The 2006 Kia Sedona was designed by studying every other minivan in the class, choosing the best features, and improving them. It uses a new high-tech V6 engine that more than matches the Odyssey in power, a responsive new five-speed automatic transmission, and a sophisticated and steady suspension.
From the outside, the all-new Sedona looks classy and stylish. Inside, there's seven-passenger seating with seats that easily collapse to create a vast cargo space. Every cabin convenience known to man is either standard or available; there are storage spaces everywhere you turn, and no fewer than 14 cupholders. And the Sedona achieves five-star crash certification, all for a base price of $22,995.
Kia Sedona LX ($22,995); Sedona EX ($25,595)
The sheetmetal has been carefully sculpted. A crease tapers down from the steeply sloping windshield to the grille, falling between the big wedge-shaped headlights and the small sharp corners of two horizontal grille openings, long black slots with a single chrome strip in each, and Kia badge in center. The fascia/bumper under the grille is thick, with an air intake having cage-like slats to keep out the stones and slow buzzards. Tidy foglamps surround the intake, inside cavities that sweep up at the corners to match the lines of the headlamps.
The wheelwell flares are especially nicely done. They don't go out of their way to be noticed, by being bigger than they need to be; they carry just the right squared-off but smooth edges. They're sculpted by the same knife that carved the beltline running from the headlamps to taillights. The six-spoke 16-inch wheels are nothing special, but the optional 17-inch wheels, beautiful in brushed alloy with 12 spokes, send a message that this minivan has style.
The sides of the Sedona aren't too busy, given all they have to do; dings are caught by a low, thick, body-colored horizontal strip, and there's a necessary gash under each third window for the sliding rear doors. The trailing edge of that third window matches the modest slope of the roofline.
From the rear, the Sedona loses some style; it could be any minivan. It's simply functional, with a big rear window and taillights whose shape matches the lines of the rest of the vehicle.
The all-new 2006 Kia Sedona is roomier than last year's model. The slightly increased wheelbase, length and width have brought 15 percent more passenger space. Third-row 60/40 bench seating is standard, with two bucket seats in the second row. Initially, all 2006 Sedonas will be seven-seaters, but a short-wheelbase five-seater is expected in fall 2006.
The area behind the third row seat is recessed for secure storage; grocery bags won't slide around so much. The third-row seat folds flat into the floor, and the second-row seats fold (although not flat) with the touch of a finger; each seatback folds down, and then the seat flips up so it squeezes against the front seatback. Or they can be easily removed to create a carpeted cargo van with 142 cubic feet of space.
Each of the three rows of seats gets its own climate control. The windows along the second row actually lower and raise at the press of a button, giving your passengers real live fresh air and a tactile view.
The optional power sliding doors and liftgate, triggered on the instrument panel or remote key fob, are a wonderful convenience.
The Sedona pilot feels like the master of her or his domain, looking down on the vast and functional center stack with all its controls, including a big leather-wrapped shift knob. This is a much better location than between the seats. The center stack in our fully loaded EX was finished in a soft, dark simulated wood that looks way better than the hard, shiny real wood found in many luxury cars. All the main controls are there and easy to click, square black buttons with easily read white lettering, along with business-like black air vents. There are more controls on the steering wheel (audio and cruise control) and driver's door, including the power seat adjustment in the shape of a seat, copied from Mercedes-Benz, and a fuel door button.
The power seat extends farther back than the standard manual seat, offering more legroom. We co-drove an LX with a six-foot-four fellow, whose legs were cramped in the manual seat. That cloth interior in the LX was okay, but the gray leather in our own test model EX was beautiful and supple, and the front seats provided excellent bolstering.
With the center stack containing all the controls, including the first two of a total of 14 cupholders (one for each hand of each passenger), the space between the front seats is used for a sideways flip-up tray/console, containing the third, fourth, fifth and sixth cupholders.
Storage includes two glove compartments, one in the face of the dash, and a larger one at knee level, containing a bin, a big slot for CDs, and a hole for a cellphone. Got more CDs than that? There's another flip-down compartment at the very bottom of the center stack, a sunglasses holder overhead, wide door pockets, compartments and cupholders for the second- and third-row passengers.
Visibility out the back is especially good, an important contribution to safety, because the rear window is as big as it can be, and the headrests over the five rear seats sink down to the tops of the seats. And if there are kids back there, there's a convex mirror on the headliner so you can keep an eye on them, and yell at them before they do the things that will cause you to yell at them.
Our EX was equipped with the $1700 Entertainment System, including a DVD player and 13-speaker Infinity audio system. We expected some sensational surround-sound, but were disappointed in the richness, depth and volume of the system, playing both the radio and CDs.
The Sedona uses a new, 3.8-liter, double-overhead-cam V6 engine with an aluminum block and head, and variable valve timing; it makes 244 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque, the most in the class. It uses a smooth five-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode, called Sportmatic.
We drove our luxury-optioned EX for four days, from San Diego east into the desert, and back over remote winding roads. We left town with the Friday getaway crowd, going with the flow at 85 miles per hour, and the engine smoothly kept pace with the speedy Californians, just loping along at 2600 rpm while getting nearly 20 miles per gallon. The Sedona was stable in crosswinds at that speed, past the churning windmills near Palm Springs. We let it run up to 95 once, and it was steady, smooth and quiet.
Despite being larger than the previous version, the 2006 Sedona weighs 400 pounds less, thanks to use of aluminum in its construction. Its lighter weight improves handling as well as acceleration. But it's still no lightweight, and it didn't always feel like it had 253 pound-feet of torque, as the five-speed automatic transmission kicked down a lot under pressure, for example, when running up a long steep grade with the cruise control set at 79 miles per hour.
On the way back to the city the next day, over the twisty two-lane, the Sedona was impressive in the curves, with power rack-and-pinion steering. Kia's marketing motto is the power to surprise, and it fits here. We drove with a lot more spirit than your average minivan pilot, and found the turn-in to be precise, with no false moves. For safety, there's some built-in understeer, meaning you sometimes have to feed more steering into a corner as you speed around it, but if it were any more direct it might be darty.
The suspension kept pace with our cornering, allowing very little body lean. The only chink in its armor appeared when zooming over a rise in the road, beginning at maybe 45 miles per hour, as the front wheels wanted to hang. But when the Sedona settled, it stuck with no wallow. At the other end of the road, in the dips, it felt just fine.
We used the disc brakes pretty hard too, and they felt as good as the suspension.
The Sportmatic manual mode in the transmission was a pleasure. We have the feeling that drivers designed this new Sedona: Brits, in fact. We downshifted for corners and manually upshifted, and the transmission did exactly what we asked it do, and rarely any more. The lever fit nicely in the heel of our hand.
The engine sometimes sounded a bit harsh under hard acceleration at low rpm, but now we're nit-picking, which is a compliment of sorts, because that's what happens with high-quality vehicles. At idle, it's so quiet that we once tried to start it when it was already running.
The all-new Kia Sedona is a great-looking minivan with a V6 engine having the most power in the class, and a suspension that's second to none. The interior is well thought out, with standard seven-passenger seating, easily convertible to a carpeted cargo van, while providing an abundance of storage compartments. The Sedona lacks nothing, except all-wheel drive. It sends a clear signal that the Korean carmaker intends to be a player, and it proves that Kia has the engineering expertise to build excellent cars.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from San Diego, California.