Sharp-eyed readers might have been surprised to see I named the 2015 Kia Sedona as one of my favorite test drives in Portland Tribune's special section for the 2016 Portland International Auto Show.
After all, the Sedona is a minivan, and I drove plenty of sports cars, muscle cars and even a few exotic cars last year. How could such a dreaded symbol of suburbia top them?
The truth is, I've long been an advocate of minivans for families. I know many people say they would never be caught dead in a minivan, and they buy crossover SUVs instead. But despite the image problem, minivans are more practical than SUVs, especially for families with children. They have more interior room, are easier to get in and out of because of the sliding side doors, and drive more like a large car than a truck.
Kia figured out how to bridge that gap in 2015 by redesigning its underperforming Sedona minivan to look like an SUV. The bold, aggressive styling made the Sedona look tougher than the other minivans on the market without sacrificing room and handling. The dual sliding doors are still there, but they are easy to overlook at first glance. In fact, I was only disappointed it couldn't be ordered with all-wheel-drive, because that would have eliminated the final reason for buying an SUV instead.
Very little has changed with the 2016 model. They all come with a standard review camera now, while the top trim levels get seating for eight with the optional Technology package.
Like last year, the only power train is a 3.3-liter V6 that pumps out 276 horsepower mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is respectable, considering it weighs over two tons and can tow up to 3,500 pounds with the optional trailer hitch. The ride feels very solid a Kia trademark with the suspension able to easily absorb road imperfections.
It must be said that although manufacturers and automotive writers refer to the Sedona and its competitors as minivans, they are much large these days than the original models. When Chrysler first debuted its revolution Caravan and Voyager minivans in 1983, they were based on K-cars that would be considered subcompacts today. Although their wheel bases were stretched, those first minivans were still very small, and so were the models that quickly followed from other manufacturers.
But, like practically all vehicles, minivans grew over time. Now they are almost as big as the cargo vans that were produced back then and outfitted for families who wanted more room. Today, it seems more realistic to call them family vans. Because of the slump in sales over the years, the only other minivans on the market now are the Honda Odyssey, the Toyota Sienna, the Dodge Grand Caravan and the Chrysler Town and County, which has been reinevented for 2016 at the first plug-in hybrid van in the country. Mercedes-Benz has also just started offering a can called the Metris that can be outfitted for cargo or people. All can carry up to eight people comfortably, if properly equipped.
And all can also be loaded up comfort, convenience and entertainment options. The Sedona comes in five trim levels: L, LX, EX, SX, and SX-L (Limited). Even the base level is well equipped with Slide-n-Stow forward-collapsing second-row seats, a split-folding third-row seat, air-conditioning with rear controls, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, a USB port and a media player interface. Stepping up adds more standard features, just like cars and trucks these days.
Our test vehicle was a loaded SX-L with a Technology Package that included multiple safety options like a lane departure warning system and a surround view monitor along with a rear seat entertainment package. Add that to other features like Napa leather trimmed seats (heated and ventilated in the front), fore and aft sunroofs, tri-zone automatic climate control, an Infiniti Surround Sound audio system, a blind spot detection warning system and much, much more, and the price topped $44,000. While that may sounds like a lot, it really isn't these days, especially compared to a similarly-equipped large SUV.
Another option was the two "First Class Lounge Seating" for the second row of seats instead of the three-across configurations. This reduced the maximum seating from eight to seven, but would be our first choice anyway because it allows easier access to the third row. And the two seats recline, which always impresses passengers.
And, of course, the cargo space in the Sedona is enormous with the third row of seats folded into the floor and the second row scooted forward.
The 2016 Kia Sedona is the minivan for people who say they hate minivans but need them anyway or just want to own a practical people hauler that looks more like a rugged SUV. Kia should be commended for stretching the limits for such seriously underappreciate vehicles.
2016 Kia Sedona
Base price: $26,400
Price as tested: $44,690
Engine: 3.3-liter V6 (276 hp, 248 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic.
EPA estimated mileage: 17/22 (as tested) to 18/24
Overall length: 201.4 inches
Curb weight: 4,411 to 4,656 pounds
Final assembly: Sohari, Korea