When Kia first arrived in the U.S. in 1994, it did so with just a single, inexpensive car that was sold only in several states out West. From those humble beginnings, Kia has now grown to nearly 600 dealers nationwide, become a part of Hyundai, and offers six distinct models. The latest Kia to hit the streets is a new minivan called Sedona. And unlike some import minivans, the Sedona looks very much like its U.S. made rivals. But, given the intense competition in our minivan market, can Kia haul away enough buyers?
Well, it can, if buyers keep an open mind and are prepared to shop features and value over brand names. We doubt that distinct styling will be a deciding issue, however. As we said, the long-hood, two-box 2002 Kia Sedona looks very familiar, like a slightly smaller Ford Windstar.
Indeed the Sedona’s 114.6-inch wheelbase, and overall length of 194.1-inches, fits right between extended people movers like Windstar, and regular length minivans like the Dodge Caravan. Width is 4 inches less than Caravan, so Sedona is at home on more global roads.
But the front drive Sedona’s engine bay is very American oriented. The only drivetrain starts with a 3.5-liter dual-overhead-cam V6. Borrowed from parent company Hyundai with Mitsubishi engine control, it produces a healthy 195 horsepower and 218 pound-feet of torque. But that torque travels through one more gear than the competition, as a 5-speed electronically-controlled transmission is standard. A gearbox that, along with that big V6, pulls the front-drive Sedona to 60 in a respectable 9.8-seconds. The 1/4 mile ends in 17.4 seconds, at 81 miles-per-hour. The V6 pulls strongly from a standing start, but flattens out quickly in the midrange and top end. The 5-speed transmission shifts very slowly, but with a smoothness that most minivan drivers will like.
They’ll like the unibody chassis construction as well. It’s very solid, and rides on a well tuned MacPherson strut front, and 5-link beam axle rear suspensions. Combined they give Sedona only moderate front plow, and smoother side-to-side weight transfers than many competitors. Though soft springs mean that there’s still plenty of that old minivan body roll. And, also like most rivals, the engine-speed sensitive power steering is slow, safe, and lacks feel.
Braking is by front discs and rear drums. With the optional ABS, our test van stopped from 60 in an average distance of 132 feet. Again, acceptable for its class. There is a fair bit of nose dive from those soft springs, but stability and pedal feel are very good.
Out in the real world of supermarkets and soccer games, the Sedona delivers a smooth, well connected ride. We judge power quite good for passing and entering crowded interstates. This is Kia’s stiffest platform yet and it feels as rigid as any competitor, and almost as economical. EPA fuel mileage estimates are a little low at 15 city/20 highway. But our average of 19 miles-per-gallon is typical for its species.
But there’s more to a minivan than just driving. Accommodations are even more important. The 7-passenger LX includes front and rear A/C, cruise, and power windows and locks. Our EX test van had a dabble of wood-grain trim on its handsome dash. The center stack includes the gear shift, a nice change from the column shifter in most competitors. Overall fit and finish was very good and way ahead of past Kias.
The EX’s front bucket seats were covered in available leather, sporting 8-way power adjustments for the driver, and 4-way power for the front passenger. The analog gauges are large and clear, as are the controls for our EX’s standard AM/FM/CD sound system and the idiot-proof heat and ventilation controls.
We liked the fact that the EX’s second-row captain’s chairs offer fore-and-aft movement, although leg and head room were still tight for 6-footers. On the other hand, leg room is fine for the rather flat third seat.
Both the second and third row seats fold easily, and are a snap to remove if you need a maximum of cargo space. Maximum meaning 127.5 cubic-feet. Pull just the third row, and there’s 70.6 cubic feet available. And with all seats in, a very usable 21.8 cubic-feet. The Sedona’s narrower posture puts these numbers slightly below competitors. But there is a big rear hatch, and standard dual sliding doors. However, don’t look for power assist. Muscle power is still needed here. Storage for much smaller items includes dual glove boxes, and a lockable bin under the front passenger seat, plus up to 10 cupholders.
Granted, you’ll need more than $10 to put a Sedona in your garage. But the base price of the Sedona LX is only $19,590; $21,590 for the very well-equipped EX. Add leather and ABS and the total comes to only $23,035. That’s nearly a grand less than a base Honda Odyssey LX. And then there’s Kia’s 10-year powertrain warranty.
So, even with a few rough edges, we found this people mover most appealing. The 2002 Kia Sedona is not just a good illustration of how far this spunky Korean car maker has come. The Sedona is also a good vehicle and a good buy, by any company’s standards. But will it haul away enough buyers to make Kia a permanent American family fixture at schools, the mall, and theme parks? We say yes!
Engine: 3.5-Liter Dohc V6.
Torque: 218 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 9.8 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 17.4seconds @ 81 MPH
60-0 MPH: 132 Feet
EPA Mileage: 15 MPG City 20 MPG Highway