- Kia Sedona's replacement has striking good looks inside and out
- Wide array of standard advanced driver aids and tech features
- Useful seating arrangements, including ventilated captain's chairs with legrests
- Kicks off the first Carnival generation
What is the Kia Carnival?
If automakers were eligible for a Most Improved Award, we would make a strong case for Kia. Up until about a decade ago, the South Korean manufacturer produced sedans, hatchbacks and SUVs that looked and felt as cheap as their bargain-basement price tags suggested. But the 2011 Optima sparked a renaissance for the brand, one that continues to this day with the luxe Telluride and K5. Not one to rest on its laurels, Kia is turning its disruptive attention to one of the most unfairly maligned segments — the family-friendly minivan. So for 2022, the Sedona is out. Say hello to its replacement, the 2022 Kia Carnival.
Yeah, we know. Not a great name for a vehicle tasked with giving the minivan market a hip makeover. But look past the embarrassing moniker and you'll find a people mover that is decidedly less dorky than its predecessor. Its striking exterior design is similar to that of the sharp new Sorento, if the Sorento was stretched and given a set of sliding rear doors. At the same time, the Carnival retains typical minivan strengths, including a car-like driving experience and an unimpeachable sense of interior space. For large families with an eye for aesthetics, the Carnival might just provide them an interesting alternative to run-of-the-mill three-row SUVs.
How does the Kia Carnival drive?
Though its styling is certainly unique, the Carnival has a rather conventional powertrain. Rather than switch to a hybrid powertrain like the Toyota Sienna, or offer a plug-in hybrid to compete with the Chrysler Pacifica, the Carnival uses a typical gasoline engine. With 290 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, the Carnival can claim the segment's most potent engine, but only just. The Honda Odyssey is 10 hp in arrears, and the Pacifica has only three fewer ponies. The engine routes power to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Like most minivans, the Kia Carnival can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
When you're behind the wheel, the Carnival's V6 engine supplies plenty of power. We found it paired well with the eight-speed automatic transmission to make driving smooth around town but also capable when you need that downshift to pass or merge onto the highway. The engine noise itself is reasonably subdued unless you're asking a lot of the van.
The Carnival generally exhibits SUV-like handling that's pretty much standard in the minivan class. The steering is light at lower speeds and heavy enough on the freeway that the minivan tracks well and is easy to keep pointed straight. On longer curves, it can lose feedback, which sometimes requires corrections in the middle of a turn. The suspension reacts firmly to bumps and road imperfections, as opposed to the softer ride of some competitors.
How comfortable is the Kia Carnival?
From the driver's seat, the Carnival is a supremely comfortable minivan. The first and second rows have supportive cushion padding that we'd expect to remain inviting over long distances, even though our seat time was limited to about 30 minutes straight. Whether the Carnival has the eight-passenger bench seating or the seven-passenger VIP seat configuration, the first and second row seats are some of the more cozy in the segment. Legroom here is also commendable. In the third row, the cushions firm up considerably and those lower limbs run out of space, so best to designate that a kid-only zone.
How's the Carnival's interior?
Kia has gone to great lengths to ensure the Carnival's cabin is just as impressive as its interior. A number of visual elements, including the dashboard and arrangement of the center stack, are short and long, emphasizing the Carnival's width and, by extension, the sense of available space.
The layout is an impressive combination of digital and analog. The digital instrument panel and central touchscreen are joined in a single large frame, not unlike what you'd find in a high-end Mercedes. At the same time, the climate controls are all physical, ensuring you can easily modify settings without taking your eyes off the wheel.
Being a minivan, passengers in the second and third rows are given just as much attention as those in the front. This is especially evident in models with the VIP Lounge Seating option — a layout with second-row captain's chairs outfitted with heating, ventilation and legrests. Even if you stick with standard eight-passenger seating, a flexible new middle seat can slide forward, so watchful parents can keep tabs on their most precious cargo. The seat also converts into a functional table when unoccupied.
Of course, you can fold and remove all seats behind the front row if you need to pick up plywood while the kids are at school. Fold down both rows and the Carnival impresses with 145.1 cubic feet of cargo capacity, which is right in line with the current class leader, the Honda Odyssey. We don't know how much gear the Carnival can hold with all seats up, but considering that the third row folds flat into the floor, the deep well behind those seats should be able to hold quite a few suitcases, soccer balls, and anything else an active family might need.
How's the Carnival's tech?
In a word: loaded. The plethora of standard driver assistance and safety systems includes automatic lane centering, forward collision mitigation and automatic rear braking. You even get a nifty blind-spot monitor feature that can keep you in your lane if you try to cross over the marker and a vehicle is in your blind spot. Kia also gives you the option to add onto those essentials. Upper models feature items including a blind-spot camera, a 360-degree camera, and navigation-based adaptive cruise control, which slows your speed proactively when you approach a curve .
Tech goodies aren't limited to safety features. An 8-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto comes standard, as does multi-device Bluetooth connectivity. On the options list are a 12.3-inch touchscreen, a rear cabin camera (to keep an eye on unruly passengers), an intercom system (when you inevitably have to reprimand said unruly passengers), a 12-speaker Bose audio system, and dual-screen entertainment monitors with Apple and Android device mirroring.
How economical is the Carnival?
The 2022 Kia Carnival returns an EPA-estimated 22 mpg combined (19 city/26 highway). Fuel economy is roughly on par with the V6-powered Odyssey and Pacifica but well below the Sienna and its whopping 36 combined mpg. There's also the Pacifica Hybrid, which features a plug-in powertrain with a useful 32 miles of EV range and 30 mpg after the battery is depleted.
While we liked the Kia Sedona, it always lacked the presence and features of its rivals. With strikingly good looks, a premium interior loaded with lots of tech, and a wealth of standard and optional features, the 2022 Kia Carnival offers a value proposition that could prove tough to beat.