2015 Honda Odyssey Elite vs. 2015 Kia Sedona SXL, 2015 Toyota Sienna Limited – Comparison Tests

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What do minivans and waterslides have in common? No, not fun. The answer is kids—loads and loads of screaming kids.

It’s possible that none of this matters. Billions of years from now, after all of humanity’s great struggles and achievements, the universe will collapse back in on itself, and all that exists and all knowledge of all that was will be compressed into a singularity so inescapable that not even Katniss Everdeen will be able to shoot her way out. Meanwhile, perpetuating life on Earth is, for whatever reason, our most basic urge. And that’s not such a bad thing—right up until you succeed. Then it’s all sympathy weight; poop in unimaginable colors, textures, and places; and, later, insolence. But the biggest bummer of all is that your best option, if you think about it rationally, is to drive a minivan.

2015 Honda Odyssey Elite vs. 2015 Kia Sedona SXL, 2015 Toyota Sienna Limited

As America’s most accessible philosopher, Jack Handey, once wrote, “If life deals you lemons, why not go kill someone with the lemons (maybe by shoving them down his throat)?” At the very least, spike your citrus with all the ­garnishes of a mobile man cave: widescreen TV, Blu-ray player, and a name-brand audio system. Maybe even, uh, a vacuum cleaner? You might say its vacuum makes the Honda Odyssey more of a woman cave, but we wouldn’t say that because we don’t want our wives to slap us.

We have no Chrysler/Dodge or Nissan entrants here because neither one has been sufficiently updated since last losing a comparison test. Meanwhile, our reigning champ in the segment, the Honda Odyssey, which won every minivan comparo we’ve conducted in the last decade, was refreshed for 2014. The update includes said vacuum (only on the top-of-the-line Elite trim), new aluminum sheetmetal for the schnoz, and prettier interior fixings. A sturdier front structure helps the Odyssey on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s new small-overlap front crash test, securing the Institute’s “Top Safety Pick” rating. With a 16.2-inch video screen in the headliner and a 12-speaker stereo, our Odyssey Elite rings in at $45,480.

Toyota’s Sienna is also fresh off a fluffing, with a stiffened structure, updated dashboard, new grille and headlights, and the “Driver Easy Speak” built-in bullhorn. The latter uses the voice-control microphone already embedded above the driver’s head and broadcasts scoldings through the rear speakers. The Toyota is a “Top Safety Pick Plus” on account of its available Pre-Collision automatic-braking system. (The Honda was a TSPP last year, but isn’t for 2015 because the criteria changed this year to require an automatic-braking system.) The Sienna is still the only minivan to offer four-wheel drive, but we had a front-driver. Our Limited model included dual sunroofs and a Blu-ray player. That plus the $1800 Advanced Technology package (adaptive cruise control, Pre-Collision System, and hill-start assist) punted the price up to the test’s highest: $48,035.

The Kia Sedona is all-new this year. Joining the Odyssey on Safety Pick Tier Two (because its collision-warning system only screams of impending doom, rather than braking to do something about it), it also boasts eight different electronic systems to mitigate the loss of traction or stability. All this for an eminently controllable transportation appliance. Our SXL also packs 19-inch wheels, matches the Toyota’s sunroof count, and includes a $2700 tech package that adds lane-departure and forward-collision warnings, adaptive cruise, and a surround-view system. Yet at $43,295, it’s the cheapest in this test.

Our Kia is, however, missing one $995 option that could make all the difference: a back-seat entertainment system. That feature matters more in this test than most. Seizing on the notion that, in a minivan, the left-front seat is for an adult and everything else is for kids, Alterman decreed that, rather than follow our usual comparison-test regimen, we’d swing by managing editor Mike Fazioli’s house on a Saturday morning and take his kids’ birthday parties on the road. We’d drive two vanloads of 11-year-old boys and one of 15-year-old girls to an indoor water park four hours away. Along the way, the kids would rate the vans for comfort and entertainment value. The drivers would wish for bulkheads behind their seats. Cannonball!

2015 Kia Sedona SXL

Third place: Minivans.

2015 Honda Odyssey Elite vs. 2015 Kia Sedona SXL, 2015 Toyota Sienna Limited

This idea of having the kids rate the vans started showing cracks early on. Upon entering the Sedona, we asked the quartet of 11-year-olds in back what they thought of this van. First response: “It’s a van?”

Maybe they were confused by its appearance. Kia calls the styling of the new Sedona “CUV-like,” a foreboding classification. The last time anybody tried to pretend their vans were crossovers was 2005, when GM transmogrified its minivans into awkward pseudo-SUVs (remember theSaturn Relay?) before finally pulling them from the market a few years later. Sedona sales have been dragging through lake-bottom muck for years, and Kia hasn’t sold more than 10,000 per annum since 2012.

Unlike GM’s mutants, though, the Sedona is sharply dressed— a simple, clean van design contrasted against the aqua-mech styling of the Honda and Toyota. But inside, simple and clean gives way to bland. At least Kia’s infotainment system, called UVO, now comes with a suite of kid-tracking apps. As if driving a minivan isn’t enough of a social torpedo, the Sedona has speed, geo-fencing, and curfew alerts that immediately send mom or dad a text if the teen driving their Sedona goes too fast, goes to the wrong places, or goes anywhere at all after hours. To the therapists of the future, Kia says, “You’re welcome.”

But when our test kids discovered the leg rests that are part of the Limited’s first-class second-row seats, they amended their initial reaction from “It’s a van?” to “Is it heaven?” With four adjustment levers apiece, the Sedona’s seats are almost Germanic in their complexity. They adjust fore and aft so far that they can touch either the front- or third-row seats, a dangerous range of motion for warring tribes who might want to crush the legs of way-back dwellers. They also adjust side to side, the inward movement necessary so that when pushed back, they clear the interior trim and slide all the way aft. And if you pull both releases simultaneously, the seat will careen about in two dimensions as the van goes down the road, your own private Tilt-A-Whirl.

But the Sedona’s second-row seats are the only ones here that can’t be removed. Even in their outboard positions, they offer the narrowest passage to the third row, at just eight inches wide. And that third-row seat feels small, ranking lowest for space in the back. All three vans sport third rows that fold flat into wells behind the seat, but collapsing the Kia’s summons ghosts of Korea’s low-quality past. It’s by far the sloppiest mechanism, with a startling amount of wobble and play as the seat settles into its hold. And the effort required to raise it into position could put undue strain on backs.

The Sedona’s new 3.3-liter V-6 sports variable intake-manifold geometry for a best-in-test 276 horsepower. That makes it slightly quicker than the other two, but it needs to downshift more often to maintain speed up hills, and those shifts are not smooth. On the plus side, the Sedona’s 167-foot stop from 70 mph is only four feet l­onger than that of the lastVolkswagen GTI we tested.

Stopping was much on the minds of the Kia’s passengers. Even though most of our brood had at least one mobile device, they balked at the idea of copying media onto those devices before bringing them into the vehicle. They seemed to think that the only way to watch movies or TV on their phones and tablets was via streaming, which meant a lot of stopping, buffering, and restarting of media on our remote route. On the trip home, the kids spent the first half-hour griping about how the Sedona didn’t have a TV, before finally resorting to a sort of 20 Questions/I Spy hybrid. Fazioli’s son kicked it off. “I’m thinking of something red.”

The immediate response: “Is it the red van, with the DVD player in it?”

“Yeah,” said little Faz, dejected.

2015 Honda Odyssey Elite

Second place: Minivans.

2015 Honda Odyssey Elite vs. 2015 Kia Sedona SXL, 2015 Toyota Sienna Limited

We spent our last minivan comparison menacing California’s roadside shrubbery with squalling understeer, an environment that favored the Odyssey’s faithful steering and predictable handling. But during that test, no child was overheard saying: “I’ve never tasted baloney. I’ve never tasted zombie, either.” Or made any references whatsoever to ninjas riding on dolphins or to the use of food-based weapons to kill doughnuts. (Often, childhood looks like an endless acid trip.) This time, we turned the steering wheel past 90 degrees maybe on nine occasions. And with that shift in priorities, the Odyssey dropped to second place. When Pacific Rim’s warring Kaiju and Jaegers are decimating Hong Kong at ear-splitting volume on the TV, quick steering is just one more annoyance.

The Honda lags behind the Toyota in other regards, too. According to measurements, the Odyssey’s front quarters are only one cubic foot smaller than the other vans, but subjectively, its forecabin feels a lot tighter. Our tallest drivers’ knees were close to the dash—pressed against it, in fact, in the fixed-height front-passenger seat—and our hair brushed the headliner. The middle-row seats are firmer and flatter than the Toyota’s, but the Odyssey did have the only three-person second row here, and its seats were lighter and easier to remove than the Sienna’s. Its outboard positions weigh 55 pounds apiece; the middle, 41. Toyota’s are each a back-busting 69 pounds, though that includes the leg rests. The Honda’s low step-in height is great for small children, as well as for the elderly retirees who make up the sizable balance of the mini­van market. With the middle seat removed, the Honda offers the widest passage to the rear, and the ease and speed with which the Odyssey’s third-row seat manually stows make the Sienna’s power-folding seat seem like a needless luxury.

Speaking of needless luxury, both the Odyssey and Sienna have split-view monitors so kids can simultaneously watch two different movies on side-by-side screens. That strikes us as complete sensory overload, albeit useful for developing the skills necessary to focus on what a modern newscaster is saying while also reading the unrelated ticker at the bottom of the screen. And, as ridiculous as the Odyssey’s ability to simultaneously charge four phones might seem, our teen-girl squad pointed out the fact that this is four short of the number of seats in the van, and therefore four less than the number of phones that might all need charging at the same time. (Sigh.) More stuff is just more stuff to complain about.

The Odyssey might be the sportiest of the minivans, but it also achieves the highest fuel economy. And it has a vacuum.

Whether a screen is in their hand or hanging from the ceiling, everybodywill be staring at it. As we neared our destination, way up in Michigan’s far northern woods where Big Lumber still calls the shots, one kid happened to glance away from the movie for a second. Maybe he had something in his eye. “Hey, snow!” Everyone got very excited, for about one minute. Then they clammed up and went back to watching the movie. As any parent will tell you, pleasing these creatures often means forgoing your own wants and needs. If it’s a modicum of sportiness that you’re looking for in your family hauler, the Odyssey is still the van to get. Its steering is more responsive than the others’ and its body stays flatter in corners, even if its handling numbers do trail the Kia’s and Toyota’s. But it’s not like the Odyssey is actually fun to drive. It’s just a little bit more so than things that are no fun at all. The Toyota Sienna’s serenity, on the other hand, is an absolute.

2015 Toyota Sienna Limited

First place: Minivans.

2015 Honda Odyssey Elite vs. 2015 Kia Sedona SXL, 2015 Toyota Sienna Limited

Did you know that a giraffe can kick off a lion’s head—just boot it clean off? It’s true. Or, at least, it is if 11-year-old boys are to be trusted. A short while after making that proclamation, said boy hoovered down an entire bag of potato chips, a package of Oreos, and a baseball-sized jawbreaker—then got carsick. This added to his credibility among his peers.

Top right: To paraphrase the least-funny Marx, “Built-in video entertainment systems are the opiate of the preteens.

Kicking the head off a lion is kind of what the Sienna is doing here in defeating the 10-year minivan champion. It starts with plenty of space and comfortable seats in all rows. The second row sits significantly higher than the fronts, affording kids a good view forward and out, not that they’re looking. Like the Kia, the Toyota has a sliding second row that can move all the way back until it touches the third row’s bottom ­cushion. But with the Sienna’s more-spacious interi­or, its seats don’t need to squinch inboard for access. The back half of the center console also slides rearward to provide cup holders to the kids in the second row, or can be retracted forward to revoke juice privileges when you tire of stopping at every rest stop (and sometimes in between them). Our Sienna was the only van to include a power-folding third row, a push of the button taking about 12 seconds to stow the seat and 18 to raise it. Dual sunroofs, as both the Toyota and Kia have, can present a problem. If you open the rear one with the kids all sugared up, they’ll scramble to unbuckle their seatbelts and stick their heads through it, or at least to throw food and garbage out of it. Establish some ground rules before pressing that button.

Toyota boasts that the renewed ­Sienna’s unibody has an additional 142 spot welds throughout to enhance stiffness. It feels more like a Mercedes S-class than either of the other vans, with an isolated, imperturbable ride. The engine note is unobtrusive, and the transmission swaps ratios as seamlessly as a CVT. Not that there won’t be plenty of noise otherwise. As features editor Jeff Sabatini and our panel of 15-year-old problem solvers noted, in neither the Honda nor the Toyota can rear-seat passengers hear the dialogue in a movie very well. Surround-sound systems route most of the dialogue through the center channel, which is the speaker in the middle of the dash. Meanwhile, background sounds are piped through the speakers right by the kids’ ears, drowning out much of what’s being said.

We’d hoped that the Driver Easy Speak would allow us to be heard over the movie, but it’s not the bullhorn we’d anticipated. It’s more like bugging your own bedroom and broadcasting the signal to the kids’ rooms. It replays everything you say through the rear speakers barely louder than your un-amplified voice. And it doesn’t reduce the audio volume, so you’re just adding more noise to an already chaotic cabin. If you leave it on in the rain, though, the microphone’s placement in the headliner picks up each drop. It sounds like you’re driving around in a rainstick, furthering the mobile-spa ambiance. Well, when there aren’t kids aboard.

That the Sienna’s gimmicks spark our harshest complaints speaks to the excellence of its basic package. When life cruelly impels you toward a minivan, surrender to the Toyota.

COMPARISON TESTS

VEHICLE
2015 Honda Odyssey Elite
2015 Kia Sedona SXL
2015 Toyota Sienna Limited
BASE PRICE $45,480 $40,595 $42,535
PRICE AS TESTED $45,480 $43,295 $48,035
DIMENSIONS
LENGTH 202.9 inches 201.4 inches 200.2 inches
WIDTH 79.2 inches 78.1 inches 78.1 inches
HEIGHT 68.4 inches 68.5 inches 67.7 inches
WHEELBASE 118.1 inches 120.5 inches 119.3 inches
FRONT TRACK 68.1 inches 68.5 inches 67.7 inches
REAR TRACK 68.2 inches 68.8 inches 67.7 inches
INTERIOR VOLUME F: 58 cubic feet
M: 59 cubic feet
R: 53 cubic feet
F: 59 cubic feet
M: 55 cubic feet
R: 44 cubic feet
F: 59 cubic feet
M: 53 cubic feet
R: 44 cubic feet
CARGO BEHIND F: 149 cubic feet
M: 93 cubic feet
R: 38 cubic feet
F: 142 cubic feet
M: 78 cubic feet
R: 34 cubic feet
F: 150 cubic feet
M: 87 cubic feet
R: 39 cubic feet
TOWING
MAX 3500 pounds 3500 pounds 3500 pounds
AS TESTED 3500 pounds 3500 pounds 3500 pounds
POWERTRAIN
ENGINE SOHC 24-valve V-6
212 cu in (3471 cc)
DOHC 24-valve V-6
204 cu in (3342 cc)
DOHC 24-valve V-6
211 cu in (3456 cc)
POWER HP @ RPM 248 @ 5700 276 @ 6000 266 @ 6200
TORQUE LB-FT @ RPM 250 @ 4800 248 @ 5200 245 @ 4700
REDLINE / FUEL CUTOFF 6250/6575 rpm 6750/6500 rpm 6500/6400 rpm
LB PER HP 18.6 17.3 17.7
DRIVELINE
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic 6-speed automatic 6-speed automatic
DRIVEN WHEELS front front front
GEAR RATIO:1/
MPH PER 1000 RPM/
MAX MPH
3.36/5.8/33
2.10/9.5/58
1.49/13.4/80
1.07/18.8/110
0.75/26.5/120
0.56/36.3/120
4.25/6.1/39
2.65/9.8/65
1.80/14.7/96
1.39/19.3/116
1.00/26.9/122
0.77/34.8/122
3.30/6.2/38
1.90/10.6/68
1.42/14.1/91
1.00/20.1/113
0.71/28.1/113
0.61/33.0/113
AXLE RATIO:1 4.25 3.04 3.94
CHASSIS
SUSPENSION F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: multilink, coil springs
F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: torsion beam, coil springs, anti-roll bar
BRAKES F: 12.6-inch vented disc
R: 13.1-inch disc
F: 12.6-inch vented disc
R: 11.9-inch disc
F: 12.9-inch vented disc
R: 12.2-inch disc
STABILITY CONTROL partially defeatable partially defeatable, traction off partially defeatable, traction off
TIRES Michelin
Primacy MXV4
P235/60R-18 102T
M+S
Continental
CrossContact LX Sport
235/55R-19 101H
M+S
Goodyear
Eagle RS-A
P235/55R-18 99V
M+S
C/D TEST  RESULTS
ACCELERATION
0–30 MPH 2.7 sec 2.8 sec 2.7 sec
0–60 MPH 7.7 sec 7.4 sec 7.6 sec
0–100 MPH 21.0 sec 19.4 sec 20.5 sec
0–110 MPH 26.9 sec 24.6 sec 26.3 sec
¼-MILE @ MPH 15.9 sec @ 88 15.8 sec @ 91 15.8 sec @ 90
ROLLING START, 5–60 MPH 7.7 sec 7.7 sec 7.9 sec
TOP GEAR, 30–50 MPH 3.8 sec 4.0 sec 4.3 sec
TOP GEAR, 50–70 MPH 5.5 sec 5.0 sec 5.2 sec
TOP SPEED 120 mph (gov ltd) 122 mph (gov ltd) 113 mph (gov ltd)
CHASSIS
BRAKING 70–0 MPH 178 feet 167 feet 180 feet
ROADHOLDING,
300-FT-DIA SKIDPAD
0.77g 0.81 g* 0.78 g
610-FT SLALOM 39.5 mph* 39.7 mph* 40.2 mph*
WEIGHT
CURB 4615 pounds 4772 pounds 4719 pounds
%FRONT/%REAR 55.9/44.1 55.9/44.1 56.3/43.7
CG HEIGHT 27.0 inches 27.0 inches 26.5 inches
FUEL
TANK 21.0 gallons 21.1 gallons 20.0 gallons
RATING 87 octane 87 octane 87 octane
EPA CITY/HWY 19/28 mpg 17/22 mpg 18/25 mpg
C/D 500-MILE TRIP 22 mpg 20 mpg 19 mpg
PRACTICAL STOWAGE
NO. OF 9X11X16-IN
BOXES, BEHIND F/M/R
98/45/19 69/46/18 101/54/19
LENGTH OF PIPE 151.8 inches 146.3 inches 150.8 inches
LARGEST FLAT PANEL,
LENGTH X WIDTH
92.5 x 47.5 inches 64.0 x 47.5 inches 93.5 x 43.5 inches
SOUND LEVEL
IDLE 37 dBA 38 dBA 39 dBA
FULL THROTTLE 75 dBA 75 dBA 73 dBA
70-MPH CRUISE 69 dBA 70 dBA 69 dBA

*stability-control inhibited

Final Results
VEHICLE
RANK

Max Pts. Available

1

2015 Toyota Sienna Limited

2

2015 Honda Odyssey Elite

3

2015 Kia Sedona SXL

DRIVER COMFORT 10 9 7 7
ERGONOMICS 10 8 6 7
SECOND-ROW COMFORT 5 5 4 4
SECOND-ROW SPACE* 5 3 5 4
THIRD-ROW COMFORT 5 4 5 4
THIRD-ROW SPACE* 5 2 5 1
CARGO SPACE* 5 5 5 3
TOWING CAPACITY* 5 5 5 5
FEATURES/AMENITIES* 10 10 6 8
FIT AND FINISH 10 9 8 6
INTERIOR STYLING 10 8 8 7
EXTERIOR STYLING 10 8 7 7
REBATES/EXTRAS* 5 0 0 0
AS-TESTED PRICE* 20 18 19 20
SUBTOTAL 115 94 90 83

POWERTRAIN
1/4-MILE ACCELERATION* 20 20 20 20
FLEXIBILITY* 5 4 5 4
FUEL ECONOMY* 10 7 10 8
ENGINE NVH 10 10 7 7
TRANSMISSION 10 10 8 7
SUBTOTAL 55 51 50 46

CHASSIS
PERFORMANCE* 20 18 18 20
STEERING FEEL 10 7 6 6
BRAKE FEEL 10 8 7 6
HANDLING 10 8 7 7
RIDE 10 9 6 8
SUBTOTAL 60 50 44 47

EXPERIENCE
FUN TO DRIVE 25 15 12 11

GRAND TOTAL
255
210
196
187

* These objective scores are calculated from the vehicle’s dimensions, capacities, rebates and extras, and/or test results.

(caranddriver.com)

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