Minivans are a right of passage for families and one that can be a tough transition to make. Once upon a time I traded in a Volkswagen Jetta GLI for a Toyota Sienna to accommodate our growing family and there were a few tears shed. The segment has shrunk to only a few key players with the aforementioned Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica and the Kia Carnival. But wait... the all-new Carnival is actually something different and Kia would like us to refer to it as a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV). And apparently Kia is on to something because when I arrived home in the Carnival, the neighborhood parents came flocking. The consensus was that everyone loved it, but they all had mixed feeling about whether or not it was a true minivan or a modern interpretation of an SUV. All were aligned with the MPV designation and went on to ogle at the vehicle.
The Carnival replaces the Kia Sedona and is the first vehicle to wear the new Kia emblem. It comes with a single powertrain which is a 3.5L V6 GDI engine paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission that delivers 290 horsepower and 262 lb.ft. of torque. Acceleration has some pep and the overall ride is smooth. It's a large vehicle but doesn't feel like it when driving. It handles various road conditions well and remains grounded with minimal body lean or road noise. It gets 385 miles of range on a full tank with fuel economy ratings of 19/26/22 MPG city/highway/combined.
It comes four primary trim levels known as LX, EX, SX, and SX Prestige and solely with front wheel drive. Seats can be configured to accommodate either seven or eight passengers. Advanced technology includes rear occupant alert, safe exit assist, rear passenger view camera, passenger talk, and an available dual rear screen entertainment system. Prices start at $32,100 for an LX and climb into the $46,000+ range for an SX Prestige with all of the options. After a week of hauling my family around, here is what stands out...
Exterior Style (+)
Kia has been on a roll with designing rugged and refined SUVs including the Telluride, Sorento, and Seltos. The Carnival joins that list with a taller prominent stance and visual touches such as an updated Kia "tiger nose" grille, LED lighting, and a one of kind take on the C-pillar with a silver-plated accent piece. The front is bold with a wide front grille flanked by LED lights and a hood that wraps around to the fenders with dramatic hood lines. The side profile is highlighted by large wheel arches that house 17 to 19-inch wheels available in finishes such as silver painted, machine finished, or gloss black. Tracks for the dual sliding doors are perfectly lined up with the body lines to the rear tail lights. Available silver roof rails with a spear-like tip and skid plate garnishes add to the rugged SUV looks. Around back the tail lights stretch across the entire hatch. All trims have LED lights, but only the SX Prestige lights up the entire red light bar. Kia offers a nice color pallet including colors such as Astra Blue, Ceramic Silver, Flare Red, and Deep Chromo Blue that accentuate the details on the Carnival. The new KIA emblem looks at home on the Carnival with a more modern and confident look.
Road Capability (-)
Unlike most three-row crossovers and SUVs, the Carnival comes exclusively with front wheel drive. While sufficient for many due to its size and weight, all wheel drive tends to put a lot of midwestern buyers at ease. Two of its biggest competitors (Chrysler Pacifica and Toyota Sienna) do offer all wheel drive. Towing capacity is capped at 3,500 lbs which is on par with minivan competitors, but again less than most three row crossovers which typically have around 5,000 lbs such as Kia's own Telluride.
Interior Dash (+)
Hopping inside one of the first things you're exposed to is a new dash layout that is similar to the execution in the Sorento and K5. Drivers face an available 12" digital cluster that seamlessly blends in to the 12-inch infotainment display (8-inches is standard). Lower trim models utilize more traditional dials in the cluster with a 3-inch digital display at the center. Both executions feel premium and give the Carnival a modern feel thanks the use of materials such as chrome or faux wood that run the length of the dash. Integrated slim metal air vents align with trim garnish blend into the clean design. I really like this look compared to the Telluride which utilizes a screen that sits on top of the dash. Gloss black accents outline the center console which also includes wireless device charging, cup holders, a second device holder, a traditional gear selector and controls for the available heated and ventilated seats.
Infotainment System (+)
Kia's UVO system is intuitive and up-to-date with available wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The graphics are modern with fonts and execution shared with their Hyundai counterpart. Features such as driver and passenger talk utilize a two-way intercom system to communicate with passengers in the second and third rows with more clarity. This comes in handy when speaking with kids who are in the third row and trying to communicate over many other sounds and people inside. The system also offers a live rear passenger view through the center display utilizing fairly clear built in full color cameras, something that is a highlight for parents with rear-facing children. Other built-in features include ambient lighting, navigation and a 360-degree camera system. Outside of the screen, climate controls all utilize physical buttons that are well-placed.
Rear-Seat Infotainment System (-)
Bonus points for having the rear-seat entertainment system, however the execution could be improved. Behind both front seats are screens that stick out a couple inches from the seat where they are mounted at the center. A colleague and I both questioned the placement and presumed that our kids would be hitting these regularly before my kids even saw the Carnival. Sure enough, these screens got in the way of school back packs and were the source of a few tears from my 5-year old who hit his head on them climbing inside. Something more flush with the backs of the seats would be better suited in a vehicle that caters to small children. Physical execution aside, the rear-seat entertainment monitors do work with wireless Apple and Android device screen mirroring and when connected to WiFi will connect the kids directly to YouTube if desired. Without WiFi connection, the entertainment options are minimal unlike the Chrysler Pacifica which had many built-in games to their system.
Flexible seating configurations for seven or eight passengers make the Carnival an ideal option for families. Kia introduces "slide-flex" seating that allow multiple configurations including a sliding second row center seat which, when in the forward most position, allows the front passenger easy access to the baby or child riding in that seat which is a huge advantage for longer road trips. This middle seat also has the option to convert into a functional table between two seats or the ability to be removed completely. Also available in seven-passenger models are heated and ventilated second-row VIP Lounge Seating with power controls, wind-out headrests and leg extensions.
The seats themselves are available in with cloth, synthetic or genuine leather. The seats are comfortable and supportive with cushy padding that is perfect for long road trips. There is plenty of passenger room up front with both heated and ventilated seats available. Seats are available in various colors including a Tuscan Umber color that came in my test vehicle that looks very rich.
Perhaps the biggest reason for buying a minivan...ahem, multi-purpose vehicle, is for the cargo space. The Carnival impresses with 145.1 total cu.ft. of cargo space behind the first row with the seats down which nudges just above the Chevrolet Suburban at 144.7 cu.ft. Even more practical is the space behind the third row, which is traditionally tight in crossovers and SUVs, where there is 40.2 cu.ft. of deep cargo space. That coveted space is best in class by over 6 cu.ft. with the Toyota Sienna capping at 33.5 cu. ft. Additionally, the seats easily fold flat into that space at the pull of a handle providing 86.9 cu.ft. behind the second row. Kia has also given passengers 11 cup holders and many other small item storage spaces as well to cover all of a family's needs for a road trip.
Keeping passengers safe is clearly top of mind at Kia with quite a long list of standard driver assist features including: forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, blind spot collision warning & avoidance, rear cross traffic alert & avoidance, parking distance warning (reverse), lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane follow assist, driver attention warning, and high beam assist. Beyond this list the Carnival comes with some segment exclusive features among other minivans such as rear occupant alert with motion detection which will sound the alarms and flash the lights...I experienced this one at soccer practice when one of my older kids wanted to sit the back and read with the windows down. Pro trip, just keep the doors unlocked to avoid the alarms. Other available features include standard passenger safe exit assist and a blind-spot view monitor that includes a live video display of adjacent lanes in the digital cluster which works really well.
Final Statement: (+)
Kia got a lot right with the Carnival and I think opting for a new name was the right marketing approach. This is a very different vehicle from the Sedona that does blur the lines between a conventional minivan and a crossover. It will fit like a glass slipper for most families and likely raise the bar among key competitors.
First Impression Summary:
Test Vehicle: 2022 Kia Carnival
Exterior Color: Ceramic Silver
Interior Color: Tuscan Umber
Notable Options: Ceramic Silver Paint ($495)
MSRP as tested: $42,770 (With Delivery/Destination)