Best Mini­van on the Mar­ket?

The Washington Post Sunday - - AUTOMOTIVE -

Solid, sturdy and up­scale. The 2015 Kia Se­dona has proved it­self a win­ner as the ideal mini­van.

Based on our re­cent eval­u­a­tion, the best mini­van on the mar­ket to­day doesn’t come from Chrysler, Dodge, Toy­ota, or Honda. It comes from Kia. The all-new 2015 Kia Se­dona is the clas­sic case study of bench­mark­ing the com­pe­ti­tion and study­ing the mar­ket when de­vel­op­ing a new ve­hi­cle. As a re­sult, the all­new 2015 Kia Se­dona ad­dresses all the afore­men­tioned com­peti­tor’s short­com­ings and lis­ten­ing to mini­van own­ers to de­velop a prod­uct that “de­lights” the mar­ket.

In­vented by Chrysler, the Dodge Car­a­van and Chrysler Town and Coun­try have long dom­i­nated this seg­ment, in terms of prod­uct in­no­va­tion and sales. And even though the cur­rent prod­uct is seven years old and sur­vived three sep­a­rate own­ers, th­ese mini­vans were, un­til this year, the best mini­van value on the mar­ket. The 2015 Kia Se­dona seems to have come from nowhere to seize the mini­van crown. The pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion model was ex­tremely lack­ing. It al­most seemed that Kia of­fered this prod­uct just to cap­ture a share of this once hot mar­ket seg­ment. In­stead, it seems that Kia was us­ing that prod­uct to gather mar­ket data , bench­mark­ing the com­pe­ti­tion as well as lis­ten­ing to what mini­van buy­ers to de­velop an “ideal mini­van” wish list. To say Kia was suc­cess­ful would be an un­der­state­ment. Kia has proved that they have the de­sign, en­gi­neer­ing, and man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties to sig­nif­i­cantly move up­scale. Hav­ing set a few weeks in their flag­ship sedan, the K900, it was clear that Mercedes, BMW, Audi, and Jaguar should be wor­ried. Kia is us­ing some of the same sup­pli­ers at the afore­men­tioned pre­mium brands. As a re­sult, the K900 is bet­ter than any­thing that Lexus and In­finiti are of­fer­ing.

Kia brought that same spirit when re­design the Se­dona. When you ap­proach the 2015 Kia, the ex­te­rior looks solid, sturdy, and up­scale. The bold look, uni­form nar­row gaps, longer hood, taste­fully ap­plied chrome, and mesh grill al­low the Se­dona to stand out in a sea of mini­van “boxes”. In fact, if Land River were to ever of­fer a mini­van, it would most likely look a lot like the 2015 Se­dona.

The in­te­rior has that same up­scale, sold feel. The dash looked solid, with the con­trols er­gonom­i­cally placed. The driver slight lines, as well as pas­sen­ger visibility, are out­stand­ing.

Hard plas­tic is kept to a min­i­mum (it’s a mini­van, af­ter all– you have to ex­pect some). The car­pet­ing feels nice and seems to be easy to clean. Our test ve­hi­cle had stan­dard “Nappa” leather seat­ing sur­faces. The seats felt more like a com­fort­able easy chair than a car seat. The front seats car be heated or cooled. And the sec­ond row pas­sen­gers are in for a treat. Our “Limited” model fea­tures as stan­dard equip­ment, re­clin­ing leather seats. Called “first class lounge seat­ing”, the sec­ond row seats are as com­fort­able as the best from La-Z-Boy. This was the first mini­van we tested where our pas­sen­gers called, “sec­ond row” rather than “shot­gun”! To say our Se­dona was a hit in the SLUGG lines would be an un­der­state­ment. Kia must have bench­marked the Mercedes RL in terms of driv­ing dy­nam­ics and com­fort. Quiet, re­spon­sive, and nim­ble, we found the Se­dona to be a de­light to drive on the In­ter­states, the Sub­urbs, and in the city . We have no prob­lems driv­ing the Se­dona in the var­i­ous DC Metro area un­der­ground garages, or par­al­lel park­ing the ve­hi­cle along the DC and Ar­ling­ton area streets. The big mir­rors, var­i­ous park­ing sen­sors and rear view cam­era pro­vided wel­come as­sis­tance dur­ing our park­ing ma­neu­vers.

The only ques­tion­able fea­ture in the all-new Se­dona is the lack of power fold­ing third row seats. Per­haps the Kia re­search showed that most mini­van own­ers buy those ve­hi­cles for the ex­tra seat­ing ca­pac­ity, there­fore they are al­ways de­ployed. And pulling up to the SLUGG line with a nearly empty mini­van gen­er­ates a fair amount of ex­cite­ment. How­ever, ob­serv­ing mini­vans own­ers at the lo­cals ware­house stores, a good num­ber of them fold down both rows of seats to take full ad­van­tage of the large cargo area. There­fore, it’s quite puz­zling that Kia would opt to equip the Se­dona with heavy, man­u­ally fold­ing third row seats. The 2015 Kia Se­dona re­flects a new man­u­fac­turer prac­tice of of­fer­ing nicely equipped prod­ucts at var­i­ous price points. Our Se­dona Limited was fully loaded, with the dual sun­roof, high in­ten­sity dis­charge xenon head­lights, dual screen en­ter­tain­ment sys­tems, col­li­sion warn­ing sys­tem, and tow­ing pack­age as the only op­tions. Some­thing odd has hap­pened with the mini­van mar­ket. With some of the high­est per­cent­age of re­peat buy­ers, to­day’s mini­van buy­ers now want their mini­vans to be fully loaded. And it’s just not ac­tive fam­i­lies buy­ing them, it’s aging baby boomers. This group is buy­ing th­ese ve­hi­cles to use as a “mo­bile fam­ily rooms/of­fices” as they roam the coun­try, vis­it­ing fam­ily and places on their “bucket list”. It’s no won­der that mo­bile WiFi was first in­tro­duced in the Dodge Car­a­van/Chrysler Town and Coun­try. For the man­u­fac­tur­ers, the mini­van has now be­come one of their most prof­itable prod­ucts.

The 2015 Kia Se­dona mini­van is de­signed with the same win­ning phi­los­o­phy that has made all the new Kia prod­ucts mar­ket suc­cesses. In short, the 2015 Kia Se­dona is more fun to drive than the Honda Odyssey, bet­ter built that the Toy­ota Si­enna, and a bet­ter value than the Chrysler Town and Coun­try or Dodge Car­a­van.

So why should Kia be wor­ried? Well, next year, the com­pany that in­vented the mini­van, Chrysler, is in­tro­duc­ing the all­new Chrysler Town and Coun­try mini­van. If this all-new prod­uct has the de­sign fea­tures, re­fined driv­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics, and man­u­fac­tur­ing fit and fin­ished that we’ve seen in other Chrysler prod­ucts launched by this new own­er­ship group, it could be the Town and Coun­try again wear­ing the mini­van crown.

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