Driving the 2015 Kia Sedona, a minivan with a sense of style

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Try as automakers may, it’s a losing battle to portray a minivan as something lustworthy; even large famlies now prefer crossover utility vehicles instead of the traditional breadbox minivan. The Kia Sedona has fallen off the radar even among those still shopping family haulers in recent years, but Kia hopes to change that with the smartly redesigned minivan for 2015. Driving it through the streets of Palo Alto finds it to be a serious contender — but not in the same way you’d appreciate a Honda Odyssey.

As with the other recent Kias in the lineup, designer Peter Schreyer and team added a much-needed image boost to the third-gen minivan.  “We want to capture the CUV appeal,” said Orth Hedrick, Kia’s vice president of product planning, who went on to say that its profile will feel more like a compact ute.

Although it’s still unmistakably a van, the Sedona no longer looks like a beached whale, and in person it comes off trimmer than its dimensions suggest, especially when parked next to an Odyssey, which is similar in size. I daresay it’s the best looking in the segment.

The company has also done a superlative with the interior and cabin — the dash feels downright luxurious, with a gratifying blend of matted plastics, real-looking metallic trim and soft touch materials, though you’ll notice some cheaper plastics creep in around the rear seats. By contrast, although Volkswagens typically get the nod for cabin refinement, the Routan can’t hide its plebian Chrysler roots, and the Odyssey looks like a bloated economy car. Part of the downside with most minivans is it feels like none of that $40,000 you’re paying (when options like a rear entertainment system pile on) goes into styling; with the Sedona the finish feels appropriate, even a bargain, for its starting price of $25,900.
 
Spring for the seven-seat configuration in the higher trim, and it feels like you’re riding in a luxury chariot from the second-row seats, which come with reclining footrests and padded headrests. Even as my driving partner pushed the minivan through the hills of Cupertino, Calif., I felt at ease, even comfortable from what felt like sitting in first class on Luftansa. While the chassis and suspension still isn’t as composed and dialed in as an Odyssey, especially over mottled pavement, it strikes the right balance between comfort and firmness.

Behind the wheel the Sedona feels like you’re driving a hulking, albeit composed, sedan like a Chevy Impala, and unsurprisingly it’s not something to relish flogging in the bends. The sole engine choice, a 3.3-liter 276-hp V-6, feels adequate enough to pass slower traffic, or when you’re running late to your kid’s soccer practice. In a decked out SX-L trim, that’s good for 17/22 city/highway mpg, whereas the SX trim fares a bit better, at 18/25 city/highway. The powertrain advantage seems to edge towards the Odyssey: although Honda’s V-6 makes 28 horsepower less, in real-world driving the acceleration feels similar. The Odyssey also gets 19/28 city/highway mpg, though it’s difficult to gauge the real-world fuel efficiency of the Sedona when we’re snaking through hilly roads.

It’s harder still to gauge the utility of Kia’s stylish minivan when I’m testing the vehicle with just another thirty-something auto journalist in the back seat, and not an ornery throng of kids screaming to switch out the Frozen DVD from the rear entertainment system. On paper, the cargo volume is competitive, albeit slightly less, than the usual suspects, with 142 cu-ft. of hauling space, compared to 149 cu-ft. for the Odyssey and 144 cu-ft. with the Dodge Grand Caravan. Stowing the third-row seats is an easy two-step process, and the second row can be scrunched forward for even greater cargo capacity.

In the one segment where sales are still made or lost on safety features, the Sedona also takes a step forward towards the front. New optional tech includes rear traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and forward collison warning system, a tool available only on the Odyssey and Toyota Sienna.

The Sedona is yet another quality execution from Kia that while not demolishing the competition, still continues to build on its strengths: style, value and finish. Whereas most minivans are embarrassingly ungainly, Kia made the Sedona a handsome rendition of the theme. Granted, I’ll still defiantly tell my friends “I wouldn’t be caught dead driving a minivan,” and would prefer a smaller crossover behind the wheel. But the Sedona should be proud of being a larger minivan — because especially from the vantage point of the coddling second-row seats, there’s nothing quite like it for the money.

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