One of the toughest categories in the auto business is probably not one that immediately springs to mind.
It’s not in the premium car segment, with Mercedes and BMW and Audi slugging it out.
It’s not in the muscle car segment with Mustang taking on Camaro taking on Challenger.
It’s not in the midsize segment with Camry vs. Accord vs. Fusion.
Sure all of those categories are tough and important to the respective OEMs, but they are a walk in the park compared to the minivan segment.
Realize that this is a segment that is so brutal that both General Motors and Ford threw in the towel.
Chrysler, which is credited with essentially inventing the category, now FCA NA LLC for those of you keeping acronymic track, is reportedly foregoing the Dodge Caravan as minivan for the next generation, with the Chrysler Town & Country carrying the minivan banner alone, with Dodge possibly coming out with a three-row crossover (although it does have the Durango, and that’s not going anywhere, and there’s the smaller Journey, also available with three rows).
One of the problems that the minivan faces that the other types of vehicles don’t is that no matter how unergonomic, unfunctional, uneconomical they may be (e.g., does anyone really need a Hellcat or a car that costs as much as the GDP of some small nations?), minivans are perceived to be, well, minivans.
This means that it is a vehicle that seemingly no one wants to be seen behind the wheel of. Toyota tried to position a model of its Sienna as a “Swagger Wagon,” as though that was going to have the next door neighbor nodding his head and saying slyly, “I know what you’re talkin’ about,” but let’s face it: lower it, add trim, hell, put flames on it, and it is still a minivan.
Then, of course, there is the stigma—and let’s not forget that the meaning of that word is “mark of disgrace” and a synonym is shame—associated with women who have children who happen to play soccer. No one wants to be perceived as being a “soccer mom” even if they’re a soccer mom.
Or, stated more correctly—but with more ontological complexity—to drive a minivan is to be perceived as a soccer mom, so not driving a minivan means that one is not a soccer mom even if one is a soccer mom.
That’s why it is tough.
For the past several years, the category has been dominated by FCA, Toyota and Honda. Last year, according to Autodata, there were 138,040 Town & Countrys and 134,152 Caravans delivered. 124,502 Siennas. And 122,738 Odysseys.
Kia has the Sedona, but arguably, up until it launched the 2015 model, it was pretty much the proverbial “place-holder” vehicle: last year it delivered 14,567.
That would be horrible were it not that Nissan Quest had deliveries of just 9,833 units.
When history or Wikipedia entries are written about the auto industry in the early 21st century, Kia would be chronicled as the “great comeback story,” except that to be a comeback you have to have been somewhere other than near the bottom.
However it is described, it is absolutely clear to anyone who has looked in a showroom of late that Kia has elevated the state of its vehicles’ design and execution so high—especially the design—that other, more familiar brands often seem staid by comparison.
So for whatever bizarre reason, it has re-executed the Sedona in such a manner that the vehicle is now thoroughly competitive with the strongly competitive set of survivors in the category.
Although they are trying to position it as a “multipurpose vehicle” and point to it having a CUV-like appearance (some may remember how, in its last gasps of minivans, GM came out with the 2005 Pontiac Montana SV6, Chevy Uplander, Saturn Relay, and Buick Terraza, all of which were claimed to be SUV-like from the B-pillar forward—and how did that work out?), it is a minivan.
There, I said it.
But what a well-done vehicle it is by any name.
It is clearly stylish. It offers the necessary functionality that a minivan requires, such as a fold-in-the-floor third row seat, and outlets, storage spaces and cupholders galore. At the SXL trim level it has second-row “lounge seating,” which means that the two people who are lucky enough to get those seats even have footrests.
It has a 3.3-liter V6 engine and six-speed automatic that are up to the task—with that task not only moving the vehicle smartly, but doing so in a manner that is important for those who are buying a minivan because they need something that can more comfortably and capably transport people and stuff than an SUV can: good fuel economy, with the combined number being 19 mpg. (Realize that this thing is about the size of a family room, comparatively speaking.)
Those who are minivan-oriented and who are looking for a new one now need to check out the Sedona, as it is the real deal.
Those who think they’d never even get near a minivan even though they are well suited for having one by all objective measures (i.e., even if you kids are still in car seats and not old enough to kick a black-and-white ball, know that getting those car seats into a vehicle and the kids into the seats is a whole lot easier in a minivan than anything else; or even if you’re kids are grown and gone and you like to take your friends out to dinner, know that the leather in the Sedona is as nice as anything in a sedan, and again, your knees and the knees of your guests will thank you vis-à-vis ingress and egress) really need to check this vehicle out.
Engine: 3.3-liter DOHC, GDI V6
Material: Aluminum block and heads
Horsepower: 276 @ 6.000 rpm
Torque: 248 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Steering: Rack-and-pinion hydraulic power assisted
Wheelbase: 120.5 in.
Length: 201.4 in.
Width 78.1 in.
Height: 68.5 in.
Cargo behind third row: 33.9 cu. ft.
Cargo behind second row: 78.4 cu. ft.
EPA fuel economy: city/highway/combined: 17/22/19 mpg