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2006 Kia Sedona Minivan Preview

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First Review: 2006 Kia Sedona Minivan
By Carey Russ

Which of the following words or phrases doesn't come to mind when thinking about a minivan? a) practical b) useful c) spacious d) convenient e) fun to drive.

For most minivans, the correct answer is likely e. And, in truth, this is not a problem for minivan buyers. They're looking for a box on wheels, with great space utilization, safety, and a comfortable, reconfigurable interior that allows quick changes from passenger to cargo duty and back. Depending on needs, wants, and income, amenities can range from bare-bones to near luxury, with amenities including power sliding doors and tailgate, high-end audio systems, and rear-seat entertainment. Function and comfort rule; sports car handling is not even in the equation.

The all-new 2006 Kia Sedona can satisfy all of the regular requirements, as can many other minivans. What sets the Sedona apart from the herd is chassis dynamics. Its ride characteristics and handling abilities are notably above the standards for the minivan class. This should come as no surprise, as first-rate driving characteristics have been an important part of the Kia vehicular personality of late, especially in the Korean manufacturer's compact Spectra and subcompact Rio range. The second-generation Sedona continues that. And that's good.

Sedona is one of Kia's best-known nameplates, but for the second-generation 2006 version, only the name has been unchanged. The 2006 Sedona is built on an all-new and larger platform that is longer in wheelbase and length for an almost 15 percent increase in passenger room. Power, driving the front wheels, is from a new 3.8-liter aluminum alloy V6 engine. The dual overhead cam, 24-valve powerplant with continuously-variable valve timing has an output of 244 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 253 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm, and is matched to an electronically-controlled five-speed automatic transmission with Sportmatic(tm) manual-shift mode. Suspension is fully-independent, with MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link setup in the rear.

Safety is a high concern among minivan buyers, and the Sedona scores well with six standard airbags - dual front, front seat-mounted side, and full-length side curtain - a unibody structure designed for occupant protection, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, electronic stability control, traction control, and a tire-pressure monitoring system all standard on all Sedonas.

New styling with a chiseled look that strikes a balance between the conservatism of some competitors and futuristic excesses of others distinguishes the latest Sedona. Two trim levels, LX and EX, are offered. The differences between the two are strictly in equipment level, as both use the 3.8-liter V6 and the same chassis tuning, and offer the same high level of standard safety equipment. Both have a third-row seat than folds into the floor when not in use, and removable second-row seats with adjustable back angle. The EX has larger wheels and lower-profile tires, both for looks and improved handling response, a higher level of standard convenience equipment, and fancier interior trim. The EX may also be specified with dual power sliding doors and a power tailgate, leather seat trim, , adjustable pedals, a back-up warning system, and more upscale options - including a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and a high-grade Infinity audio system. Hey, minivans are not only for soccer moms with kids. Empty nesters ( a polite marketing-speak way to say Grandma and Grandpa) like them, too. Space, comfort, and versatility are useful for more than merely bus service.

Kia recently introduced the new Sedona to the press in San Diego, California. After the obligatory morning product presentation, it was time to learn about the vehicle first-hand, on the winding mountain roads east of town.

It was a typical San Diego winter day, clear, sunny, and nearly 70 degrees, but there was a strong wind blowing - the kind that calls for ``small car warnings'' in some places. A minivan is a large box, with relatively high aerodynamic drag due to its utilitarian shape and size. A minivan can be a dicey handful in strong winds, but not if the minivan in question is a 2006 Kia Sedona. There was only one spot where I could feel the wind strongly enough to need to correct the steering - and at that point, trees with six-inch trunks were noticeably bent over. There was some wind noise at that point, but such is to be expected in 40-mph crosswinds.

The Sedona's performance on the winding Southern California mountain roads was exemplary. No, it didn't handle like a sports car - at around 4400 lbs in base trim and over 4600 optioned out there's a little too much mass for that. But the Sportmatic transmission is there for a reason - put it in manual mode to hold lower gears, keep the revs up, and it takes to corners better than any other minivan I've driven. Call it ``sport-touring.'' And that composed handling potential can pay off even if driving entertainment is not in your plans - it should do quick evasive maneuvers well, a necessity for active safety. Acceleration and braking are also good, considering the vehicle's mass.

Interior and exterior fit and finish are first-rate. I had the opportunity to ride in all three rows. There isn't a bad seat in the house. The third row is not at all cramped and bouncy, and is perfectly useable by real adults, not merely small children. The second-row seats are equal to the front buckets in comfort.

Kia is not the best-known name in the auto industry at the moment, but with an aggressive product-release schedule and some very good products, the Korean manufacturer is in a good position. Like all Kia’s, the new Sedona is covered by a 5-year, 60,000 mile warranty, with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and five years of roadside assistance. The Sedona LX starts at $22,995, while the EX begins at $25,595. Destination charge for both is $670. With all announced factory options, and including destination charge, an EX tops out at under $32,000.