Driving a minivan is the equivalent of donning the cone of shame and then pinning a scarlet letter to your breast while crutching your way to high school because there is nothing else to lean on when it’s time to hobble over to the mall. You drove it because you had to, and for that you resented your parents, because who in their right mind buys a minivan over a Suburban? There’s nothing sexy about a minivan, nor is there anything notably masculine about them. The minivan stands tall as the headstone for the death of the station wagon, and for that reason alone it never received a lot of respect in my book.
But a few years back all of that started to change, when the Sienna suddenly stopped sucking, and the Odyssey got rid of those oversized eyes. Modern day minivans became the transformers of automobiles, and are now far more utilitarian in certain ways than an SUV ever could be. They may still have the minivan makeup, but underneath they certainly are a cut above what once was deemed seriously uncool.
When our 2015 Kia Sedona SXL showed up the other day, I was curious to see what Kia had done to make this family hauler such a desirable option for anyone with kids. So I holstered my ego, hopped behind the wheel, and changed my entire outlook on what a minivan is forever.
Never, in all of my years have I felt more domesticated as a husband, father, and home owner. It felt so wrong enjoying this thing, but at the same time it felt so right, because there was so much in the Sedona that was right-on. While it may not be my style of family machine, it is almost a complete spot-on example of what a minivan should be.
So grab your Big-Gulps, put your trapper-keepers in the back, and fire up your Gameboys kids, because we’re about to take a trip into the roomy world of minivans, with Kia as our gracious host for the day.
The Kia Sedona once was just as ugly as every other minivan out there, and its refresh for the 2015 model year is the first for it since this grocery-getter initially went on sale right after the Y2K Bug got squashed flat. It’s a sharp-looking car too, with its LED positioning lamps, spoiler, angular lines, and Optima nose dispelling any preconceived notions one might have of this car looking homely.
Aesthetically, virtually everything on this car is tight and functional, from the concave gauge pods and switches to the seat stitching and slick-looking lower air dam. It’s obvious that this is a well thought-out minivan, and you can tell that Kia intentionally made this car angular and masculine to attract a wider variety of buyer. Nowhere on this vehicle is there an overly feminine touch, and even though it has tons of creature comforts, you feel like this is the sharp side of family hauling, with the 4.3-inch touch screen reminding you that the future is at your fingertips.
There was a lot of the Kia K900 in this thing too, especially in the upholstery department. Ride-wise the suspension was firm but not jolting, the brakes were sufficiently stiff, and the steering, while not sporty by any means, was a pleasant surprise, delivering respectable response for being the equivalent of the Hippo in the car kingdom. Sure, its 276 horsepower 3.3-liter V6 is a hair undersized, and I can see it struggling with a carload of kids on board, but for around town it is totally acceptable.
So what about the practicality of the Sedona? You can have the world’s sharpest-looking minivan, but the minute mom realizes the third row doesn’t have enough room for a dozen juice boxes, all bets are off. Kia really outdid themselves when it came time to design the Sedona’s interior, from the reclining “First Class Lounge Seating” captain chairs to the spacious fold-flat third row this thing shines, with stow spaces and charging ports everywhere you look.
Some of my favorite features on the top-tier SXL model were the power sliding doors and rear hatch, power-folding mirrors, dual sunroofs, and Multi Information Display (MID), which tells you typical things like digital speeds, but also what speed your wipers are in, and at which level the headlights were being switched over to. Throw in surprisingly good visibility, a trunk integrated pop-out flashlight, lane-keep assist, forward collision warning, smart cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, cameras at every corner, Xenon headlamps, and integrated roof racks and we’ve got a van that is both safe and smart.
At no point did I find myself dreading taking this car out for a quick spin or a grocery run. Its Nappa leather seats had three cooling and heating settings, the separate rear AC system cranked out icicles so my kid never broke a sweat, the remote keyless entry worked like a charm on every door, the UVO infotainment always delivered the goods and was easy to navigate, and the Infinity surround sound system was superb. The rear windows roll almost all the way down too, and the feeling you get when blowing down a remote road with both sunroofs retracted and all four windows unrolled is hard to explain when you step out and realize what you were just driving.
But despite its Kia price-point (the SXL model came to us with a tech package at $43,295), surprisingly sharp styling, acceptable drivability/enjoyability, and utilitarian demeanor, there certainly are some flaws: We’ll start with the most basic of the bunch, and that is its drivetrain. Sure, it performs just fine and even took us pleasantly by surprise a few times, but what about when the chips are down and a pop-up snow squall hits while you are shopping with your kids? There is no worse feeling for a parent than the fear of not being able to get your children home safely because you opted for a car that does not come equipped with all-wheel drive. This isn’t just about the Sedona either, but all minivans, because save for the Toyota Sienna, no one else makes an AWD-equipped minivan.
Interior oversights were minimal but noticeable, starting with the difficulty one encounters when moving those First Class Lounge Seats. If a six-foot guy like myself struggles to slide them around, you better believe kids and moms are going to have quite the workout trying to get them re-positioned. Oh, and since they are not removable, don’t expect a lay-flat cabin like you find in the Odyssey with this one.
While the interior layout was pretty damn intuitive for the driver, there were some issues with unintentional volume and MID scrolling, as the steering wheel-mounted control wheels are a hair sensitive. Unlike traditional buttons, all it takes is one accidental brush of the wrist and those Infinity audio components will go from crisp to crushing, and with a child sleeping in the back that’s never a good thing. There also was not a single sunglasses holster to be found in the Sedona, which is an industry-wide oversight a surprising amount of drivers complain about.
Other oversights included the automatic liftgate, which likes to occasionally open when you walk past with a key in your pocket, unknowingly annoying you as it tries to help make your life easier. Also, since the rear HVAC controls are only on the passenger side, putting a child seat in its usual position will prevent passengers on the driver’s side from controlling the rear temp. Plus, whoever thought it was a good idea to put a “Sportmatic” gear selector in a minivan needs to go get their head checked, because even if it did add some performance (which it doesn’t) I cannot think of a single mother who would use a feature like this when driving. Moms don’t rev-match guys, they color match.
But despite its setbacks, overall I was surprisingly pleased with what I discovered about both the Sedona and myself by driving it around for a week. Its a sharp machine for sure, and while it could stand to have a bigger engine thrown at it (the 3.3-liter struggles a hair under load, and is even worse with a full cabin), the overall balance of this van is far superior to what you might expect. So if Kia swaps in a tighter steering rack, installs some softer suspension, offers top-tier models with AWD, and fixes the aforementioned oversights, they are going to have one hell of a minivan for all other manufacturers to fear. Which is even more proof that Korean carmakers are growing stronger with each update they make.