Whatever you do, don't call the 2022 Kia Carnival a minivan – at least not in front of Kia. The company officially dubs its Sedona replacement an "MPV," short for “multi-purpose vehicle,” dusting off a term that hasn't been used Stateside in more than a decade.
We typically call out this type of rebranding for what it is: marketing jargon. "Consumers don't like the word 'minivan,' so let's make it sound a bit cooler," the pencil pushers at Kia headquarters might say. But the new Carnival is so bold and so unique that we're almost buying into Kia's not-a-minivan rebrand. Almost.
The SUV Of Minivans
From the electric sliding door forward, the Carnival looks like a boxy SUV, borrowing many of its cues from its Sorento sibling. The front fascia is especially tough-looking, wearing slim headlights with sharp LED accents that dip down into the large and shapely grille. The sizable vent opening just below that brushes up against a silver trim piece, adding to the aggro look. And both of the top-trim SX and SX Prestige models wear 19-inch gloss black wheels, which give the Carnival a perfect stance compared to the base LX model, which has too-small 17-inchers.
Kia provided us with two versions of the Carnival to test: an Astra Blue SX Prestige model and Ceramic Silver SX, and both of those hues are very pretty (and cost $495). The silver trim piece on the front end extends to the side sills, rear bumper, and onto the side profile in a unique beveled accent piece. The only slight difference between these two models is the shade of the silver itself; the standard SX wears matte silver versus the SX Prestige's shiny chrome, and we prefer the more subdued look of the former.
The back end of the Carnival wears a full-width LED light bar (an increasingly overplayed design element) with the new “KIA” wordmark embedded dead center. A slick script-like “Carnival” badge sits further down on the bumper, and a subtle spoiler extends out and over the rear window capping off the bold look. The Carnival's exterior has a surprising amount of intricate details, but they all culminate to create a very appealing “MPV.”
There's lots to like about the inside of the Carnival, as well. The same general cabin layout that we've come to love in the Telluride and Sorento carryover, with a large central touchscreen atop a long flat dash, with a clean array of buttons just below that. There are some new haptic feedback options that we haven’t seen in previous Kia products, and they’re not all that intuitive to use. Otherwise, we really like the way everything is laid out.
Cloth seats come standard on the base LX model and faux leather is available on mid-range EX trims and above. Our SX tester wears the fake stuff, but our range-topping SX Prestige opts for real leather instead, finished in an appropriately named Tuscan Lumber hue that's somewhere between a burnt orange and rust – whatever the shade is, it looks great. And that leather is nice and soft in all three rows.
The SX model only offers eight-passenger seating with a standard second-row bench and a removable center seat. We have no complaints about said bench – it's comfy, with ample headroom and legroom, plus plenty of cushiness from the faux leather seating surface to support your butt and back over long journeys. But if you really want to be comfortable in the second row, you have to upgrade to the SX Prestige model.
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The range-topping trim is the only version of the Carnival available with two VIP Lounge Seats, which take the place of the standard second-row chairs. The lazy-boy–like captain's chairs recline nearly flat (assuming you also have the third row folded stowed) via the one-touch “relaxation mode” button. On top of that, there's a foot rest, solid bolstering, great cushioning, and lots and lots of legroom – even your 6-foot-tall author was able to recline almost fully while only brushing up slightly against the front seat. The Carnival's two VIP Lounge Seats feel like leather-covered thrones fit for a king.
Even with all that legroom in the second row, the third row is actually a nice place to be. A quick pull of the lever and a shove forward of the chair, and access to the third row is easy. Although we still think Toyota's one-button solution is still superior. Once settled, the Carnival offers 38.6 inches of headroom and 35.6 inches of legroom.
The Carnival's two VIP Lounge Seats feel like leather-covered thrones fit for a king.
Those aren't best-in-class figures, admittedly – the Chrysler Pacifica has more headroom and both the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna have more legroom – but combined with the first and second rows, the Carnival has a whopping 168.0 cubic feet of total passenger space plus a full 145.1 cubes of cargo room with both rows folded flat. The Sienna has just 101.0 cubic feet, the Pacifica has 140.5, and the Odyssey offers 140.7.
Tech For The Whole Family
The base Kia Carnival LX gets an 8.0-inch touchscreen while our two testers (and every trim from EX and above) wield a 12.3-inch touchscreen with a corresponding 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, both housed within a single piece of shiny black plastic a la Mercedes-Benz. The large center display is crystal clear, showing off Kia's signature UVO infotainment system with the neon graphics and Nixie tube channel indicators that we like so much. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard as well, but unlike in other Kia products we've tested, they are both wired connections here.
Apart from that, the Carnival has a few options – like the “Sounds Of Nature” audio and voice memo recording – that carry over from previous Kia models. Plus, there are also a few things you expect of this class, like the Passenger Camera that gives the driver a bird's-eye view of the back seat, and the Passenger Talk PA system allows you to communicate with rear occupants at a normal volume. Those are both perfect tools for keeping an eye on the kiddos.
And speaking of the rear occupants; a dual-screen rear entertainment system comes standard on the SX and SX Prestige models or is available as a $1,500 option on the LX and EX models. That setup affords passengers in the second row access to a seat back-mounted screen with USB and HDMI inputs, plus Netflix, YouTube, and Twitch streaming, and the ability to connect to a smartphone wirelessly. Even for an adult, the second row is clearly the place to be.
Old-School Engine, New-School Safety
Unlike the all-hybrid Sienna or the available plug-in Pacifica, Kia opts for a relatively basic setup: a 3.5-liter V6 paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. There is no hybrid option (yet), nor all-wheel-drive. That engine produces a modest 290 horsepower and 262 pound-feet, which moves the minivan in a straight line with purpose. We’d go so far as to say the Carnival feels quick in Sport mode, and yes, there is a Sport mode.
But that’s not to say Kia built some sporty minivan – in fact, the Carnival feels less composed than alternatives like the Sienna and Pacifica in certain respects. The Carnival’s 6.8 inches of ground clearance put it higher off the pavement than any other minivan, and this vehicle does waft pretty substantially. There’s noticeable body roll in corners and obvious understeer, plus the steering is too boosted for your author’s liking. Not to mention that the boxy SUV-like styling makes the Carnival feel like a sail in the crosswinds.
Thankfully though, we weren’t planning on taking this Kia to the track anyways. Where the Carnival excels is on-road comfort. The suspension is extremely cushy, the cabin is whisper quiet – even with the aero issues – and even with the optional 19-inch wheels, the Carnival soaks up imperfect pavement exceptionally well. Add to that a comprehensive suite of standard safety equipment and the Carnival makes for a competent highway cruiser.
The DriveWise safety suite makes Kia’s minivan one of the safest in the class, in our opinion. With features like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, and most importantly, Highway Driving Assist, the Carnival will stay perfectly put in the lane over long distances and maintain a safe but steady pace to the vehicle in front of it. This Kia will eat up hundreds of highway miles with only minor inputs from the driver.
Priced To Beat
The base Kia Carnival LX will set you back $32,100, which is reasonable considering that the Sienna and Pacifica both cost north of $34,000. Only the Honda Odyssey and the bare-bones Chrysler Voyager are more affordable, asking $31,790 and $27,860 out of the box. With the Seat Package (which adds power adjustable SynTex faux leather) the LX costs $34,100, while the mid-range Carnival EX costs $37,600, and the SX and SX Prestige models tested here start at $41,100 and $46,100, respectively.
The 2022 Kia Carnival ticks all the appropriate boxes.
The lone option on our two testers is paint; Astra Blue and Ceramic Silver are both $495 extras. Otherwise, nearly everything else is standard. That lone option brings the as-tested price for the silver SX to $42,770, and the as-tested price for the blue SX Prestige to $47,770 – very reasonable asks considering that a fully loaded Telluride now costs north $50,000 for 2021. Even the Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle and Toyota Sienna Platinum start at around or north of $50,000, and we can’t say that either of those minivans are significantly nicer than the loaded Carnival.
The 2022 Kia Carnival ticks all the appropriate boxes – it’s comfortable, offers a ton of tech, and looks more rough-and-tumble than pretty much any other minivan on sale today. Add to that a very reasonable asking price of less than $50,000 for a fully loaded SX Prestige, and there’s certainly reason to consider cross-shopping the Carnival against the more traditional Telluride, or any other three-row for that matter.
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