Even if you haven’t been shopping for minivans in a long time, you probably have a reasonable picture of what the current minivan market is like. The Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are vying for the pound-for-pound title, and there’s the respectable Chrysler Pacifica (with a somewhat surprising hybrid version). But the great option is Kia.
You hear us.
Looks sharp unexpected
It starts with the silhouette.
Automakers have spent a decade trying to make their mini cars more like their sedans. It was the wrong approach the whole time.
Kia showed the entire industry the error of its ways when it ditched the nondescript small Sedona and brought us this instead for 2022—the all-new Kia Carnival. It’s not a pickup truck. In Kia’s marketing talk, it’s a “multi-purpose vehicle.” The distinction may seem silly, but they’re into something. It doesn’t feel like a minibus.
Park the carnival next to your Kia K5 sedan, and you might not find a family resemblance.
But lined up next to the hugely popular Kia Telluride SUV, these big boys are cousins. You can see it in the low swing element on the door sills. You can see it in the carved doors themselves.
And you can see it in the wheel arches. The Carnival isn’t as squishy or slick as those found on most family pickup trucks. They are pronounced, like the firm fenders of sports facilities.
The Carnival grille also borrows some Tabasco models from Kia’s SUV lineup.
After all, Americans buy SUVs for their dominant seating position, maximum interior volume, and comfort on the highway. What is a minivan but four-wheel drive with doors that easily open in tight parking spaces?
Kia has solved the boring minivan design problem by realizing that minivans can be the muscle workers of the SUV world’s back. Carnival has no other touchable design in its class.
The pattern continues inside
As car journalists, we see every car. This means that we are aware of the changes in the car market long before most car shoppers do. So we’ll share with you a secret that most Americans haven’t yet discovered – Kia designers are currently making some of the sharpest interiors on the road.
Appears in the carnival booth. Directly in front of the driver is a huge curved area of glass. It’s something we’re just starting to see in new designs, but it’s totally showing up here. The Carnival has a digital display that replaces driver instruments, and a central 12.3-inch touchscreen that handles entertainment and climate control (base models get a smaller 8-inch screen). They are put together in one frame, creating a high-tech first impression.
Outside of the screens, the carnival has some inventive seating. Like all minivans, it offers three rows of seating. In most decors, the second row consists of a pair of captain’s chairs and a small central seat. This one can be neatly folded down into a table or folded out of the way completely to allow parent easy access to a second-row child seat.
It’s a thoughtful touch. As with the intercom system that allows the driver to talk to the rear passengers without yelling, and the “silent mode” on the stereo which allows the driver to enjoy the music while keeping the rear seats quiet for sleeping children.
The best-in-class SX-Prestige is a completely different beast. In the domestic Kia market in South Korea, the minivan is often used as a means of transporting VIPs. The SX-Prestige is built for this, with private VIP lounge seating instead of the second row. It is heated and ventilated, fully reclines, and includes electric leg supports.
It’s also an impractical choice for most families, and makes it difficult to get to third grade. We bet most buyers are better off with a stash table, which can be a great comfort for families.
Close holes in traffic
If you haven’t been shopping for minivans in a while, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the driving experience most trucks today offer. But Kia has outdone itself. Carnival’s standard 290-horsepower V6 is the most powerful engine offered in a 2022 minivan. Power comes in smoothly thanks to an unobtrusive 8-speed automatic transmission.
Steering effort is light, especially at parking speeds.
Believe it – Kia is great now
It might seem surprising to hear that Kia has made a great minivan.
But the Korean automaker has undergone a serious revamp in recent years. The Carnival joins the lineup that includes the coveted Telluride, a Stinger-sleeping performance car, and a sharp-looking electric hatchback that can hit 0-60 mph in just under 3.5 seconds.
For 2023, the all-wheel drive Sportage SUV will get one of the most dramatic improvements we’ve seen in years, becoming the best-looking car in its class.
The Carnival fits neatly into an attractive range of cars and rethinks minivans in rewarding ways.