Kia grows up

The new Korean MPV is safer, more stylish and easier to park than its forbears. But the engine sets a funereal pace - perfect for its target audience of coroners, says Sean O'Grady

Price: from £15,995 for the low-spec petrol to £22,595 for the fully equipped diesel automatic
Engines: 2.7-litre V6 petrol or 2.9-litre turbodiesel
Transmissions: five-speed manual or five-speed automatic
Performance: 0 to 62mph in 13.9 seconds; 120mph top speed. Average 26.4mpg (2.9 diesel)
CO2: 255g/km (2.9 diesel)

Apparently, Kia would like to sell its new Sedona seven-seat multi- purpose vehicle to coroners. Not just coroners, of course. It would like to hang on to the customers it has already won over with the outgoing model: folk with large families; airport taxi-drivers, managers of five-a-side football teams, those sorts. But coroners? Do they have to carry six bodies around with them at once?

Most strange, but I know Kia really did say that because it's in the transcript of the presentation it gave. Or, rather, it's in the transcript of the iPod recording of a presentation the company's marketing people had made earlier, which the assembled press were invited to listen to later at their leisure. Kia has rightly twigged that motoring hacks get tired to the point of slumber if they're subjected to two-hour repetitive technical presentations in airless rooms by people with only an accidental grasp of English.

So thank you, Kia, for skipping the boring bits, and for that line about coroners.

The iPod was also a clever touch because it highlighted one of the new Sedona's little pluses: an optional iPod connection to the car's audio system, also a much improved item. As usual with a Kia, the new Sedona is a well-equipped piece of machinery and boasts the usual comforts , and you can order one fully loaded with electric sliding side doors, a DVD player that drops down from the roof, "tri-zone" climate control for each row of seats, rear parking sensors and heated leather seats.

However, Kia is pushing prices of most of its models up towards those demanded by more "mainstream" makes, so you may not find that the new Sedona has such a spectacular advantage over the competition when it comes to value for money. The £20,000 Kia has arrived.

However, if you can live with a more basic specification you can pick this seven-seater up for about £15,000 on the road when the petrol model arrives, which is still quite a lot of space for the money. However, at these prices you ought to look at the new Ford Galaxy as well.

Kia claims that the new Sedona will hold its value better than the old one (which wasn't always bad in that respect), but I'd be tempted by a lightly used one even so. The new Sedona's neat, bland lines won't scare off customers, and that should should help values too.

The Kia Sedona is a perfectly habitable place to be. The seats are arranged in a 2-3-2 formation, unlike the old car's 2-2-3. Like football managers, the makers of MPVs have to be flexible about such things. So there are now five individual rear seats instead of two in the middle plus a rear bench. They're easy to adjust but they don't have the marvellous flexibility of the new Ford Galaxy or the Chrysler Voyager's "stow and go" system, where seats can be folded into the floor to produce a useful van-like flat-load area.

However, I feel obliged to remind you about the Achilles' heel of all those big, seven-seat MPVs, which is that if you do fill the car with six passengers you'll find it a bit tricky to take their luggage with you as well, as the third row of seats takes up much of the boot.

The new Sedona is shorter than the old one, so the seven seats-plus-boot equation has probably got worse. The upside is that the car will be easier to manoeuvre. It has a smaller turning circle, and more expensive versions boast rear parking sensors, so it makes more sense in crowded towns and cities. It seems that buyers are favouring more compact MPVs these days, such as the Renault Mégane Scénic, and this more compact Kia reflects that trend.

However, the best thing about this Kia is that it's much safer than the old one, which did not enjoy much of a reputation for protecting its passengers, obviously a problem in a family car (though perhaps not for coroners). The new Sedona is at least up with the pack now, with a stiffer body shell, revised suspension, front airbags, front side airbags and full-length curtain airbags. Kia says that it will probably achieve a four-star (out of five) rating in the NCAP crash tests.

Which brings me to the worst bit of the new Kia Sedona, its engine. The 2.9-litre diesel unit ought to be a willing old thing, but it just doesn't have the sort of torque you'd expect from a large capacity oil-burner. That means that if you let the revs drop you'll be forever changing gear to try to maintain momentum.

It's fair to concede that the Kia Sedona isn't built for speed and it's pretty silly to try to extract much in the way of performance from such a big people-carrier, but it really is a bit of a slug. If your ideal is to ferry yourself and your tribe across the continents in splendour, the good news is that the automatic version of the diesel Sedona does a much better job. The automatic transmission suits the character of the car better, as I'm sure it will in the V6 petrol version when that arrives later in the year.

As for handling, you might again say that that is hardly the point of a people-carrier. However, safety is, and that demands reasonably neutral behaviour. The Kia acquits itself satisfactorily on this score, thanks to its new platform (based on the new saloon Magentis model), wider track and shorter overhangs.

No review of a Korean model would be complete without some ritualistic observations about its interior trim. How much closer are they to the Germans? Well, they're getting there. The old model was cheerful enough but it did feel cheap, especially the steering wheel, and most of the cabin was fashioned from hard, nasty plastic. The interior also had a strange, sickly-sweet smell, as if it had been assembled in a chocolate factory, but without the risk of salmonella poisoning. Probably.

In this Sedona, you have to look and feel quite closely to find the rougher edges. I'd nominate a slightly hard steering-wheel, some plastic chrome-effect door pulls and the last model's fabric cloth as the sort of things that are likely to put people off. The minor controls are easy to use.

So the Kia is OK, but short of the stylish standards set by the latest Renault Espace or even some old timer MPVs such as the Citroën C8.

Still, how many of us can claim to live in homes with flawless taste and quality? Does every cupboard door in your kitchen fit perfectly? Are your curtains seamlessly coordinated? Is your house free of clutter? No? Then you might feel at home in a Kia. Especially if you're a coroner.

The rivals

Renault Espace 1.9dCi 120 Authentique: £20,700

The Rolls-Royce of MPVs. Swift, stylish and comfortable, it's the people-carrier of choice for the prosperous middle classes. About as cool as these things get.

Ford Galaxy 1.8TDCi 125 LX: £20,295

Based on the next-generation Mondeo platform, bang up to date and the best of the large MPVs to drive. Decent boot, too. For more rakish lines, try the S-Max version.

Chrysler Grand Voyager 2.8 CRD LX: £25,820

Like the new Galaxy, it has seats that fold into the floor - very clever. Like the Sedona, it has a big capacity four-cylinder diesel - not so clever. Steering column gear change, buddy.

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