview Drive: 2006 Kia Sedona

Mid-season redesign of Korean-built minivan is bigger, yet more economical to run, with added safety features

by James M. Flammang

2006 Kia Sedona

DEL MAR, California - Kia first introduced a minivan to the U.S. market in 2001, as a 2002 model. Equipped with a 3.8-liter V-6, the first-generation Sedona carried on Kia's tradition of offering features comparable to such competitors as Toyota and Honda, but at a substantially lower price. Except for marginal fuel-economy ratings, the Sedona ranked as a satisfying minivan.

In its second generation, the Sedona has shed some 400 pounds. The South Korean automaker advises that fuel-economy ratings have increased by 13 percent, to 18-mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway.

While the first generation came only in a single size, the latest Sedona will give buyers a choice. The long-wheelbase version goes on sale first, as a midseason 2006 model. In September, a short-wheelbase model, about a foot shorter overall, will join the lineup.

Yumi Takayama, the Sedona's product strategy manager, promises class-leading safety and horsepower, along with a "completely redesigned platform." Passenger volume is 15-percent greater in the new Sedona, which is longer and wider than its predecessor.

Wearing a distinctive new grille, the Sedona features power windows in its sliding doors - an uncommon feature in minivans. A 60/40-split fold-into-the-floor third-row seat is standard. Fourteen drink holders are provided - two for each occupant. Tri-zone climate control makes for a satisfying interior environment, and three 12-volt outlets are provided for accessory devices.

Under the hood, an all-new 3.8-liter V-6 engine develops 244 horsepower at 6,000 rpm (up 20 percent), plus 253 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. The five-speed automatic transmission incorporates Sportmatic for manually-selected gear changes.

Gordon Dickie, Kia's director of product quality, notes that the Sedona's suspension is "uniquely tuned to the North American market." All-disc antilock braking is now standard rather than optional. A full complement of six airbags includes a full-length (three-row) curtain. Electronic Stability Control and traction control round out the helpful features in the Sedona, which comes only with front-wheel drive.

Sedanlike Qualities Add To Sedona's Appeal On the Road

From the first moment behind the wheel, the Sedona doesn't feel much like a minivan. Road behavior is actually more like that of a good, not-quite-sporty sedan.

Steering with a rather light touch, the quite-refined Sedona reveals virtually no sensation of disconnectedness. In fact, it feels impressively confident even on continuous twisty two-lanes. You won't want to push it beyond limits, but up to a reasonable point (and a bit beyond) this minivan behaves solidly.

Unleashing abundant power even on upgrades, the Sedona delivers strong acceleration from startup. Performance also is good (though not stunning) when passing/merging. Expect to hear a snarl during hard acceleration, but it's not an unpleasant sound. Otherwise, the Sedona is enjoyably quiet-running. Automatic-transmsission gears glide in smoothly, rather than shifting crisply or curtly.

While the Sedona's ride may not exactly qualify as luxuriant, it's not too far removed from that state on good roads. All told, it rides as comfortably as nearly any minivan.

In the base-model LX, particularly comfortable and well-cushioned seats have long bottoms and offer good support, especially for thighs. Leather seat bottoms, as experienced in an EX model, seem noticeably shorter but still provide good support. Especially easy-to-read white-on-black gauges include a large 130-mph speedometer in the center, accompanied by an 8000-rpm tachometer to its left. The gearshift lever sits on the upper console.

No ergonomics issues present difficulties for the driver, unlike the first-generation Sedona, which had some entry/exit difficulty. Two handy gloveboxes add to the minivan's storage capabilities. Big mirrors help visibility. So does ample glass, despite the Sedona's wide pillars.

Second-row seats remove easily enough, though 60 pounds is a lot to lift. The third-row seat stows easily into the floor, in a three-step process.

Despite its 17-inch tires, no significant difference in ride or handling was noticeable in a step-up EX model.

A Sedona LX can be driven home for $22,995 (plus $670 destination charge). That figure includes a CD player, cruise control, 16-inch tires, and removable second-row captain's chairs. Moving up to the EX edition escalates the sticker price to $25,595, but includes such extras as alloy wheels, foglamps, and power heated mirrors. Power and Luxury option packages are available.

Ian Beavis, vice-president of marketing, calls the Sedona a "world-class minivan for world-class parents." Primary prospects are 25-49 years old, college educated, with a household income of $65-75,000 per year. Beavis also emphasizes a secondary market of "active empty-nesters," noting that half of all minivan purchasers are over 50.

At Kia's media presentation in California, Len Hunt, recently named executive vice-president and COO, pointed to the company's "12 successive years of growth." Kia sold more than 275,000 vehicles in the U.S. during 2005. About 50,000 Sedonas are expected to reach U.S. customers during 2006, growing to 60,000 per year later.

In its "Auto Bill of Rights," Kia asserts that "a great car is no longer a privilege, it's every driver's right." Furthermore, said Hunt, "we're going to make the brand a lot more sporty."

© All contents copyright 2006 by Tirekicking Today
Text and photos by James M. Flammang
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