SEDONA, AZ — With the all-new Sedona, Kia Motors Corp. not only takes its first leap into the U.S. minivan segment but also taps into its largest engine ever.

And the all-new 3.5L V-6 engine is going to get more play than just minivans. It is slated to power Kia's next entry in the U.S. market — a midsize sport/utility vehicle (SUV), codenamed the “BL” — due out in about a year in the U.S. and most likely to be first shown at the 2002 North American International Auto Show next January.

The engine is one of the many features that make the Sedona stand apart from other Kia vehicles, where power typically suffers in a tradeoff for the ability to undercut even the least expensive vehicles in the least expensive segments. Though the Sedona, with a base price of $18,995 still will be the least expensive minivan on the market, it by no means sports the least amount of power.

The 3.5L DOHC V-6 boasts the largest displacement available in an import minivan — technically edging out the tremendously popular Honda Odyssey by a couple of cubic centimeters. And at 195 hp at 5,550 rpm and 218 lb.-ft. (296 Nm) of torque at 3,500 rpm, the engine weighs in right behind the Honda Odyssey's 3.5L DOHC V-6, which produces 205 hp.

More significantly, the iron-block, aluminum-headed engine outpowers V-6 engines in other entries, including General Motors Corp.'s 3.4L OHV V-6 powered minivans, at 185 hp, and the segment-leading Dodge Caravan's tame 3.3L OHV V-6, at 150 hp.

Whereas other vans, such as the Caravan, step up with 4-cyl. engines as entry level power, even the lowliest Sedona trim level offers the V-6.

The new engine is paired with a 5-speed automatic transmission — a first for any minivan sold in the U.S., and some definitive egg-on-the-face for certain competitors who pride themselves on drivetrain technology and refinement.

Ever-economical Kia likes to point out that its engine, which gets 15 mpg (15.7L/100 km) city/20 mpg (11.8L/100 km) highway, runs on regular-grade unleaded gasoline, while the Honda Odyssey requires premium fuel, something fast becoming more of a selling point as gas prices in the U.S. increase.

The engine actually is designed by Kia parent-company Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd., which also designed Kia's other V-6 (a 2.5L DOHC unit) that powers both the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata. Kia officials say there currently is no Hyundai application for the engine, although Hyundai officials have hinted at the possibility of a more powerful Santa Fe SUV — currently employing a 2.7L DOHC V-6 — in the works.

Development of the V-6 engine was a factor in delaying the sale of the Sedona in the U.S. After showing the Korean version of its minivan, called the Carnival, three years ago at the Chicago auto show, Kia Motors America was under pressure to bring the minivan here, says Randy Maurstad, KMA's director of product planning.

KMA kept postponing the process, knowing that if a Kia minivan were to be successful, it needed to nail the U.S. minivan market on the head. As a result, precious few of the Carnival's features made it to the U.S., where product planners Americanized not just the powertrain, but the entire interior design. One Kia official says the automaker set its sights squarely on market-leader Dodge Caravan, and the minivan sports several successful features from other products as well — such as the Honda Odyssey center console fold-out tray.

The resulting Sedona emerges as a product ready to withstand the heat of a tightening U.S. minivan market — albeit one in which imports are ever increasing their market share. With the new entry, Kia capitalizes on what it does best: entering a segment with a viable alternative at a lower price.

Price, however, is not what Kia wants to emphasize. Rather, the vehicle should sell itself on its own strengths, of which affordability only is one. Though it doesn't have premium features such as a third bench that folds into the floor, the Sedona provides an overall well-equipped package.

Kia played the average when it comes to size. At a 194.1 ins. (486.2 cm) length, it is 5 ins. (12.7 cm) longer than the Dodge Caravan and 7 ins. (17.8 cm) shorter than the Grand Caravan. Wheelbase, likewise, falls between the Chrysler competition's large and small versions.

A large chunk of time spent on the revamp, Kia officials say, was to meet the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. (NHTSA) crash-test rating. Officials claim the vehicle now meets the requirement in Kia's internal tests. All-around five-star ratings would rate the minivan among the safest on the market, with only the Odyssey and the Ford Windstar achieving five stars in all four categories in 2001.

2002 Kia Sedona
Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, 5-door minivan
Engine: 3.5L (3,497 cc) DOHC V-6; iron block/aluminum heads
Power (SAE net): 195 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 218 lb.-ft. (296 Nm) @ 3,500 rpm
Compression ratio: 10:1
Bore × Stroke (mm): 93 × 85.8
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 114.6 ins. (291 cm)
Overall length: 194.1 ins. (493 cm)
Overall width: 74.6 ins. (190 cm)
Overall height: 69.3 ins. (176 cm)
Curb weight (auto): 4,709 lbs. (2,136 kg)
Market competition: Dodge Caravan; Ford Windstar; GM minivans; Honda Odyssey; Toyota Sienna