Monday, July 07, 2008

Kia Sedona

If you're thinking of buying a Kia Sedona, here's a word of advice:

Don't.

Oh, it would be easy to be seduced by a short test drive. The zippy 250hp V6, the five-speed automatic with manumatic control (look! it's sporty! or not), the comfortable seating for seven passengers, the low-speed maneuverability, the flat cornering and minimal body roll (you can even turn off the electronic stability control, although why you'd want to do this in a minivan is beyond me), the 10-year/100,000-mile warranty, the mid-20s sticker price - such a deal! Right?

But it doesn't take long for the seductress to turn into a hag. Spend a little more time with the Sedona - as I did last week, driving one for four days and 870 miles - and the shine begins to come off. Oh, the engine is still plenty zippy - but the throttle is so touchy that every stoplight becomes a drag race. Meanwhile, the five-speed automatic transmission to which the engine is coupled never met a downshift it didn't like, eagerly kicking down a gear - or two - every time you poke the throttle. That's fine in passing situations, but it becomes annoying in city traffic when every increase in speed is accompanied by a lurching downshift and a 3000rpm scream from the engine. That, along with the van's two-ton bulk, no doubt contributed to the 20mpg average I returned in mostly highway driving.

Newton's Third Law says that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Sir Isaac never drove a Sedona. The powertrain is eager to run, but when it comes time to stop, the 4387-pound minivan is considerably less cooperative. The brakes have all the firmness of pudding, and as for stopping power...well, let's just say the French did a better job of stopping the Germans in 1940. Panic stops are a) not recommended, and b) accompanied by a porpoising motion as the nose pitches down and up and the rest of the van shimmies like a hula dancer on speed. And this was with a brand-new tester. The brakes don't wear in, either: a quick search turns up many owner complaints about warped rotors and other problems.

And that's why you should stay far away from the Kia Sedona. In most departments, it's an eminently competent vehicle. But it's not enough for a minivan to haul seven passengers in comfort and go like stink - the thing has to be able to stop. And the Sedona can't - at least not well enough for me to be comfortable putting my family in one. That's especially unfortunate because Kia engineered the rest of the van well enough to earn the highest safety ratings from both the NHTSA and the IIHS. But with those brakes, the Sedona and its five-star ratings have to come with an asterisk: the safest crash is still the one you avoid.

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