Kia’s been giving us a lot of great vehicles lately, from the 3-row Telluride SUV, to the brilliant K5 sedan, to fun and chuckable Forte GT. Rhe vehicles have great looks, high equipment levels and real value. So, when it came time to replace the aging Sedona minivan, Kia created the all-new Carnival to take on the big players, including the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey. Does Kia’s charmed lineup carry on in the minivan segment? Let’s take a look!
The Real Swagger Wagon
Remember that Toyota ad campaign a while back – calling their Sienna the “swagger wagon”? Well, truth be known…uh, not that much swagger. The Carnival on the other hand, has loads of style that catches the eye. Heck, even people who aren’t interested in minivans were coming up and asking us about our tester.
The front end is notably aggressive, with a large version of the signature “Tiger Nose” grille that blends into tasteful LED headlamps. A contrasting lower fascia gives some visual pop, while the hood has deeply sculpted lines that give it a powerful look.
The profile steps away from the sheer utilitarianism of many vans, with muscular fender flares, a bold cutline, lower trim garnish, and our favorite – a folded-metal appearing C pillar that looks upscale and fresh. Our tester’s 19-inch alloys added even more sportiness to an outstanding design.
At the back, the first thing that catches the eye is the new corporate Kia logo, that’s very stylized, although a lot of eyes don’t recognize that it says “Kia”. Reading the script-style Carnival badge is easier, and it adds an elegant touch. Full-width taillights with geometric shapes make a bold statement, topped off by a rear spoiler above the rear window, and a contrasting garnish on the lower bumper.
Our tester, finished in Flare Red was a head-turner, and many commented that overall style has a Range Rover vibe – hey, we’ll take a compliment like that all day long!
Big, Bold, and Beyond
The space and comfort of the interior is the reason you buy a minivan, and here the Carnival serves up a winning combination. We’ll start with the big numbers, the Kia features Best-in-class passenger room with 168.2 cubic feet, and Best-in-class cargo room, with 145.1 cubic feet of space behind the front row.
Hop into the driver’s seat, and you get a stylish, luxurious experience, with a two-tone black and gray interior, and a large instrument display behind the chunky, leather-wrapped wheel. Black gloss surfaces and handsome faux wood trim make this a nice step above the common box experience.
While the top-of-the-line models feature a full digital dashboard, we were quite happy with large, clean analog gauges, with a 4.2-inch Driver’s display in-between. Next to the gauge panel is a wide 12.3-inch touchscreen display with Kia’s well-regarded UVO link info-tainmnet system. Cool available stuff includes cloud-based route calculation for the navi, Calendar integration with your smart devices, and even walking directions for up to 1 mile sent to your smartphone from the Carni’s navigation guidance. Neat stuff.
Other appreciated tech are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as USB chargers for every row. Not appreciated was a system that constantly was fighting our iPhone’s Apple CarPlay system, often dropping it entirely – not fun when you are using WAZE to get you places – and then not allowing the system to reconnect. We hope it’s a glitch on our tester, and not indicative of the system.
A cool feature available on the Carnival is Passenger View and Passenger Talk. With Passenger View, a quick swipe of the info-tainment screen and you pull up a camera image of the 2nd and 3rd row seats. Including zoom and night vision features, it’s a great way to see what the kids are up to. With Passenger Talk, another touch of the system mutes any audio you have playing, and broadcasts your voice through the Carnival’s audio system. Yes, Big Mother is Watching you!
Innovative safety tech includes Rear Occupant Alert that can detect child or pet movement in the 2nd and 3rd rows after the doors have been locked (in case you forgot them!) and notify the driver – even sending notifications to your mobile phone. And Safe Exit Assist audibly alerts driver or passenger opening their door not to exit when the system detects approaching traffic – it can even intervene to lock the rear doors.
Seating capability is key in a van, and the Kia features great seating for eight, including a clever 2nd row that allows multiple configurations, including a sliding second row center seat, which in the most forward position allows the front passenger easy access to a child riding there. The seat also converts into a table, which is handy.
The third-row seats are comfy for adults too, and easily fold into the floor of cargo area when not in use making a flat floor. Need more space? The second-row seats can also be removed.
Access all-around is great too, with standard hands-free power sliding doors, and available hands-free power liftgate with auto close. There’s also available one-button Smart Key open/close for the rear sliding doors and liftgate.
Powerful, Maneuverable, and Capable
Driving the Carnival is a step up as well. Built on the all-new N3 platform that’s also found in the Sorento and K5, Kia took big strides to make the Carnival stronger, lighter, and quieter.
Under the hood is Kia’s familiar 3.5-liter V6 engine, pumping out a Best in Class 290 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque. Tied to a smooth and quick shifting 8-speed automatic, the Carnival feels powerful and quick, and put the drive mode in Sport, and it’s even fun to zip around in.
The Carnival comes exclusively in front wheel drive, and there is no hybrid available, so if either of those things are important to you, you’ll have to shop elsewhere.
We didn’t miss either. The steering is light and precise, the handling is confident, and the big van feels easy to maneuver. The ride is smooth and comfortable.
Kia and Hyundai have been pushing to load their vehicles with safety gear, and Carnival continues that trend. Standard on every trim are Forward Collision Avoidance, Blind Spot Avoidance and Rear Cross-Traffic Avoidance Assist, as well as Lane Keep Assist, Parking Distance Warning- Reverse, High-Beam assist and Driver Attention Warning.
Our EX-trim built on that with Cyclist and Junction turning feature on the Forward Collison Warning, Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Highway Driving Assist – automatically adjusting speed to be within the posted speed limit – and Forward Parking Distance Warning.
Can I afford a Carnival Cruise?
Like most manufacturers, Kia gives you a range of models to choose from. The entry-level LX is well-equipped and starts at $32,100. opt for ultimate luxury, and the SX Prestige starts at $46,100.
Our EX tester is the middle of the lineup and starts at $37,600. We think it’s the best value, and the sweet spot with loads of equipment you’ll enjoy, while maintaining a family friendly price. With no options, and $1,175 for Destination, we rang the bell at $38,775. And don’t forget Kia’s 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty. Added value.
Competitors would include the Toyota Sienna LE at $37,935, a bit less, but with Sienna’s standard Hybrid 4-cylinder engine, and more traditional styling, the Carnival feels much more upscale. The Honda Odyssey is another fine choice, comparable at $36, 915. The Odyssey also has a powerful V6, but to get some of the Carnival’s cool features, you’ll need to go for a higher trim level and pay much more.
The all-new 2022 Kia Carnival is a great package. Upscale styling inside and out, loads of space, tech, and safety features – even a fun driving experience. Top of the class!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.