Camping. Climbing. Kayaking. Biking. None of these adventures feel right in a minivan to me… heck, not even a road trip feels sexy in a minivan. I’ve always associated minivans with soccer moms and suburban families, so when Kia offered up their Sedona MPV (that’s Multi-Purpose Vehicle, not minivan, mind you) for The CSA Cookbook Road Trip this summer, I’ll admit I was a little hesitant at first.
But the large windows, ample storage, and great gas mileage swayed me enough to give it a go, and seven weeks later, it was a sad, sad day when I had to return the vehicle. The Sedona has completely changed my impressions of MPVs and their possibilities on the road.
As a mobile office, the Sedona had every amenity I needed to stay connected during my book tour, including two built-in power inverters that were in constant use to charge our phones, computers, and cameras. We actually had a power strip attached while we were on the road, and it was fantastic for those long stretches between hotel rooms.
Since we spent a few days hiking in Arches and Yellowstone National Parks, certain features that seemed trivial at first — like dual glove boxes and a utility flashlight — turned out to be surprisingly useful for stashing all our trail maps and lighting our way through camp. There was a place for everything in the Sedona: a spacious center console, 12 cup holders, even a sunglass holder. Perfect for the organizational OCD in me.
But perhaps my all-time favorite feature was the panoramic windows… which, inadvertently, made it an awesome safari mobile in Yellowstone.
Truly, the only thing missing from the Sedona was all-wheel drive. If and when it’s ever implemented in a future model, I’d seriously consider buying one as our family adventure vehicle.
Since the hubby (and book photographer and adventure partner) was behind the wheel 95 percent of the time, I thought it would be appropriate to turn the actual performance review over to him.
Take it away, WT!
Text by Will Taylor
Let’s go again! I’m ready! Even after 11,000-plus miles driven, I long for the storied twists and turns of the American road. Sure, it helps that I’ve always been a driver, and that’s likely due to growing up the son of a Porsche/Audi and Mercedes-Benz dealer. It’s rumored that my first word was “Carrera” — pronounced “kah-weah-weah” with strong baby accent — inspired by the iconic German automobile.
Early memories of the ride home from school with my dad recall a new car each day, and of course, he’d have to “test drive” it on the way home. So there I am, sliding this way and that into every corner… firmly pressed into new car-smelling leather bucket seats with my dad calmly racing the narrow hometown streets, focused in his zen.
Each time he’d show up with a new car, he’d proclaim that this was his new “Papa Toy,” and I couldn’t wait for the day I could get one of my own! The road is in my blood, with the draw of the next horizon, the hypnotic road noise, and the endless discovery around each bend. When I drive alone, the hours can pass — no music, just the windows cracked, and the road’s symphony playing my theme music.
So when Garden Betty approached me about a ’round-the-US road trip book tour for The CSA Cookbook, I was sold right away. A few weeks later I was delighted to hear that Kia saw the value in the cookbook and the message it promotes, enough to entrust us with their Sedona EX for the entire tour… nearly 2 months of driving and over 11,000 miles!
I had a bit of trepidation, however, concerning the choice of vehicle we were granted. I’d never driven a “minivan” before, and at first glance, that’s what their Sedona model seemed to be. I have to admit I’ve got a thing against minivans, and I’ve had a rule for years where I never get behind a minivan at a stoplight, since it’s always the slowest to start up again when the light turns green. Always!
I’m pleased to report that the Kia squashed these stereotypes, and I’m stronger for it. Now I know, first off, that the Sedona is not a minivan but an MPV (Multi-Purpose Vehicle), and secondly, the difference between the two is not insignificant, as I was soon to find out.
My main demands in vehicle selection revolve around handling and stability, not only for the fun of the drive, but also for the safety. In my list of favorite rides to date, the Mini Cooper and my Subaru Outback rise to the top of the list, expressly ’cause they stick to the road like nothing else. In my current Outback, the Subaru Boxer engine is specially designed to drop lower when you decelerate into a corner, a key feature of the car for both of the aforementioned reasons. So moving to a minivan had me concerned that I was going to be sacrificing those capabilities. (Spoiler alert: I was very wrong.)
The Sedona arrived, delivered right to our door, and I was surprisingly impressed when I saw it firsthand. I’m used to little round sausage-looking minivans, but that’s not the case with the Sedona. Right off the bat, its strong and stout appearance caught my attention, with its squared-off exterior sitting on a wide chassis.
It had two big pluses right away, the first being that low and wide cars tend to hug the road and provide stability in challenging road conditions (of which we would later find many). The second plus we found when we first opened the auto-sliding side doors and auto-raising rear door, was realizing that the squared-off sides, combined with its width, provided us tons of cargo space with room for everything we wanted to take on the trip, from packs of clothes to boxes of books and everything in between. So far, so good!
The delivery driver gave us a quick tour of some of the features that Kia included in the vehicle, which is no easy feat as I think there could be a whole class in Sedona features — we would end up discovering a new button, dial, or sneaky compartment weeks into the trip!
A key feature he filled us in on was the folding rear seats, themselves a work of impressive engineering. A pull on a little lever dropped the third row of seats straight down and into the floor of the vehicle, closing flat with the rest of the rear compartment like it was never there.
Packing this thing just got a whole lot easier! I’m kind of a Tetris master packer and think that’s actually a fun part of every road trip; I’ve discovered over the years that optimal car packing doesn’t reveal itself until the last day of each excursion. Such is the zen of the road, I guess…
But I digress. We devised a plan of packing in layers, so we slid bins of camping and sporting gear onto the base, with case upon case of cookbooks next to them, and even with all those supplies, we had more than enough room for all our clothes, cameras, laptops, skateboards, coolers, etc. Everything stacked up so easily and we didn’t even have to strap anything to the roof. It was time to hit the road!
The adventure began beneath a cloudy sky, an ominous send-off foretelling a very wet drive to come. Normally in May in Southern California, we’re in full beach weather, tops down on all the convertibles, and the only board meetings going on are happening in the surf. But not this day, as the clouds closed in and obscured the sun, casting glowing orange shafts of light onto the shimmering road ahead and igniting the sky in an eerie glow.
Despite the slick road conditions, I began to notice right away that I felt very comfortable in the Sedona. As I’d anticipated, it gripped the pavement firmly, feeling tight and solid on the road.
I found the driver’s amenities well positioned, with all the modern driver enhancement technology one could ask for just a button press or finger flick away. USB ports, 12-volt outlets, and 115-volt power inverters were everywhere which, in our modern device-riddled world, is a welcome improvement over the welter of wires I have clogging up the central console in my Subaru.
We drove out of the Los Angeles basin, climbing toward the high desert and onto our first stop in Vegas, baby! At this point, the Sedona really got my attention. Heading toward the deserts of Nevada, you ascend a couple thousand feet in elevation out of LA, and it’s usually a congested and slow experience.
That wasn’t the case with the Sedona, however. Though loaded down with all our gear, its 3.3-liter V6 engine stepped to the plate and powered the climb, easily passing all the other vehicles when needed. It wouldn’t be the last time the Sedona’s power came into play either. Over the course of 11,000 miles, that power would prove exhilarating at times and life-saving at others.
One memorable experience of the Sedona’s power came when traveling slowly, oh-so-excruciatingly slowly, north through Virginia on a two-lane freeway. We were stuck behind an oblivious van driving 10 mph below the speed limit, right next to a truck going that exact same speed, for what seemed like hundreds of miles (it was probably only 20). Dozens and dozens of cars stacked up behind, each of them scarily gunning and running in circles attempting to get around.
I noticed an upcoming freeway entrance lane extending about a quarter-mile up a hill. Not a big window to make a pass, plus I was about 10 cars behind the truck, but I had to try it. Made it to the entrance lane and luckily no one was trying to enter at that time, so I pulled into the lane and floored it. Boom — the Sedona leapt to action. Next thing I knew, I was easily passing up the truck with plenty of room to merge onto the freeway again, and I was in front of the van as well!
I was the only one who made it around them, so I found myself completely alone on the freeway for miles and miles. After driving nonstop for a month, moments like this are blissful as you can relax, take in the passing scenery, and not have to pay constant attention to the other cars darting around you. The ability to have that burst of power enabled me to enjoy the open road all the more. Thanks Kia!
But I’m jumping ahead of myself… The road trip began by heading into the desert southwest, along the wide-open, laser-straight roads of Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, and provided plenty of time to examine the many features the Sedona placed around the driver’s seat.
One of the first ones I found was the cruise control, of which I’m a big fan in general, especially when I’m on open highways. I was pleased to discover an epic new addition to the standard cruise control technology, where Kia equipped the Sedona with a next-generation fore-mounted radar that automatically slows your vehicle when you get too close to the car in front of you, matching the speed of the traffic you’ve come in behind. You can even set how sensitive you want it to be, and how much distance you want to have between you and the car in front before it slows down. This proved to be an oft-used feature throughout the entire tour.
There were a few other driver enhancements installed as well, which at first I thought were a bit gimmicky, like the Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Monitor, and Parking Assist Sensors. Due to all their beeping, I found them annoying at first and figured I’ve done fine without them all these years, so I just didn’t picture needing ’em. But hey, when someone offers you some help, why turn it down?
I accepted the Sedona’s helping hand more and more throughout the tour, and ended up using the Parking Assist Sensors and Blind Spot Monitor all the time. The Parking Assist gave me valuable audible cues for the front, rear, and sides of the vehicle every time I pulled into a space. The Blind Spot Monitor provided a subtle but strong audible warning, while at the same time flashing a small icon in the side mirrors, whenever I attempted to change lanes with someone hiding in my blind spot.
The Lane Departure Warning came in handy on a number of occasions, ranging from drowsy driving when my coffee IV was running low, to foggy, rainy, or dark conditions when the lanes were hard to see.
For example, I don’t know who designed the section of Highway 70 in Colorado that drops from Loveland Pass east toward Denver, but they need to be fired! At twilight, with the sky glowing a warm purple on the towering fresh snowbanks of Loveland Pass, we entered the western end of the Eisenhower Tunnel, which gores straight through the Great Divide. Upon our exit as we descended toward Denver, it looked like someone had turned out the lights, leaving the craziest, darkest road I’d ever encountered, with hardly any lane markings visible. I tell ya, having the assist of the Lane Departure System definitely helped!
I’d mentioned earlier that we left Los Angles in an unusually late rainstorm; as it turned out, that was a harbinger of things to come and we quickly gained a real understanding of what rain really was. Across the normally drought-stricken panhandle of Texas, through the verdant South into the rainforests of North Carolina, and even all the way up the Eastern Seaboard, we encountered rain like I’d never witnessed, much less driven in before.
I thought I’d seen some intense storms ripping into California, bringing the fury of the Pacific Ocean along with them, but nothing could have prepared me for what we drove through!
It all started in Texas, where we learned from the locals that 12 years of drought had been made up for in only a few scant weeks of recent rains that deluged the area — so much so that dams were breaking and sinking whole cities beneath the flood waters. The skies opened up and rivers of water dumped onto the freeways, encouraging all the big rigs on the road to pick up speed and pass you at 90 mph! (Drive friendly, as they say in Texas.)
Despite the treacherous conditions, there were a number of features in the Sedona that put me at ease in these less-than-favorable circumstances. Kia equipped it with an almost flat, big-screen, HD-esque windshield, which not only makes washing and squeegee-ing super easy, it also sheds water in heavy rainstorms exceedingly effectively. Couple that with strong and efficient windshield wipers, and I was able to see the road surprisingly well.
But the savior was the feature I mentioned at the very beginning of this post: the Sedona’s stout footprint, which provided amazing stability and traction. Numerous times we found ourselves dodging the edges of furious thunderstorms (and even tornadoes), but we weren’t always successful. When we inevitably found ourselves in downpour conditions, we were very thankful for the Sedona’s ability to cut through torrents of water running across the road and almost never letting loose into a hydroplane situation.
We had so much practice in crazy road conditions that by the time we got to the flooded and traffic-choked freeways of New York and New Jersey, I felt like one of the locals there (who all drive like maniacs, as if the road was bone-dry).
And then, starting in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, at the bittersweet moment when all the road signs began to read “West,” it was as if someone had turned off the spigot. Other than a couple of random showers here and there, driving through inclement weather was now behind us, revealing sunny skies with little puffy clouds dotting the rolling landscapes of the Great Lakes and Plains states.
The pace of the book tour also began to slow here, as the population centers (where the talks were taking place) became further apart, leaving us no choice but to roll down the windows, crank up the XM stereo, and get in the groove of the open road.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what turned out to be a glorious godsend of a feature in the Kia UVO Voice-Command Navigation and Infotainment System. Many of us have experience with one nav or another, whether it be a dedicated unit or through our mobile devices, but having those capabilities so easily accessed made the drive richer and enhanced the experience tenfold.
As a photographer, I love to get lost and believe the best shots are usually down the dusty lane, off the dirt road, off the country road, off the back road, off the freeway… you get the idea.
We found ourselves looking for those treasures all the more, comfortable in the knowledge that each meandering route, each serendipitous moment, would still be leading us to our destination, as the nav adjusted its directions with each whimsical decision we’d make.
One road in particular stood out above the rest for the pure joy and exhilaration, and I never would have found it without the navigation unit. After a long and lovely day of exploring the Adirondacks in Upstate New York, we pulled over near a bridge to take some pictures. After getting back into the Sedona, the nav noticed we’d started down another side road when we parked, so it routed us a bit out of the way but in a big arc to our final destination… and we thought, why not try it.
Best decision! It was like someone had dropped us right into a driving video game, on an empty, picture-perfect, freshly-paved farm road with no painted lines, and each corner banked to perfection like a professional racecourse. The Kia came to light like I’d never seen, hugging every corner like a long-lost lover, glowing golden with the setting sun, enticing my accelerator pedal ever lower to the floor, all the while cupping me comfortably in its well-apportioned bucket seats. I never wanted it to end, and I wouldn’t have another opportunity to feel the Sedona come alive like this until one of the final days of the trip.
Over the next couple of weeks, the forever green plains of the central states gave way to the towering northern Rocky Mountains and onto our beloved Pacific Coast again. Few roads will test a car’s agility and handling more than the infamous Highway 1 that follows our dramatic coastline, and the Kia began to shine once again in these conditions.
Not content to give the Sedona just an average workout, we decided to head out to a very remote section of the California coast that we’ve always wanted to get to, a little town called Shelter Cove, deep in an area known as the Lost Coast. The designers of Highway 1 wanted to keep the highway along the coast as much as possible, but the rugged topography of the Lost Coast region made this impossible.
So we were left with a wide open and wild slice of California, with what is the craziest, curviest, most intense road I’ve even driven, capped by gorgeous deep redwood forests and overwhelming panoramic Pacific views.
One can’t focus on the sights too much, for the road is a beast, ready to eat you if you let your eyes linger on beauty too long! Picture climbing a hill of switchbacks so steep, the road engineers gave up on trying to pave the corners, and in some parts even the majority of the road itself. You’ve got one 180° curve after another, straight up a mountain, so dry, dusty, and torn up that the trees and every other bit of flora were coated in gray monotone moonstone dust.
The Sedona would lose traction in one wheel, only to grab hard with another, dragging us capably to the top and out onto the wide open golden hillsides, high above the boundless Pacific, where the road began dipping, twisting, plunging, and climbing each innumerable roll and contour of the dramatic landscape.
Then it got real. The road dove back into the tree-lined maze-like valleys leading out toward the coast, and would track with no rhyme or reason, this way and that… cutting hard around one 10-mph corner after another, then opening up to straightaways that would last for maybe 100 yards tops… only to be capped by a road going almost straight up a ridge at what must have been a 40° pitch, and straight down the other at a similar degree.
I’m finding it hard to put into words the caliber of road I’m trying to convey here, but you get the drift. I paint this picture to let you know that the Sedona ate this road up, like a casual Sunday brunch, without so much as a belch or hiccup throughout.
Kia has designed such a solid ride that my better half sitting shotgun, who normally gets car-sick on the slightest of curvy roads and just goes to sleep, was up and alert and feeling great the entire way — and I was not going easy on the corners by any means.
The suspension, handling, braking system, and acceleration were all so smooth that she felt comfortable and delighted in the whole experience throughout. Having her awake and enjoying that entire drive turned into such a wonderful and memorable experience for me as well, as I’ve been saddened in the past when we get to these majestic places — inevitably along narrow roads and hairpin turns — only to find her slumped in agony and not taking in the journey that we live to experience.
After seven weeks circling the country, I thank the Kia for getting us home safely to the snorting smiling faces of our pugs, our chickens, and our gardens. I’m still inspired by memories of grand vistas out the Sedona’s expansive windows, and I feel a renewed focus on adventure and exploration after powering through a once-in-a-lifetime road trip with the woman of my dreams.
And I keep thinking back to the day they came to take our Sedona away. I’d just finished giving ‘er a serious detailing before handing her back to the pickup driver, very aware that each scrub of my brush was removing a bit of dust or a speck of mud, each and every one a story to tell. And I was still discovering new little features, tucked inside and out, even after nearly living in the van for so long.
When I think of the moment the Sedona disappeared down our street, I feel like we’ve been separated from a great friend, or lost a part of our family. But despite the loss, I’m ever thankful to have had the experience.
This post is brought to you by Kia Motors USA. Thank you for supporting the sponsors that support Garden Betty.