- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2008

With a stronger engine, more features than ever and a roomier interior, the Kia Sedona is a much-improved minivan today compared with its first-generation model.

So, why isn’t the second-generation Sedona – with pleasing ride, attractive styling, comfortable seating for seven and top safety ratings – selling as well as its predecessor?

Chalk it up to pricing changes, less than stellar reliability and quality ratings, consumer obsession with gasoline mileage and, of course, the lackluster image that all minivans bear as “mom mobiles.”

When the seven-passenger Sedona originally debuted in the 2002 model year, it had the lowest starting price of any V-6-powered minivan on the U.S. market.

Today, while the 2008 Sedona is offered in a downsized version with short wheelbase that starts at $21,420, the Sedona models that are sized and equipped on a par with major minivan competitors have a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $24,320.

This is $1,850 more than the base, 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan with starting retail price of $22,470, and it’s a tad more than the Chrysler Town and Country with starting retail price of $24,185. In addition, the starting price tag for a 2008 Sedona long-wheelbase model is just $805 shy of the starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2008 Toyota Sienna CE.

Kia has had its quality issues, too – never rising in recent years much above average in the annual J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study.

The newest challenge for the Sedona and other minivans comes as U.S. car buyers seek high-mileage, smaller vehicles. With a federal government rating of only 16 miles per gallon in city driving, the Sedona doesn’t look, on first blush, all that fuel efficient.

Of course, that’s before a shopper takes into account that the Sedona can carry seven people with ease, with wide side doors for entry into the back seats. So on a per-passenger basis, the Sedona’s fuel economy is great – except that there’s no guarantee that every time the Sedona travels, it will have a full load of passengers.

By the way, the highway mileage rating for the Sedona is 23 mpg, but during the test drive, the test top-of-the-line Sedona EX recorded a combined city/highway mileage of 18.5 mpg.

There’s plenty of cargo room inside, including a deep well behind the third-row seats that capably handles tall items. When need be, this carpeted well serves as a storage spot for the fold-down, third-row seats, instead.

The most memorable feature of the 2008 Sedona is the good power that comes from the 3.8-liter, double overhead cam V-6. This engine is larger than the 3.3-liter unit that was in the original Sedona, and the punch from its 253 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm is satisfying, especially since the more than 4,360-pound Sedona is a substantial, weighty van.

In fact, the test Sedona EX moved sprightly in all kinds of traffic conditions, and more times than not, I found myself pulling my foot back from the accelerator pedal to return to speed limit territory.

Horsepower from the V-6 tops out at 250, which is a bit better than the 244 horses in the Honda Odyssey.

The Sedona’s torque is more than the 245 foot-pounds at 4,700 rpm in Toyota’s Sienna. But both the Sienna and the Odyssey have slightly higher fuel mileage ratings than does the Sedona.

The Sedona’s V-6 also is used in the Hyundai Azera uplevel sedan. Hyundai is the parent company of Kia, and both brands are based in South Korea, which is also where the Sedona is built.

The Sedona uses an electronically controlled, five-speed automatic transmission that shifted smoothly in the test van.

It is one of the few mainstream vehicles to include a shift-it-yourself mode that lets the driver move the shifter through various drive gears without having a clutch pedal. This can help modulate speed and reduce the need to use the brakes on steep downhills, for example.

The ride in the front-wheel drive Sedona is what you’d expect in a minivan – compliant and forgiving on most road bumps. Passengers feel some body lean in turns and curves, and there’s a sense of the tall, 5.8-foot height that gives passengers good views out.

Steering is mainstream, neither sporty nor isolated.

The 17-inch tires on the test, uplevel Sedona EX didn’t transmit much road noise, and wind noise on the highway was minimal.

Even the lower-level Sedona LX comes with many standard amenities including front and rear manual air conditioning, power windows, door locks and outside mirrors, audio system with eight speakers, lumbar support for the driver seat and second-row separate seats called captain’s chairs.

All safety items come standard, including curtain air bags, traction control, brake assist, electronic stability control and anti-whiplash head restraints for the front seats.

The 2008 Sedona earned five out of five stars in federal government front and side crash testing and was one of just 34 vehicles to be a Top Safety Pick of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety last year.

U.S. sales of Sedonas for calendar 2008 are on pace to total only about half of the 61,149 sales tallied in calendar 2004, when the Sedona was Kia’s most popular vehicle.



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