DEL MAR, CA – Kia Motors Corp. really was on to something when it brought out the first-generation Sedona minivan in 2001.

The South Korean auto maker knew the segment was small, but the prices were getting larger every year.

Not only were there the stalwart Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan, but minivans by Japanese auto makers Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. were hitting the mid to upper $30,000 range.

Kia figured many buyers didn't care about leather seating, navigation and power this-and-that: They just wanted a reliable and modestly appointed family hauler that didn't need to be treated with kid gloves.

This thinking led the Sedona to become one of Kia's best-selling models in the U.S.

'06 Kia Sedona long-wheelbase model.

Now, five years later, the auto maker is launching its second-generation minivan.

While it still is bargain-priced, starting at $22,995 for the new long-wheelbase model (previously Sedona was sold only in short-wheelbase form, and the '06 short-wheelbase model isn't due until fall), a fully loaded Sedona will set you back $31,000.

However, this is about mid-range for the Chrysler, Honda and Toyota minivans.

Kia officials here at the vehicle's media preview claim the '06 Sedona is a no-comprise minivan, with the level of quality buyers have come to expect from the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna.

Well, not quite; but it's getting there.



Sedona's interior not yet Odyssey level.

The Sedona's interior fit and finish is slightly above average. Panel gaps are tight, but there still is a preponderance of hard plastic and it lacks some of the high-end fabrics and soft-touch materials found in the Odyssey.

The cockpit layout is user friendly, with large, easy-to-grip knobs controlling the climate-control system.

The interior is spacious, save for a somewhat intrusive center stack, and larger buyers may find their legs bumping up against it while driving.

Second-row bucket seats fold up and forward, but are not stowable.

Kia says it considered copying Chrysler Group's popular Stow 'n' Go second row seats but discovered most buyers find them uncomfortable.

Sedona's third row folds flat into the floor, but it takes several tries to get the hang of the rope-pull operation of the 60/40 bench seats.

The smaller seat easily is collapsed with one hand, while the larger seat is a two-handed operation for persons of smaller stature.

Seating is quite comfortable, even in the third row, which has plenty of legroom for a average-size person.

Sedona's sliding doors are so easy to use it's a wonder anyone bothers with the power option. The more unwieldy rear hatch, however, benefits nicely from an electrical assist.

Sedona's interior has a variety of cubbies, some of which are damped, and a mind-blowing 14 cupholders, twice the number of seats.

Sedona's exterior styling is evolutionary and somewhat dull. But, let's face it, the minivan is a victim of its shape, and auto makers can't really veer too much off the beaten path without alienating buyers.

The tail is the most handsome view, featuring sharper edges than the old Sedona, while the front grille, with chrome on the EX trim, is a half-hearted Odyssey clone.

On the road, Sedona's new 3.8L DOHC V-6 engine, also available in the upcoming revamped Kia Amanti and Sorento, delivers a class-leading 244 hp and 253 lb.-ft. (343 Nm) of torque. It's more than adequate for passing maneuvers on crowded freeways, and also got the 4,387-lb. (1,990-kg) vehicle up quite a few inclines with just a slight torque lag here and there.

The 5-speed automatic transmission, Sedona's only gearbox, shifts smoothly. The optional Sportmatic feature works well overall, but the car still has the final say when it comes to gear selection.

Through the use of high-tensile steel, all-aluminum head and block, multilink rear suspension and a lighter transmission, Kia has managed to reduce Sedona's weight by more than 400 lbs. (181 kg) from the previous generation.

The wheelbase is 118.9 ins. (302.0 cm); length is 202.0 ins. (513.0 cm); width is 78.1 ins. (198.5 cm); and height 69.3 ins. (176.0 cm).

Passenger volume is up 15% to 172.3 cu.-ft. (4.9 cu.-m) from the old short-wheelbase Sedona. Cargo volume is 32.2 cu.-ft. (0.9 cu.-m) behind the third row and 141.5 cu.-ft. (4.0 cu.-m) with both second and third rows removed.

Safety is now a top priority for Kia. The Sedona gets six standard airbags; antilock brakes – optional on the previous Sedona; electronic brake force distribution; brake assist; electronic stability control; and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Brakes are 4-wheel discs and front discs are 1-in. (2.5-cm) larger than in the previous Sedona.

The '06 Sedona comes in just two trims, LX and EX.

The LX features standard power windows (including on sliding doors), mirrors and door locks; keyless entry with alarm; tri-zone air conditioning; a conversation mirror to see what backseat passengers are up to; and three 12-volt power outlets.

The EX, beginning at $25,595, adds roof rails with crossbars; AM/FM/CD/MP3/Cassette audio system with 8-speakers; trip computer with compass; auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink; power rear-quarter window; 8-way power adjustable driver's seat; front- and second-row height adjustable armrests; and leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob.

Three option packages are available for the EX trim at launch, including a $1,000 power package that has dual power sliding doors and power rear hatch.

A $2,400 luxury package offers leather seats; heated front seats; power adjustable pedals; memory seats, pedals and mirrors; backup warning system; and sunroof.

A premium package with 605-watt Infinity audio system, 6-disc in-dash CD changer and DVD video system with 8-in. (20-cm) monitor, remote and two wireless headsets will set Sedona EX buyers back $1,700.

A $1,200 rear entertainment system will be available later for both trims and includes a larger, 8.5-in. (21.5-cm) DVD monitor.

Standalone options for LX include roof rails and cross bars, each $150. Kia says it is considering offering power adjustable pedals and a backup warning system as standalone options for the LX.

Overall, the Sedona is a nicely appointed and well-engineered minivan, despite lacking some of the high-end features of its competitors, such as a navigation system, all-wheel drive and tilt and telescoping steering wheel.

However, with prices ranging from $22,000-$31,000, it is unlikely many buyers will miss such items.

The ’06 Kia Sedona already is on sale at U.S. dealers.

Destination and handling charges are $670.Â

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com