Kia Sedona mixes crossover style, minivan utility

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Antuan Goodwin/CNET

I couldn't help but chuckle to myself when the Kia representative giving the predrive presentation referred to the Sedona as "the un-van." No doubt, he was referring to the new "European-inspired styling similar to that of a CUV," but from the A-pillars back, the 2015 Kia Sedona SXL is about as minivan as they come... not that that's a bad thing.

Powerful engine meets heavy chassis

The new nose isn't the only thing that's more like a CUV. Behind the fascia is the same 3.3-liter Lambda V-6 engine that powers the Sorento crossover. Using a combination of gasoline direct injection (GDI), variable induction, and variable valve timing, the V-6 outputs a stated 276 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers put the Kia near the top of its class where power is concerned, but only neck-and-neck with the rest where torque is concerned. Power is nice to brag about, but torque makes the real performance difference when loaded up with kids and cargo.

That engine is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission that features a manual-shift mode. The gearbox is called the "Sport-Matic," but doesn't feature a specific Sport mode.

Though every 2015 Sedona features the same V-6/six-speed/front-drive configuration, not every Sedona is created equally where efficiency is concerned. This is because the top SX and SX Limited (SXL) trim levels make use of electric power steering to turn the front wheels, but tiers below (L, LX, and EX) make do with the old hydraulic power-steering system. Electric steering is more fuel efficient, so the Sedona SX has a slightly higher estimated fuel economy (18 city, 25 highway, 21 combined) than the EX and lower (18 city, 24 highway, and 21 combined).

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The Kia's 3.3L engine is powerful, but the Sedona SXL is one of the heaviest minivans in this class. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Though the SXL that I was able to test drive also makes use of the more efficient steering rack, it is the heaviest of the trim levels due to its additional equipment and heavier second-row seats. As a result, it also has the lowest estimated fuel economy at 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway, and 19 mpg combined. The extra mass also somewhat reduces the Sedona SXL's slight power advantage over Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. At about 4,720 pounds when fully loaded, the Sedona SXL is about 200 to 300 pounds more than most of its competitors.

After settling in behind the wheel, I noticed that the SXL also featured three selectable Drive Modes that are toggled via a button near the shifter lever. There's a Normal, baseline setting, a Comfort setting that lightens the steering effort and smooths out the shift program, and an Eco mode that adjusts throttle map for smoother inputs and better fuel economy at the expense of a bit of responsiveness.

Handles well...for a minivan

I was tasked with putting the Sedona SXL through its handling paces on a fairly twisty, fairly quick back road and found it to be composed around a bend. You could even describe it as "fun to drive," but only with the qualifying caveat "for a minivan." With a bit of help from the transmission's manual mode, I was able to eliminate powertrain's tendency to shift early and shift often in the name of fuel economy.

The Kia uses a suspension technology called Amplitude Selective Damping to help it balance a smooth ride with solid handling. This tech isn't unique to the Sedona, but it does allow valves in the minivan's shock absorbers react differently to sharp, brief inputs than it does to slow, progressive ones. The result is a suspension that can be softer when it needs to absorb bumps and cracks in the road, but will still resist compression while cornering. It's a pretty good compromise...for a minivan.

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The Sedona's suspension is designed to absorb bumps while remaining firm in the corners. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

However, most don't buy a minivans to blitz backroads, so the more sedate parts of my stint behind the wheel were probably more telling of the Sedona's natural behavior. When I relaxed my pace, the transmission's Eco shifting didn't bother me at all, and the 3.3-liter's reasonable low-end torque somewhat makes up for the transmission's slightly too-tall gearing at city speeds. The steering effort is light and easy, which makes freeway cruises nontaxing, and the ride was smooth, stable, and -- most importantly -- quiet at highway speeds.

The Sedona's Comfort mode further reduced the steering effort to the point where you could probably pilot the minivan through a parking deck with a single finger. However, I like a bit more weight and feeling in my steering and the lack of resistance seemed to require more small steering corrections to maintain my position in the lane at highway speeds. So, I avoided the Comfort mode for most of my test. Your mileage may vary depending on your tastes.

The average driver also probably won't notice the increased chassis stiffness that Kia claims for the 2015 model, but they may notice that the Sedona feels a lot more like a large sedan around corners and during emergency lane changes than their mom's old minivan ever did. I should note that during my short test the Sedona was only loaded up with myself and my co-driver, and that acceleration, braking, and handling characteristics are bound to change when the minivan is loaded up with people or cargo.

Slide-and-stow second row

Speaking of people and cargo, the Sedona's behind-the-driver cargo area of 142 cubic feet falls just a bit short of the claimed capacity of the Honda Odyssey (148.5 cubic feet) and Toyota Sienna (150 cubic feet). To counter, Kia claims that it takes better advantage of the space that it offers with a nice wide rear hatch opening and minimal intrusions into the rear space. The Kia cargo hold is still cavernous with all of its seats tucked out of the way, but those looking for maximum capacity will no doubt notice the numbers.

Most of the 2015 Sedona models feature Kia's new Slide-and-stow second-row seats, which fold vertically as they slide forward, pressing flatly against the back of the front buckets to allow access the third row or to make room for cargo. Drivers can opt for a center bench between the second row buckets, transforming the 7-seater into an 8-seater.

In place of the Slide-and-stow seats, our SXL example was equipped with reclining Lounge Seats on the second row that featured fold-out ottomans. These seats are able to slide forward and backward on their floor rails, but can also shift inboard toward the centerline and out toward the doors with the tug of a lever. Moving inboard grants the seat-backs a bit more clearance and more severe recline angle. Moving them outboard leaves space between the recliners for elbow room and center access to the third row.

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The reclining second-row seats are able to slide forward, backward, and from side to side. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The heavy lounge seats are likely a large part of the reason for the SXL's lower fuel economy than the SX and, in my opinion, required a good deal of effort to move around on their rails. On the contrary, the plastic levers that unlocked the seat's various adjustments seemed a bit flimsy and flexible and I felt I needed to be careful not to break one.

On the upside, the lounge seats were extremely comfortable -- so comfortable, in fact, that I fell soundly asleep in one, even as my co-driver sawed away at the wheel during his turn at the helm and over the Santa Cruz Mountains. Fully reclined with my legs up and some smooth jazz on the premium audio system, the loungers are the best seat in this Kia's house.

Whether you go Slide-and-stow or lazy loungers, behind the third row is a recessed floor that, with the pull of a strap, the seats can fold into, presenting a flat loading floor. I was also able to fit my 5-foot-9-inch frame into the third row, but ultimately legroom depends on the position of the second row, ranging from fairly comfortable to none at all.

Additionally, the fabric surfaces of the 2015 Kia Sedona's interior have undergone a YES Essentials anti-stain and anti-microbial treatment to help them stay clean and sanitary as the miles roll on.

New UVO eServices

We've talked about the Kia UVO infotainment and navigation system a few times before, and at this point, I almost feel guilty about gushing over how much I like it. The 8-inch touchscreen interface is well-designed and easy to navigate; the navigation is simple; and the excellent voice control is a good fit for busy parents who already have one eye on the road and the other on the kids in the way-back.

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The UVO infotainment system is familiar, but gains a few new features. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The Sedona does offer a few new features that we've not seen before in a Kia UVO system. Joining the Web-connected UVO eServices feature set are new Geo-fencing, Speed Alert, Curfew Alert and Driving Score functions. These features will allow owners to keep a virtual eye on their minivan and immediately know, for example, when their teenager is driving at an unapproved time, place, or manner.

The Sedona also features the Kia App store, which allows a handful of approved apps to be downloaded from the iTunes or Google Play stores. App partners include the usual suspects of Pandora, iHeart Radio, and Yelp.

The Sedona's noteworthy tech is rounded out by an optional Surround View Monitor camera system that is invaluable when piloting the large van into tight spots, as well as power sliding side doors, and a smart power liftgate that can be set to automatically open after a few moments when the driver approaches the rear of the vehicle with the key fob in pocket. The system is totally hands-free, which is useful for those times when your hands are full.

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The optional surround camera system is invaluable for precision parking. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Pricing

In the US, the 2015 Sedona starts at a base MSRP of $25,900 for the L and works its way up to a $39,700 starting price for the SX Limited. Our example was pretty close to fully loaded with a variety options, including a $2,700 Technology package that adds adaptive cruise control, lane-departure and forward-collision-warning systems, HID headlamps, and the aforementioned Surround View Monitor, bringing us to a lofty as-tested price of $42,995.

Pricing and availability for the 2015 Sedona in the UK and Australia (where it is known as the Carnival) was not available at the time of publication.

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2015 Kia Sedona

Part Number: 200674306
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