If there exists a better shuttle between home and airport than a minivan, I haven’t seen it. With its big-box volume, low step-in height and (relatively) easy access to its third row, a minivan is just the ticket for holiday get-togethers when most of the ‘together’ is arriving from out of town. For this year’s holiday we supplemented our Grand Cherokee, featuring lots of ‘sport’ and little ‘utility’, with a freshened 2015 Toyota Sienna on the front end (before Christmas) and Kia’s new Sedona on the back side of the New Year’s festivities (Festivus). And if there is a better indication of an improving economy than a minivan priced north of $40K, I can’t think of it.
First up was Toyota’s Sienna. While the Sienna received little beyond a refresh for 2015, to its credit the two-box, slab-sided people hauler has been selling quite well , and wasn’t perceived by the product and marketing folks as needing very much. Toyota, of course, checks all the boxes when it comes to the target customers’ perceived needs. To those boxes Toyota added interior refinements, enhanced technology (natch) and freshened exterior styling.
That freshened styling includes an updated front grille on most trim levels, LED daytime running lights and upgraded headlamps on SE and Limited, restyled taillights on all but the SE and new grille colors for LE, XLE and Limited. Of more significance is a stiffened chassis from the application of some 140 additional spot welds, making us wonder what was holding the thing together in the first place…
Inside the mods are equally substantive, and include upgraded surface materials and stitched surfaces, a more intuitive HVAC button layout, an available Dualview Blu-Ray DVD entertainment center, and a new multi-information display located between speedo and tach (and why – exactly – do we get a tach on a minivan?). Notably, a backup camera is standard on all trim levels, and may be viewed via a larger audio/backup screen. Finally, Toyota upgraded the steering wheel on all trim levels.
The end result is a minivan that maximizes capability while maintaining the Toyota conventions we all know and like. That includes, of course, reliability, durability and established resale when the kiddos have moved on and you’d so like to move on. With or without kids, we found the Sienna eminently comfortable, reasonably composed and – in the Limited Premium trim supplied on our test Sienna – offering one knock-‘em-dead-attractive interior. And beyond the design was its construction; this is an interior which can actually withstand what a typical family will throw at it: Cheerios, fast-food packaging and the (occasional) dirty diaper.
You won’t be pinned to your seat by the Sienna’s available acceleration, but neither will you find yourself pinned to the grille of the approaching Kenworth as you attempt to merge. And between house and airport the difference between the Sienna’s accommodation and that of the 3-row Highlander used over Thanksgiving is well worth noting. So we have. And let’s have a round of applause for the Sienna’s available all-wheel drive, as Toyota is the only one in vandom still providing it. For those of us in a snowbelt – or simply traveling to one – the safety, security and just plain sanity of all-wheel drive would, could and should prove a blessing. In Mississippi it’s academic, but if you’re hangin’ in Massachusetts it’s an option box you should check.
In contrast to Toyota’s design approach (two-box, slab sides and an ‘updated’ front grille) is the Kia Sedona, which looks as if the sheetmetal was actually executed by someone trained in automotive design…at an art center. While attempting to retain a modicum of objectivity we’ll go out on a limb and judge it SIMPLY GORGEOUS. From its front grille (all new, with no need to update) to its rear hatch, there isn’t a contour or detail that doesn’t hold – at least for a moment – your full attention. And while it may seem a stretch, I’d venture there hasn’t been this much design execution in the van segment since Bucky Fuller penned his Dymaxion (look it up…)
Of course, vans are ultimately judged on their functionality. And beyond the seductive metal is some careful thought and considerate execution. The hip point for driver and front seat passenger is higher, although not so high as to impede entry for those of you that are, uh, shorter. And while that hip point doesn’t mimic the height of your buddy’s Raptor, it comes close to approximating the upright feel and commanding view of a typical CUV. As you’re surveying the Sedona scene, note the instrument panel and its upscale (especially in our test SX Limited) construct. ‘Big’ is the dominant theme, with both speedo and tach visible from the third row, and a fully intuitive operation of audio and HVAC controls.
Under the expressive hood – and behind its all-new grille – is Kia’s 3.3 liter V6. Despite some 4,800 pounds of van (plus passengers) to move around, the V6 proved adequately capable. I keep waiting for someone/anyone to provide a minivan with something beyond a modicum of power; this would seem to be a viable avenue for companies like Kia (or Nissan) to break out from the Caravan/Sienna/Odyssey pack.
We’ll be less kind toward the Sedona platform. All the spec is there for a capable and composed ride/handling compromise, but instead Kia’s product team has opted for a cushy ride; for track days you’ll need to stick with the Cayman. We’re, of course, not looking for track potential, but simply a ride/handling balance that feels smaller than its actual footprint – and not noticeably larger. The Sedona feels large.
With the hard-loaded Kia coming in at $43K (base versions start at about $26K), and the Sienna Limited Premium settling in at $48K, we’re inclined to prefer our minivans on this side of $40K rather than that side of $40K. (A tastefully optioned Sedona EX was seen at this week’s Washington Auto Show with a $35K MSRP.) Thankfully, working types can still find minivans for under $30,000, and while that won’t get you leather-covered lounge seating, it would save you some $15K for providing your house or apartment with leather-covered lounge seating.
For a minivan to carry the kids, we like the Sedona. And for a minivan to pass on to the kids (for when they have kids) we’ll take the Sienna. In both there’s room to go…and room to grow.