2012 Kia Sedona- Demand Some R-E-S-P-E-C-T

CAM00444Rodney Dangerfield often commented that he received “no respect, I tell ya.”  In one of his standup gigs, the comedian recalled the time he was kidnapped, and the kidnappers sent his parents a note that said, “We want five thousand dollars or you’ll see your kid again.”  I was reminded of these jokes while spending a weekend with the Kia Sedona.  Did you forget Kia still made it?  Don’t feel bad, one of my good friends who is very car savvy thought it had been discontinued years ago.  In a way, he was right.  While the rest of the Kia lineup, even the lowly Rio, have had an extreme makeover in recent times, the Sedona has soldiered on in the same guise since 2006, and was dropped from the brand’s profile after 2012.  Sales of the Sedona had been a fraction of the competition and its corporate twin, the Hyundai Entourage, had been discontinued after 2009 for the same reason.  But just like Rodney’s self-deprecating humor and persistence, the Sedona has returned for 2014 to take another beating, being largely unchanged from the 2012 model (no 2013 existed) aside from a new bumper, grill, and storage compartment that will now fit an iPod.  However, also like Rodney, there is more than meets the eye with the Sedona and it turned out to be a lovable critter.

CAM00438As a child of the 90’s, minivans have always been a guilty pleasure of mine.  When it comes to hauling people and cargo while still driving like a car, minivans have SUV’s beat hands down.  But like their sliding doors, minivan sales have been on a continual glide down since then.  In 1995 there were 16 different minivan models available and sales were over a million.  In 2014, there were only six models remaining and sales are estimated to peak at less than 500,000.  The Kia Sedona was released worldwide in 1998 during the pinnacle of minivan era as the Kia Carnival.  However, it was a late bloomer to the US, not arriving here until after the party had already died down in 2002.  That first generation wasn’t a big seller; mainly due to its hefty weight and low fuel economy, lack of luxury features, and an unfortunate resemblance to the lamented Ford Windstar.

CAM00463The second generation debuted for 2006 and was offered in both short and long wheelbase versions.  Styling was chunkier, quality improved, niceties such as power sliding doors and navigation systems were now available, and finally, thanks to a lighter, yet more powerful, engine, greater use of high-tensile steel, and a lighter transmission and suspension, the new Sedona was 400 lbs. lighter and achieved better fuel economy.  It also received the CAM00440highest score among minivans for crash tests at the time.  However, sales just never caught on and the Sedona has always been overshadowed by the Chrysler twins (Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country), Honda Odyssey, and Toyota Sienna.  All of these vans have been redesigned since, but the Sedona carries over in the same bodystyle from 2006.  For every Sedona that Kia sold in 2012, Dodge moved seven Caravans from its lots.  But don’t be quick to dismiss it out for the count.  Not only has the Sedona returned for 2014 after a brief hiatus, but it has had continual improvements under its skin since its introduction eight years ago.  There’s more than meets the eye here.

CAM00358For 2011, a smaller and more powerful 3.5 liter V6 replaced the 3.8 liter that had resided under the Sedona’s hood.  Power jumped up a respectable 31 horsepower to 271 horses, which is more powerful than any engine offered on the Odyssey, Sienna, or Nissan Quest, although the Caravan does have an edge over the Kia with 283.  The 3.5 liter is Hyundai’s sophisticated  “Lambda” motor featuring variable valve timing, dual overhead cams, and is shared with the Kia Cadenza and Sorrento.  What does this all translate to on the road?  Gobs of power in fact.  The Sedona feels downright gutsy for a portly 4300 lb. vehicle and has plenty of oomph in any circumstance.  Heavy throttled accelerations are met with wheel spin, and there was even one occurrence of a second-gear wheel burn as well.  Very impressive for a minivan, and something we weren’t expecting out of a car that has “soccer Mom” written all over it.  The power delivery is smooth all through the rev range and the Sedona never felt deprived of thrust on hills or freeway onramps either.  With a full load of passengers and driving around the city, the extra weight didn’t seem to strain the energetic powerplant.  I’m afraid to admit that this could be much more power than the regular family would ever want, or need.

CAM00434Teamed to the strong engine is an excellent six-speed automatic that was also introduced in 2011.  Shifts were extremely transparent, even under hard acceleration, and were essentially undetectable under normal driving conditions.  I made a note to watch the tachometer at one stage to keep track of when the transmission actually shifted.  It is truly that smooth.  The only minor fault I could find with the transaxle was that it was occasionally hesitant to downshift on hilly grades, which is more than likely a fuel saving trick in the gear ratios.  The driver does have the option to select a manumatic mode for the automatic, but it seems a little cheesy in a minivan and the gear selector is a little far away from the driver’s reach to be a convincing Mazda Miata.

CAM00462Handling turned out to be another pleasant surprise.  I’m guilty of it myself, but one look at the Sedona hinted that it was going to roll and float like a boat made out of marshmallows on Lake Erie.  I couldn’t be more wrong.  The steering had a nice, weighty feel, and enough feedback from the road to inspire driver confidence.  Cornering grip was impressive and the van felt well planted to the road.  Due primarily to the higher seating position, I lacked confidence in hard cornering before the car ever did.  The Sedona is, dare I say it, a lot of fun to drive.  But it does occasionally remind you that it is not a Lotus Elise.  The 16” tires do start squealing long before they give up grip, there is some oversteer in very hard cornering, and a touch of body lean as well.  But most drivers will never push the van to these limits and it truly is a zippy, fun way to scoot around while doing daily errands.  Lastly, one of the Sedona’s sins for being a van is the large 39.6 foot turning circle.  It’s a little more than a Caravan, and requires a few more feet than the Odyssey or Sienna to do a full circle.  Parking maneuvers are still relatively easy, but the Sedona doesn’t feel as dainty as some other vans in tight parking lots.  Audible rear parking sensors helped take some of the fear out of the equation, even though they seemed very conservative and excited when anything was within, let’s say, 100ft of the van.  Better be safe than sorry!

The four-wheel independent suspension with MacPherson front strut suspension and a multi-link rear do a commendable job of soaking up bumps.  Large road imperfections do little to affect the cabin and the van remains stable and smooth.  On some rougher roads, the van can get a little jittery but isn’t thrown off course.

CAM00446But enough about performance, a minivan’s true beauty is on the inside and how adaptable it is.  The Sedona will seat seven in comfort, but some competitors (namely the Odyssey and Sienna) offer seating for up to eight.  The middle row has dual captain seats with armrests on both sides while the third row is a bench able to accommodate three across.  Throughout the cabin, headroom is more than sufficient in all rows to clear the CAM00454tallest of noggins.  Leg room is also plentiful and knees will clear the backs of the front seats easily.  For the long-legged, there is a scant amount of toe room under those front seats but still plenty of space to leave those feet resting elsewhere.  The second row seats themselves are well contoured and very comfortable for longer trips.  The windows in the sliding doors are power operated and go down almost all the way.  Maybe it’s been a long time since I’ve ridden in a van and nothing worth getting excited over, but I remember when the back windows would only pop open and offer just a hint of outside air.

CAM00467The third row also has nice cushioning but is a little flat in shape, reminiscent of a park bench.  Folks who do make their way to the far reaches of the van will find loads of head and leg room in the third row as well, and the seat can recline for greater comfort.  It could get a little cozy back there if three are seated across, but for children it would be fine.  Finding the middle seat belt buckle can be a little awkward as well, as it has a tendency to lose itself among the split folding seat cushions.  The middle row seat backs can also be folded completely flat; creating either a table to play cards on (good practice for Vegas), or doubling as a foot rest for third row passengers.  It should be stated that there are no fewer than nine cupholders in the Sedona’s cabin; no more having to think twice before buying sodas at the 7-11!

CAM00452Entry through the dual sliding doors is easy, the opening is large and wide, and step-in height is carlike.  I wish all vehicles came with sliding doors as it takes away the risk of parking lot dings and makes getting in and out straighforward.  The doors themselves are light and easy to use for children, and have a “hold open” feature that locks the doors in place while they are open; preventing them from inadvertently sliding shut on hills or windy days.  The middle rows do fold and tumble forward to allow access back to the third row, but can be a little finicky when it comes to the tumbling part.  Occasionally, several attempts had to be made to coax the seats to tumble, especially when the armrests were positioned down.  However, most of the third row passengers we had ride along found it easier, regardless, to use the wide aisle between the middle seats to get in and out.

CAM00448The 60/40 split-third row seats easily flip and fold into the floor, creating a flat cargo area.  It’s not anything new on minivans and has been around for over a decade, but remains very user-friendly and simple, hence why the Sedona and most of its competition still use this approach.  The seats can be raised back up just as easily, using tethers and pulls, and after a short amount of practice, I had mastered flipping and tumbling the seats CAM00449with just one hand and using minimal body strength (we don’t want to burn calories!).  That’s great news for parents who have one free arm and the other loaded with groceries.

Removing the second row does require burning off some calories and growing some muscles.  Once the individual middle row seats have been folded and flipped, a metal lever under the seat will release the seat from its braces.   The seats themselves weight about 35 lbs. a piece, which isn’t too much for my gym-sculpted body (you can laugh now), but could pose a challenge to smaller-framed folks.  Getting the seats positioned back into the van and into their locks proved trickier than expected.  While holding the metal release lever and the entire balky seat, the operator must align the hooks on the seat with the braces in the floor and then balance the seat on them, disengaging the releasing lever once it’s in place.  There’s no “click” or any type of assurance that the seaCAM00451t is in place until the seat is flipped back and it’s held in by a secondary brace on the floor.  If it’s not, the steps have to be repeated.  It wasn’t too complicated to figure out, but proved to awkward at best.  To the Sedona’s defense, the Sienna and Odyssey have similar setups, but the Caravan does have its unique Stow-N-Go system and the Quest’s middle rows fold flat into the floor.

CAM00447Once you’ve flip, folded, and worked-out, the trade off is an immense cargo hold.  With all of the seats up, rear volume is 32.2 cu. ft. in a deep trunk area where the seats would otherwise fold in.  That cargo room does trail slightly behind the competition, but is still easily enough for a weekend’s worth of gear for two people.  With the third row folded down, 80.11 cu. ft open up, and finally, with all the seats removed, the total capacity is an immense 141.5 cu. ft, which CAM00450still is a little less than the other minivans (143.8 in the Caravan, 148.5 in the Odyssey, and 150 in the Sienna).  It’s too close without a tape measure to see the difference, and there is still plenty of space for the Sedona to double as a pickup for large items and furniture.  The hatch opening is large and liftover is low, making loading bulky items easy.  Like many other vans, the Sedona has a plastic guard over the rear bumper to prevent scratches in the paint.

CAM00453Up front, the driver and passenger seats are comfortable and well-shaped for long drives along with plenty of head and leg room.  The center console does intrude slightly into the driver’s knee area, very un-minivan like, but it was still a comfortable driving position.  Between the front seats was a flip-away console (ala Honda) that housed cupholders but once out of the way, created a walk-through area to the back seats or a place to CAM00466store a purse or shopping bag.  Cabin storage is good with large door pockets and a well-lit two-tiered glove box.  At the base of the jutting console are dual drawers that can house smaller objects.  Strangely, the 2006-2010 Sedona had a secondary glove box near the airbag housing, but that was removed in 2011 even though the remainder of the dash and interior remain essentially unchanged.

CAM00455One aspect that reflects the Sedona’s age is that the steering wheel tilts, but does not telescope.  Gauges and controls echo Hyundais and Kias from the mid 2000’s, both in look, feel, and the green backlighting.  It’s not a bad thing at all, but it reminded me completely of a friend’s 2005 Hyundai Tucson.  In fact, the gauges and dials are as simplistic and easy-to-read as they get nowadays.  There’s no digital displays and nothing gimmicky to distract the driver from the task at hCAM00457and.  Similarly, the radio controls are uncomplicated, the display was easily legible, and there was a knob for both the volume and radio tuning.  There’s something to be said in this age of complicated controls and menus on touch screens, how refreshing it is to encounter easy-to-see and read buttons and dials.  Kia did add a USB and Aux outlet near the shifter several years ago to ensure this van stayed up to date for music lovers.  The ventilation system had dual climate controls and was just as easy to use as the radio (although I would confuse the knob for the rear A/C with the equally large and similar front ventilation knob, but that would become second nature after owning the van).

Cruise control and radio buttons are housed on the steering wheel and are well-lit and intuitive to use.  The Bluetooth button to the left side of the steering wheel hub was hidden and I didn’t know it was there until well into the test.  Once foCAM00465und, it makes sense and can be used without taking eyes off the road while using only a fingertip.  Lastly, it’s a little thing, but the Sedona is one of the rare vehicles I’ve stumbled upon lately with a lit-up ignition switch.  These were quite common once upon a time, but are increasingly scarce, mainly due to cost-cutting measures.  Yet another [good] remnant from the mid-2000’s

The fit and finish inside is consistent with Hyundais from that era as well.  Everything felt well-built and solid, and some of the plastics look a tad dull and non-descript.  But surfaces on the dashtop were soft touch and every piece seemed well assembled and had a quality feel.

CAM00458Thanks to large windows, relatively thin roof pillars, and generous side mirrors, visibility was good all around and it helped make the large Sedona feel manageable.  The view over the road is commanding with a higher seating position that was almost SUVesque.  Even with all of this, the Sedona felt like a car and it was easy to forget that I was piloting a van, until looking in the rear view mirror and seeing all of those seats.  .

CAM00469Styling is not a selling point of minivans, but should still be mentioned.  In fact, it’s the minivan image that is partially to blame for this category’s sliding sales.  Despite not being as versatile, efficient, or roomy, parents are flocking to crossovers and traditional SUV’s over minivans due to their adventurous, rugged image.  Minivans are styled around function first, and it’s challenging for any designer to make the conventional, blocky two-CAM00433box shape of a van look interesting.  I had to remind myself how invisible I probably appeared to most other drivers or pedestrians; there’s nothing about a white van that screams “crazy” or “dangerous”, especially on the eccentric Vegas Strip.  However, I do find the Sedona to be handsome and did like the chunky, square-edged look of the rear, and the front’s triangular headlights still looCAM00461k modern while the “Tiger Nose” grill is attractive and gives the van at least some family resemblance to the rest of the Kia lineup.  The Sedona isn’t apologetic that’s a van, but it doesn’t look as dull, as let’s say, a Dodge Caravan.  Plus, I like the honest-to-goodness, clean styling over the wackiness of the Odyssey’s lightning bolt side window line, or the Sienna’s overdone grill and clear, street-racer taillights.

CAM00468Our Sedona had 48k miles of punishing rental duty under its belt, quite high for a rental car.  The van was in good shape mechanically and still felt solid overall.  The only defects were a slight creak occasionally coming from the dash near the radio on rough roads, and the convex rearview mirror (looking over back seat passengers and their antics) was MIA completely.  That wasn’t the only thing missing; all five back seats were lacking their headrests.  I don’t consider that a defect, but more of a case for “Unsolved Mysteries.”

The EPA rates the Sedona at 18mpg city/25mpg highway, about average for a minivan.  Since a trip computer showing fuel economy is omitted (another sign that 2005 still lurks around in this van), I reverted back to averaging the gas mileage with a pen and paper, gasp!  During my 600 mile in the Sedona through highways, city traffic, and mountains, I averaged 25mpg.  Not bad at all, especially since that included some hard track-testing and accelerations.

Prices for the base 2012 Sedona LX started at $24900 and included standard features such as 16-inch wheels, roof rails,  keyless entry, full power accessories, rear parking sensors, front and rear-air  conditioning, a fold-down table between the front seats and removable second-row captain’s chairs, 60/40-split fold-flat third-row bench seats, cloth upholstery, a tilt steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, Bluetooth and a six-speaker CD/MP3 stereo with satellite radio  and a USB/auxiliary input jack.  The essentially identical 2014 starts off exactly $1000 higher at $25900.  Our clear white Sedona was a base model with no options at all, and once destination was added, rang in at $25700.  Pretty good value, as a base Sienna and Odyssey start about $3000 higher, but the homegrown Caravan starts at $20,000 in the American Value Package trim and offers almost all the same features.  But none offer the Kia’s 10yr/100k mile warranty, which is something to factor in if you plan on keeping the van for the long haul.  Unless you demand leather and navigation, I felt our tester was generously equipped, but it did have tons of CAM00459switch blanks; those fake buttons that remind you that you could’ve had those options if you spend a little more.  The plastic piece around the convex mirror had seven switch blanks around it (mostly for power sliding door switches in higher trims). Kia would’ve been better off not even including this trim piece, just to make their frugal buyers feel a little better about themselves.

CAM00464The Sedona has been one of my biggest surprises for the year.  Many have forgotten that it even exists, and many who did know of its presence just didn’t care.  It’s been overlooked by the dwindling number of minivan buyers out there, and even by Kia itself (although an all-new 2015 Sedona is promised).  It’s a shame; because to judge a book by its cover, they are missing out on a van that is extremely capable, up-to-date mechanically and CAM00442technologically, well-built, roomy, and (stop the presses) fun to drive.  My gang of passengers, mostly brand-conscious 20-somethings from LA, were impressed by the Sedona’s overall presentation and the comfortable ride it provided for us in Vegas.  We may not have looked the part, but we felt like we were big-pimpin’.  I even admitted to my fiancé that I had grown attached to the Sedona and wish we had kids or loads of gear to give me a reason to buy this van.  Yeap, if I were in the right situation, I would put my money into the Sedona.  And if you are considering a minivan, the Sedona’s worth a look and not dismissing.  A very surprising and unexpected 4.0/5.0 boomerangs

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