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2016 Kia Sedona Test Drive Review
If Kia offered an optional AWD system for the 2016 Sedona, replaced the sliding side doors with regular doors, and increased ground clearance by half an inch, it would be a crossover SUV.
In order to carve a niche for its Sedona model, Kia marries SUV design cues with the utility and practicality of a minivan. Then, for extra measure, the top-of-the-line SXL model gets the materials and features of a luxury car. Blend these attributes with top-notch safety ratings, and the 2016 Kia Sedona might just be the best minivan available.
Look and Feel
My wife and I disagree about whether we require a minivan when the time comes to replace our decade-old, 5-passenger crossover SUV.
We’ve got children in second grade and pre-K, relatives who visit from across the country on a regular basis, and because my father lives nearby, it sure would be nice for all of us to travel across metropolitan Los Angeles together rather than in two cars in order to visit with my brother and his family. Additionally, our house is more than 50 years old and requires regular maintenance, projects which I admittedly put off and put off and put off until a Holy Mother of God trip to the “depot of home” is necessary.
Clearly, I think we need a minivan. She doesn’t, because 95 percent of the time, we don’t need as much room as a minivan provides. (Yeah, but what about that other 5 percent, honey? Huh? Huh? Huh?)
Not even the 2016 Kia Sedona, a minivan masquerading as a crossover SUV, can sway her. If Kia offered an optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) system for the Sedona, dropped the super-useful sliding side doors for awkward forward-hinged doors, and increased the ground clearance by half an inch, it would be a crossover SUV. And the love of my life would want it.
From my perspective, if not for the exposed sliding door tracks sliced into the Sedona’s flanks, this Kia would look exactly like a crossover, which is half of the allure in the first place. From its long and tall nose to its skinny rear side windows, the Sedona looks more like an SUV and less like a minivan. Check out those big 19-inch wheels. Check out those simulated front and rear skid plates. Even the name evokes rugged off-roading country.
Inside, the Sedona channels crossover SUV design elements, too. The front seats are separated by a large center console and face a rakish windshield. From the driver’s seat, the only giveaways that this is a minivan are front quarter windows located next to the side mirrors. Then again, even a Honda Pilot has those now. And don’t fool yourself: A Pilot is a minivan without sliding side doors.
If you’re of a similar mind and you’re digging the Sedona’s blend of style and practicality, you’ll choose from a menu of trim levels that includes L, LX, EX, SX, and SXL (SX Limited). Prices range from $27,295 for a Sedona L with no options to $46,120 for a Sedona SXL with every option.
My test vehicle was the Sedona SXL, painted Bright Silver and equipped with Gray over Burgundy leather upholstery. It had the new-for-2016 8-Passenger Technology option package, which replaces the SXL model’s standard second-row, first-class, lounge-style seating with second-row Slide-N-Stow seats separated by a center seat that folds in half to provide a small storage tray and cup holders.
With this option, Kia also replaces the SXL’s standard premium Nappa leather upholstery with a lower grade of leather and removes the SXL’s dual-pane sunroof. But hey, on a positive note, you’ll pay less while carrying more people.
This version of the Technology Package also includes adaptive cruise control with a forward-collision warning system, a lane-departure warning system, and a surround-view monitoring system. High-intensity discharge headlights with automatic high-beam assist are supplied by this upgrade, along with a surround-view 360-degree monitoring system, heated second-row seats, and a 115-volt power outlet in the cargo area. Models with the Technology Package also have chrome side accent trim. Add an optional rear-seat entertainment system, and my test model came to $43,590, including the $895 destination charge.
On the day after Thanksgiving, I used the Sedona for one of its many purposes: shuttling people to LAX for post-holiday flights home.
Afterward, I took the long way back to my house: Lincoln Boulevard through Venice to Santa Monica; up Pacific Coast Highway to Duke’s; right on Las Flores Canyon Road, accelerating the Sedona to a couple thousand feet of elevation; right on Rambla Pacifico and then straight down Piuma Road dipping into Cold Canyon; right on Malibu Canyon Road; then a straight shot home using the 101 freeway.
Now, if you read the preceding paragraph all the way through, you’re correctly assuming that the mountainous portion of this route this is not the natural habitat of a minivan. Nevertheless, the Sedona comported itself with grace and dignity, averaging an impressive 19.1 mpg from the airport to my driveway, perfectly aligned with the EPA’s 17 mpg city/22 highway/19 combined estimate.
Producing 276 robust horsepower, the Sedona’s 3.3-liter V6 is a terrific engine. Loaded with passengers, the Sedona effortlessly accelerates to freeway speed and boasts plenty of reserve muscle for passing, never feeling weak or sounding like it would rather be doing anything else but revving harder.
A 6-speed automatic transmission feeds power to the front wheels. The shifter feels robust and refined when used, imparting to the driver a sense of quality with every single drive. Shifting unobtrusively under normal conditions, the transmission kicks down quickly to answer demands for more power, and when driving in the mountains, the Sedona’s intuitively mapped manual-shift mode comes in handy for holding revs during ascents and adding engine braking during descents.
In the Sedona SX and SXL models, a Drive Mode Select system offers Normal, Comfort, and Eco settings. I used Normal mode almost exclusively, as the powertrain’s improved responsiveness is more important to me than eking out a few extra miles per tank of gas.
Suspension tuning is taut but not stiff when the Sedona is unloaded. Throw a bunch of people or cargo into this Kia and the ride is smoother, the Sedona successfully resisting wallow and excessive body motion even when fully loaded. Either way, this Kia provides unexpectedly athletic handling, and while temperatures were cool during testing, the brakes resisted fade even with every seat occupied.
If there is a criticism to be leveled against the Sedona’s driving dynamics, it pertains to the steering, which feels a tad bit light. But I’m nit-picking here, and not at all suggesting that what the Sedona’s Drive Mode Select system needs is a Sport mode with artificially heavy steering feel. That would be a mistake.
Form and Function
Getting into a Sedona could prove painful. Maybe I’m the problem, but on two different occasions the exterior door handles pinched my fingers, resulting in at least one blood blister. Good thing the Sedona supplies a welcoming interior.
Generally impressing and never depressing, the quality of the Sedona SXL’s interior materials is, in many respects, a step above expectations. The upper half of the cabin is, for the most part, rendered in soft-touch materials that look and feel good. The bottom half of the cabin is, for the most part, composed of durable, low-gloss plastic that’s easy to clean.
Kia’s latest interior design ethos emphasizes a horizontal control-panel layout employing large buttons and knobs arranged in logical groups. This makes it easy to perform commonly used functions, though on one occasion the infotainment screen did not show the climate control system’s temperature setting when I cranked up the heat, which led to some frustration as we tried to determine just how hot it would eventually get inside the Sedona.
Stain-resistant fabric is standard for the Sedona L and LX models, an important detail that should not be overlooked. Leather seats are included in the EX and SX. The SXL comes standard with soft, premium Nappa leather, but if you want that second-row center seating position, which slides forward to put a baby even closer to Mom and Dad, then you’ll need to accept a downgrade in terms of leather quality.
Both of my test vehicle’s front seats offered heating, ventilation, and multiple power adjustments, and the Sedona SXL is equipped with a heated steering wheel. With nighttime low temperatures in the mid-30s, I actually used that latter feature on my early morning run to the airport. Both front seats offer excellent comfort, impressive thigh support, and soft places to rest both arms while driving.
Depending on the trim level, heated second-row seats, rear climate controls, and sliding-door window sunshades enhance comfort for outboard passengers. To mix and match legroom and comfort for everyone aboard the Sedona, the second-row seats slide forward and back on tracks in the floor, which have large enough gaps to easily swallow cereal, gummy bears, or even smaller toys. Instead of placing the seats on a pedestal with integrated sliding adjustment, the tracks are necessary to facilitate Kia’s Fold-N-Stow approach to maximizing cargo volume.
Basically, the Fold-N-Stow second-row seats collapse vertically against the front seat backs in order to serve two purposes. First, it helps with loading passengers into the third-row seat. Second, it precludes the requirement of removing the second-row seats in order to maximize cargo space.
Fold-N-Stow is not standard for the Sedona SXL, because this version of the van is equipped with so-called “first-class lounge seats.” My test vehicle’s 8-Passenger Technology Package swapped these out in order to install a removable jump seat between the two outboard seating positions, and Fold-N-Stow came along for the ride.
The center jump seat is useful for new parents who want their child secured in the center of the Sedona, which is the safest location in the vehicle. It slides forward to put the child closer to the front seats, and when it's not in use, the seatback folds down to provide a center console with cup holders and a small storage tray.
Adults can ride in the Sedona’s third-row seat, though it lacks cushioning and thigh support compared to other seating locations. Overhead vents help with heating and cooling this area, and side window shades are available to reduce sun glare. Note that when children are riding in the third-row seat, their heads are 25 inches away from the rear glass, nearly double the distance offered by the Kia Sorento crossover SUV.
A height-adjustable, hands-free power tailgate and a rechargeable flashlight mounted to the side of the cargo area help to make loading luggage easier. Simply stand behind the Sedona with the key fob on your person, and the tailgate powers itself open after a few seconds. The well behind the third-row seats can hold 33.9 cubic feet of cargo. If you fold the 50/50-split third-row seats into the floor, the Sedona supplies 78.4 cubes of cargo room. Slide the Fold-N-Stow seats forward, and maximum capacity measures 142 cubic feet.
By the way, those first two measurements are just short of what a Chevrolet Suburban provides, while the Sedona’s maximum capacity number exceeds that of the leviathan SUV.
Optional for the LX and standard on other versions of the Sedona, Kia’s Your Voice (UVO) eServices infotainment system features an 8-inch, high-resolution, color touchscreen display combined with several useful connected services. Best of all, to use these services, all you need is a smartphone, an app, and the Sedona’s Bluetooth connection.
Once your device is paired to the system, UVO eServices provides subscription-free access to features like emergency calling, automatic collision notification, and a parking minder that helps the owner find the Sedona in a crowded parking lot. Parents of teenage drivers will like the programmable speed, curfew, and boundary alerts, as well as a Find My Car service that can show where the Sedona is at any given time.
In addition to eServices, the UVO infotainment system supplies a Jukebox music hard drive, USB ports (quick charging for all but the LX model), song-tagging capability, and Pandora Internet radio. The SX and SXL are available with an Infinity premium Surround Sound audio system, a 360-degree surround view monitoring system, and a navigation system with real-time traffic display and topographical relief maps. These upper trim levels also supply two 115-volt, 3-prong electrical power outlets, one in the second row and one in the cargo area.
My test vehicle included the optional rear-seat entertainment system, which is reasonably priced at $995. It includes a remote control and two sets of headphones, as well as a display screen that deploys from the back of the front seat's center console. Every kid aboard, ranging in age from 5 to 18, said they prefer an overhead screen for viewing.
Kia also offers several different tablet computer holders as accessories, and this is probably the best way to go as far as rear-seat entertainment is concerned.
If you’re buying a minivan, there’s a good chance you have kids. And if you have kids, there’s a good chance you’ll do anything to protect them. Therefore, you will be glad to know the Sedona is a crash-test rock star.
In federal government testing, the Sedona gets 5-star ratings in every assessment, combined with a 4-star rollover resistance rating. In tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Sedona gets the top rating of Good in all crash tests, combined with a Basic rating for frontal crash prevention. Obviously, Kia needs to add an automatic emergency braking system to the Sedona in order to improve on that last metric.
What the Sedona does have, however, is UVO eServices with free access to teen-monitoring features including speed, curfew, and boundary alerts. A blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert is available for the EX and standard for the SX and SXL. Get the Technology Package for the SX or SXL, and this minivan comes with adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlights.
During my week with the Sedona, the automatic high-beam headlights did a lousy job of deciding when to work and when not to work. On the access road leading from the freeway to my subdivision, the one with a speed limit of 35 mph, the one without streetlights, the high beams did not activate. Then, on the freeway, as a car ahead came up an on-ramp, the Sedona’s bright lights flashed on, aimed right at this merging car while he or she was likely using the mirrors to make sure it was safe to move left.
Briefly, I fumbled with the lights, trying to turn the high beams off, and finally settled on switching from the Auto setting to the standard manual headlight setting. Meanwhile, my fellow motorist, evidently irritated with me, roared up alongside the Sedona and gave me a middle-finger salute for flashing my brights.
Yeah, so, umm, not a fan of the Sedona’s automatic high-beam headlights.
The forward-collision warning system also proved inaccurate, a technological Boy Who Cried Wolf, so it would appear that Kia has some work to do with regard to fine-tuning its safety technologies.
You get more for less when you choose a minivan over a crossover SUV. More room. More stuff. Typically lower insurance rates combined with higher gas mileage. A minivan makes more than just practical sense; it makes good financial sense.
I measured fuel economy twice. The first time, nearly all the driving was conducted on the highway and with a full load of passengers. Impressively, the Sedona averaged 22.1 mpg, beating its official EPA estimate. The second time, with just me aboard, the Sedona averaged 19.1 mpg in combined driving, right in line with the EPA’s 19-mpg estimate for combined driving. If these figures don’t represent a huge improvement over a smaller crossover SUV, they are at least aligned with customer expectations.
In other respects, from quality and reliability to the costs associated with ownership, the Sedona rates about average. To be fair, however, little hard data exists for the latest Sedona, which was redesigned for 2015 and replaced an old and slow-selling model.
Kia definitely wants to conquest Honda and Toyota, though, so sweet deals are easy to come by. As this review is published, Kia is offering no-interest financing for up to 66 months, plus $500 in bonus cash. Alternatively, buyers can take advantage of a $1,000 rebate (though this offer is clearly inferior to the low-interest financing). Kia is also offering a $1,000 bonus if you already own a Sedona or you already own a competing minivan. Finally, in some parts of the country, a free maintenance program is a part of the deal.
Don’t let the discounts and giveaways convince you that the 2016 Kia Sedona amounts to nothing more than distressed merchandise. Far from it—the Sedona has the potential to resolve household conflicts between the need for practicality and the desire to project a more youthful and carefree image to the world, blending the utility of a minivan with the design details of a crossover SUV.
Unfortunately, within my own home, those dang exposed sliding side door tracks evidently represent a deal-breaker.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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