For £13,995, a price which would buy a good specification 1.8-litre Ford Focus estate, Kia is offering a 2.5-litre V6 quad cam seven-seater MPV with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty and three years' roadside assistance, including European cover, with a no-cost diesel option. Even for the leather-clad Exec auto version, prices are still under £20,000 as part of Kia's promise to keep its prices more closely aligned with Europe after slashing UK prices by 13% in June.
Although price does not tell the whole story, it is a forceful argument when rivals such as the Ford Galaxy LX 2.3 costs £18,200, or the Renault Espace Alize 2.0 at £19,200 and only offer four-cylinder petrol engines. In the first full year on the market, Kia is aiming for 1,800 sales. Demand is still encouraging: so far this year, total MPV sales have increased by 2.6% to 40,136, to take 2.2% of the total market. But the Sedona's role in Kia as a whole is more important than its sales alone, because it adds a more rounded offering to fleets, with models now including superminis, lower and upper medium contenders and 4x4s, compared to 1990, when it just had the tiny Pride.
Fleets are expected to account for about 20% of total Kia sales, which should rise from 5,500 this year -the same level as 1997 before the firm ran into difficulties - to 13,000 next year thanks to the wider range. The range will grow further towards the middle of 2000 with the arrival of the firm's mini-MPV, the Shuma-based Kia Carens. To compete head-to-head against the major players of fleet, the Sedona will need more than a cheap price tag and in most areas it holds up well.
Inside, space is plentiful, with a walk-through centre aisle between the front and centre rows, both of which have two 'captains' chairs', while the rear has a bench seat. All seats recline and slide, but you end up resting on the rear windscreen in the bench seat if you lean too far. The equipment list leaves the driver wanting little, with even the base spec S getting airbags, an immobiliser and central locking. There is even a £220 bicycle thrown in for private customers to use for shorter journeys.
Like most MPVs, there is a bewildering array of seating combinations, including the option of turning the middle seats to face the back or lying all seats down to make a bed. During a weekend drive to Le Touquet, in France, the 2.5-litre V6 automatic gave a mixed performance. The 162bhp engine, a relative of the V6 unit in the Rover 75, was quiet and responsive, but mated to the automatic gearbox, which had a dash-mounted lever, it felt lacking in power for such a big vehicle and was too eager to downshift.
Swapping to the 125bhp 2.9-litre diesel, I found it sounded agricultural and could drown conversation. Furthermore it was slow - 19 seconds to 62mph in the auto - but the manual gearbox, also with a dash-mounted lever, helped it reach 60mph two seconds faster. Changing gears was a slow, clunky affair. Build quality was good, although there were glitches such as the non-operational rear heating and broken vents, which were unusual on a sub-1,000-mile car. On the motorway, ride was smooth and refined and soaked up bumps well, but corners brought pronounced body roll and a tendency to run wide.
Running costs are yet to be proved, but the big story of depreciation should not be too punishing, with models in the sector predicted to maintain nearly 40% of their value after three years/60,000 miles. The key to winning drivers' hearts in this segment is offering maximum space at minimum cost and if drivers put their badge snobbery behind them, the Kia offers a good choice.