2018 Kia Sedona Test Drive Review: Rekindle Your Love For The Minivan

Test Drive

Minivans may not be classically cool, but their day is coming back around.

Let's play a hypothetical game, shall we? You are in your mid-to-late 30s, your third child has just arrived, and your sedan just isn't going to get it done with three car seats. What car do you buy? You'll certainly be spoiled for choice if you decide to go for a mid-size SUV with a third-row - automakers can't seem to build them fast enough. But even with a three-row crossover, you'll struggle to get the kids in the third row on every car trip and good luck fitting an adult back there.

Chances are, you'll be shopping for a minivan like the 2018 Kia Sedona. Yes, we can hear you sobbing all the way through your computer screen, but let us assure you that the minivan life isn't as bad as bad as people may have you believe. In fact, there are many areas where the minivan vastly outperforms the mid-size SUV.

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A Dying Segment

Popularity certainly isn't one of those areas. In the first half of 2018, the mid-size SUV segment rose by 3.9% to 989,582 units according to Car Sales Base. By comparison, the minivan segment fell by 2.6% to just 257,456 units. The mid-size sedan segment includes nearly 20 models to choose from, whereas the minivan segment now includes just five, another sign of its declining popularity.

Among all of the minivans, the Kia Sedona trails the competition in sales with just over 10,000 units sold in the first half of 2018. When I receive a new car to review, I typically post a teaser image on Instagram. After revealing the 2018 Kia Sedona as my tester for the week, most people seemed to forget Kia still made a minivan - not a great start for the Sedona.

How The Sedona Stacks Up

The Kia Sedona entered its third generation back in 2015, tying it for the newest minivan on the market with the Chrysler Pacifica (also introduced in 2015). We have always thought the Sedona was the most handsome minivan on the market (if you can call a minivan handsome), although this clearly hasn't helped it sell better than its competitors.

Kia only has to compete with the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica, and the Dodge Grand Caravan (yes, that's still in production). Yet the Sedona sits at the bottom in terms of sales while the Grand Caravan, surprisingly, sits at the top likely due to fleet sales.

2019 Refresh

It's worth mentioning that Kia has given the Sedona a minor facelift for the 2019 model year, but it wasn't ready in time for this review. For 2019, the Sedona has been given a revised lower fascia with new fog lights, a wireless smartphone charger, a USB outlet for the third row, an eight-speed automatic transmission (replacing the old six-speed), a larger 10.2-inch infotainment display, and a vastly improved rear entertainment system with dual touchscreens and smartphone mirroring. Kia will also replace the Infinity premium audio with a Harmon Kardon eight-speaker system.

Other than the transmission, the 3.3-liter V6 with 276 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque will remain the same. With the addition of two extra gears, the 2019 Sedona should see improved fuel economy compared to the 2018 model's 17/22/19 mpg city/highway/combined.

Pricing

Pricing out a Sedona isn't too difficult, with five trim levels ranging from the base L trim starting at $27,000 to the loaded SX Limited trim starting at $42,000. Kia sent me a loaded up SX-L trim with a $1,000 prestige seating package, $285 roof cross bars, and a $1,095 rear seat entertainment system, bringing the as-test price up to $45,420. Not only is this very on par with other fully loaded minivans in the segment, but it is also similar in price to many mid-size SUVs - it is also far more practical as well.

Why It's Better Than An SUV

I've tested several mid-size SUVs this year, including the sporty Mazda CX-9, the dependable Toyota Highlander, and even Kia's own Sorento. After driving them all, I am convinced that none of them (possibly with the exception of the CX-9), drives well enough to justify not buying a minivan. After decades of the minivan's dominance with families, buyers became desperate for another option that could make them look a bit cooler.

I too am guilty of recommending three-row SUVs to car shoppers as an alternative for the "boring" minivan. While SUVs may look "cooler" than their minivan counterparts, most do not offer a significantly better driving experience. Of the three SUVs I mentioned, only the CX-9 was decidedly more engaging to drive than the Sedona. So, while the Sedona probably won't win on cool factor, the way it drives is far less soul-crushing than you may imagine.

Unless you are willing to spend far more on a full-size SUV like a Ford Expedition or Chevy Tahoe, no SUV will beat the practicality of a minivan. My Sedona tester was fitted with what Kia calls the "SXL Prestige Package." This replaces the second-row bench with two captains chair, each of which is capable of sliding, and reclining. Since I don't have kids of my own, I asked some local families in my neighborhood to try out the seats. The children absolutely loved having the ability to lay back and put their feet up, a feature only minivans and high-dollar luxury sedans seem to offer.

The Prestige Package may eliminate one seat, limiting the Sedona to seven seats, but it is worth it for the extra comfort and ease of access to the third row. While I'm on the subject of the third row, it is actually usable for adults. One of the biggest challenges I encounter when reviewing a three-row vehicle is cramming myself into the rearmost seats. Even at 5'9", most mid-size SUVs are a tight fit at best.

The second row certainly houses the best seats in the house but the third row is actually usable for adults on a long trip. Even with the third row up, the Sedona offers 33.9 cubic feet of storage. When you don't need the third row, it can be stored in the floor to allow for up to 142 cubic feet of storage.

What's Great

In SX-L trim, the Sedona is downright luxurious. The ride is fairly complacent and the steering is light and agile to make driving such a large vehicle feel like less of a chore. It does take some time to get used to the size, especially when turning into parking lots. Front seat passengers will be treated to their own goodies, including heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, wood grain accents, tri-zone climate controls (with a separate control in the second row), controls for the power sliding rear doors, a power liftgate, and Kia's excellent UVO infotainment system with Apple Car Play and Android Auto.

On the safety front, the Sedona is well-equipped with auto emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, forward collision alerts, adaptive cruise control, and a 360-degree surround-view monitor.

What Can (And Will) Be Improved

The Kia Sedona is very impressive but it does carry a few faults. Thankfully, most of my gripes will be fixed with the 2019 model year update. Kia's UVO entertainment system is great, though the screen feels a bit small in 2018. For 2019, Kia will increase the screen size. Likewise, the single-screen rear seat entertainment system feels extremely basic and will be replaced with a new dual-screen system with smartphone integration. Finally, the adaptive cruise control can not bring the car to a full stop, which makes stop-and-go traffic pretty dreadful. Fortunately, the 2019 Sedona's adaptive cruise control will include a stop-and-go function for slow-moving traffic.

Verdict

Many people avoid minivans like the plague because they are simply too "uncool." While even I was guilty of having this same mentality, spending a week in the Kia Sedona has drastically changed my viewpoint. Minivans offer something mid-size SUVs simply can not match - unbridled practicality. Some features in the Sedona do feel old, though the 2019 update should improve these shortcomings. Until the 2019 models arrive, the Sedona is still one of the most affordable minivans on the market in its base trim and offers plenty of luxury and comfort at the high end. It receives a rating of Worth A Look.

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