2015 Kia Sedona focuses on value, quality and versatility

Kia Sedona cargo
We loaded the Sedona with every bit of our camping collection — the “Tent Mahal,” the cots, the two-burner stove, the coolers, the pots and pans, the boots, backpacks, walking sticks and water — and had room left over for a pampered pair of second-row passengers.

This post originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review

We were badly outnumbered as we piloted our Kia Sedona deep into Southern Utah’s red-rocked vacationland.

Vehicles of all description clog the region’s two-lanes: massive RVs; pickups towing travel trailers and fifth-wheels; bellowing, big-bore motorcycles; crossovers; SUVs; family sedans.

Kia Sedona interior
The new Sedona arrives just as Kia gains new recognition for quality control. In the current J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey, the company moves up four positions to place second behind Porsche.

Scarcely a minivan in sight.

I’m guessing even the bicyclists outnumbered the van-goers.

The minivan is America’s forgotten travel tool. Which is a shame, because there’s no more efficient way to get lots of people and their stuff down the road. We loaded the Sedona with every bit of our camping collection — the “Tent Mahal,” the cots, the two-burner stove, the coolers, the pots and pans, the boots, backpacks, walking sticks and water — and had room left over for a pampered pair of second-row passengers.

With the second-generation 2015 Sedona, Kia hopes to lure prospective crossover buyers into the minivan camp. Exterior styling suggests a crossover’s muscular presence. Inside, a console nestles between the front seats, filling a space left open in other minivans. A hands-free “Smart Power Liftgate” opens automatically when the key fob is sensed for 3 seconds, and is programmable to customize the user’s height preference.

Our top-level, seven-passenger SX-L ($39,700) tester included Kia’s “First Class” second-row captains chairs. Fitted with armrests and pop-up footrests, they recline and slide every which way. Unfortunately, the right-hand seat’s wing-style headrest blocks the driver’s over-the-shoulder vision.

sedona_int_4In the lower, eight-passenger trims, the second-row seats slide forward and fold upright against the front seatbacks. In all trims, the split-and folding rear bench folds into the cargo floor.

We drove the Sedona over 12,000-foot mountain passes and across rugged desert washes (slowly, very slowly). In air-conditioned comfort, we listened to books on DVD and caught up on the news and the tunes via the available satellite-radio system.

We easily overtook slower traffic, the Sedona 276-horsepower V-6 scarcely panting and its six-speed automatic seamlessly swapping cogs. Had our Sedona been properly equipped, we could have towed a 3,500-pound load.

Over the many miles and wildly varying road surfaces, we came to appreciate the Sedona’s
ultra-stiff body structure (its torsional rigidity is 36 percent greater than that of its nearest rival, says Kia). These underpinnings contributed to an excellent ride and surprisingly nimble handling. Steering is direct and accurate, and commendable on-center feel made unnecessary the minute in-lane course corrections that help cause driver fatigue.

Four-way power-adjustable lumber support also helped to reduce fatigue and minimize lower-back pain.

What we didn’t do on our 2,500-mile trip was pass many gas stations. The front-wheel-drive, 4,400-pound Sedona musters subpar EPA numbers; 19 mpg combined/17 city/22 highway.

The new Sedona arrives just as Kia gains new recognition for quality control. In the current J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey, the company moves up four positions to place second behind Porsche.

The minivan segment is dominated by entries from such builders as Honda, Toyota and Chrysler. While it’s unlikely ever to rule in Southern Utah, it’s very likely to put Kia on the minivan roadmap.
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Contact Don at don@dadair.com

2015 Kia Sedona SXL
Vehicle base price: $26,100
Trim level base price: $39,700
As tested: $43,295
Options included xenon HD headlights; lane-departure warning system; forward-collision warning system; surround-view monitor; adaptive cruise control
Towing capacity: 3,500 lbs
EPA rating: 19 combined/17 city/22 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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No CD player for Golf?

In the wake of the Chrysler 330S CD Surprise, I was once again surprised to learn that a tester — this time, a 2015 VW Golf — had arrived sans CD player. Moreover, it appears that no Golf sold in the States can be had with a CD player. First, the Chrysler 300S, now it’s the Golf. Is this a thing? Both cars compensate by including a memory-card slot. And, since every cellphone is a mobile, connected jukebox, CDs may have outlived their usefulness. I’ve dropped a line to my guy at VW to see if I can get some insight about VW’s thinking.

Chrysler Surprise v.2

I spent more of Saturday than I should have researching the Chrysler Chrysler 300's Uconnect system doesn't include a CD player.300 CD mystery. In an earlier post, I mentioned my surprise that my Beats-equipped 300S tester didn’t have a CD player.

Other than this photo, downloaded from Chrysler’s media website, I could find nothing to suggest the 2015 300 can even be ordered with a CD player. I fired off an email query to Fiat-Chrysler’s West Coast media guy, who wrote back:

Wow, you are correct, no CD player for 300!

Chrysler substitutes a Media Hub that includes an SD card slot, a USB port and an auxiliary input.

Recent research suggests that buyers are growing increasingly features-aware. In its most recent evaluation of consumer behavior,  the automotive research and ratings firm J.D. Power, said, “New-vehicle buyers indicate they avoided a model because it lacked the latest technological features at a rate of 15% in 2015, up from 4% in 2014.”

Will Chrysler’s bold CD move influence buyers away from the brand? Or, is the company channeling Steve Jobs, who changed the computer industry when he effectively killed the floppy drive with the 1998 debut of the (floppy-free) iMac?

Another Chrysler surprise

Once I finished reading about the new Beats audio system in my 300s tester, with its trunk-mounted dual-voice coil subwoofer and 12-channel 552-watt amplifier, I grabbed my latest noisy acquisition and headed straight for the driver’s seat. Where I looked for the CD slot. And looked. And looked again. Ten minute’s of reportorial-style digging later, I’d learned only that Chrysler appears to be phasing out the CD player. None of the three available audio systems seems to include a CD player. Not even the 19-speaker H/K Logic7 system with its GreenEdge 900-watt amp and 32-volt Tracking Power Supply/(TPS). All that gear, with no CD player in sight, though I have seen one in photos. Look closely and you’ll set it just below the touch screen: 300-cd_player I’ve only seen this once before, in a 84-horsepower, $15,000 Chevy Spark, where both weight (7 lbs) and cost were a concern. Neither amounted for all that much in my $35,000 300S tester.

A Chrysler surprise

Ran into a friend downtown last night. He asked what I’d driven lately that had surprised me. It’s a great question that no one ever asks.

Also, it was a spectacular set-up. “This,” I said, and pointed to the 2015 Chrysler 300S parked next to us. I’d read good things, but hadn’t given them much thought. The 300 is a much more enjoyable car than I’d expected; it’s too large to be called lithe, but it’s plenty athletic for a big (4,300 lbs) fella.

2015 Chrysler 300S

Comfortable and good-looking, too. The new mesh grille with its “floating” logo work especially well, IMO.

Engine choices include the legendary 5.7-liter “Hemi” V-8 which makes 363 hp and 394 lb-ft of torque and a 3.0-liter six that makes 292 or 300 hp, depending on trim. Both engines are paired with a very good eight-speed automatic.

My tester had the six, which tromps the eight at the box office, if not the drag strip. The six-banger has been treated to a bit of engine-audio engineering and, under throttle, offers up a reasonable facsimile of the sound of a big eight.

Does the US dodge diesel?

After this morning’s review of VW’s 2015 Jetta Hybrid appeared, I received an email from a friend. Why, he wondered, are US buyers denied access to high-mileage turbo-diesels available in Europe.

Volkswagen Polo
Volkswagen Polo

He wrote: Our friends rented a VW Polo in Europe that gets 91 mpg highway.  I did some research to learn it is a 1.4 litre turbo-diesel that Porsche engineers created.

He sees a conspiracy: I am in contact with Rep. Cathy McMorris’ office to determine the reason(s) The Empire does not allow fuel-efficient cars into the USA.  I have been trying to get an answer since September.  I also contacted the US DOT and am unable to get their stated reasoning. 

It’s less a conspiracy, I replied, than a business decision. When deciding which engines to export to the US — and especially diesel — foreign manufacturers confront a complex matrix of decisions. Diesel fuel costs more here than in Europe, due in large part to a difference in tax structures. Further, in 2008, the US switched to low-sulfur diesel and imposed new clean-air standards to which imported diesels must adhere. Add to that American’s historical preference for gas and the low “take rate” that VW might expect for the three-cylinder 1.4-liter BlueMotion diesel that powered my friend’s friends’ Polo, a “supermini” not available in the US.

So, no conspiracy. In fact, some analysts believe European diesel sales will fall as the Continent tightens its emissions standards.

Want to know more? This 2009 Popular Mechanics piece is a good place to start.

High on Mazda’s Heads-up Cockpit

Mazda Mazda6 Heads-up Display
A 7-inch tablet-sized touchscreen sits atop the dash, where it can be quickly scanned.

You’d have to look hard to distinguish the 2016 Mazda6 from last year’s model; modest updates to its grille, headlights and taillights are subtle enough to escape casual observation.

It’s a different story inside, though. Mazda fits the 2016 6 with a new dash and center console, improves materials quality and tightens fit-and-finish.

Mazda Mazda6 Heads-up Cockpit control knob
The buttons (Home/Entertainment/Navigation) allow direct access to top-level menus; the driver uses the knob to drill down into them.

The new set-up looks better and enables implementation of Mazda’s Heads-up Cockpit, a suite of tools that help minimize the distractions of modern cabin tech. It allows drivers full access to controls and information, without having to lower their eyes from the road ahead.

A 7-inch tablet-sized touchscreen hovers above the dash, where it can be quickly scanned. The driver may touch the screen or access it via a console-mounted knob that’s accompanied by three hard buttons. The buttons (Home/Entertainment/Navigation) allow direct access to top-level menus; the knob is used to drill into them.

I quickly learned by feel the location of the hard buttons, so making menu choices required only quick glances at the screen. Redundant steering-wheel controls supplement both screen and knob, and, if you have the patience to wait for it , the system can be voice-activated.