Whatever you feel like calling it, the 2022 Carnival is built on Kia’s third-generation N3 platform, which underpins other vehicles like the handsome Sorento SUV and avant-garde K5 sedan. Giving it noticeably sturdier styling than the old Sedona, which was rounded in comparison, the Carnival features a modernized version of the brand’s signature tiger-nose grille, complete with distinctive sculpting and tasteful brightwork. For a more rugged look, the wheel arches are accentuated, plus the hood is higher and flatter than what you’ll find on other minivans. This is also the first Kia in America to feature the brand’s revamped logo, which is modern and angular, or as Roadshow reviews editor Antuan Goodwin described it in a photo caption, “K-backwards-N.” What has been seen cannot be unseen.
Thanks to these design attributes, the Carnival looks more robust than its rivals, particularly the billowy Chrysler Pacifica. But there’s only so much you can do with visual sleight-of-hand. This Kia is still undeniably a minivan, as evinced by its imposing two-box form. Size-wise, the Carnival is in lockstep with competitors — its 121.7-inch wheelbase may be the longest of the bunch, but it’s just 0.1 inches greater than the Chrysler’s. At 203 inches from grille to liftgate, it’s an inch or two shorter than its rivals, with the Honda Odyssey being the longest of the group (if only just).
That generous size gives the Carnival plenty of interior space. Behind its 60/40-split third-row seat, which manually folds into the floor with the pull of a couple handles and a big downward shove, you get 40.2 cubic feet of storage space. Behind the second-row chairs it provides 86.9 cubic feet so you get up to 145.1 cubes to play with, more than in all but the voluminous Odyssey.
Aside from capaciousness, comfort is another one of the Carnival’s strong suits in this midrange EX model. The Slide-Flex second-row chairs are plenty comfortable and supportive, plus they easily move fore and aft by a significant amount, though they do not fold into the floor like Chrysler’s ingenious Stow ‘n Go system. For maximum cargo space, you’ve got to remove them and hope you don’t pull a muscle in your back. Ensuring passengers have access to power, USB ports are integrated into the front seatbacks. Mirroring the Toyota Sienna, the range-topping SX Prestige model features twin VIP lounge seats, which slide, recline and have integrated ottomans for added luxury. They also offer power controls as well as heating and ventilation for all-season comfort. The Carnival’s third-row seat is accommodating with plenty of space too, even for lanky adults. As with the second row, passengers in steerage have access to a pair of USB ports. No matter where you’re sitting, there’s practically enough headroom in this vehicle for Shaquille O’Neal to bolt upright while wearing a top hat.
Spacious and comfortable, the Carnival’s interior is stylish and well built. The dashboard is simple and cleanly laid out. The climate controls, which are partly comprised of physical switches and touch-sensitive buttons, are clearly labeled and easy to operate. Aside from there being a little too much piano-black trim (a magnet for dust and fingerprints) in this EX model, the materials used are of high quality, everything is assembled with painstaking precision and nothing is loose or otherwise cheap feeling.
An 8-inch touchscreen is standard equipment in the base LX model, complete with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. EX and higher models, however, come with a much larger 12.3-inch display, which is home to a swanky infotainment system. This multimedia array is incredibly snappy, responding to finger inputs almost instantaneously, plus it’s a cakewalk to use, with almost zero learning curve. This makes the Carnival one of those vehicles you can jump right in and start using without having to thumb through the owner’s manual or waste time figuring out how things work. This infotainment system also looks cool. Icons on the home screen resemble little neon signs and the radio tuner is styled like nixie tubes, a playful touch. EX and higher models also come standard with a wireless charging plate and both cabin camera and intercom systems — so the driver can keep tabs on and communicate with passengers in the back seats.
The Carnival is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that belts out 290 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. This Kia has a few more horses in its stable than the Pacifica and Odyssey, but unexpectedly, all three of these minivans have an identical amount of torque. The Carnival’s engine is quiet and smooth, the little tingles produced by all V6s are well attenuated, with little vibration being felt inside. Acceleration is good, the van pulling well when you punch it, a performance aided by the super-responsive eight-speed automatic transmission. As gearboxes go, this one is perfect: imperceptibly smooth, quick-witted and eager to downshift when you need more oomph. What more could you ask for?
Fuel economy is right in line with the Carnival’s major competitors. The Kia stickers at 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. Combined, it’s rated at 22 mpg, identical to a front-wheel drive, non-plug-in Pacifica or the Honda Odyssey. Naturally, the hybrid-only Sienna blows this Kia away like topsoil during the Dust Bowl with its across-the-board rating of up to 36 mpg (as does the pricier Pacifica plug-in hybrid, which returns 82 MPGe when running solely on electricity). If maximum fuel economy matters, get the Toyota. If towing prowess tops your chart, nab the Chrysler, as it’s rated to drag up to 3,600 pounds, 100 more than the Carnival, Odyssey or Sienna.
The Carnival’s steering is light and reasonably quick, which helps this minivan feel nimble and a bit smaller than it is. The standard lane-keeping assist technology is exceptionally good, never sawing at the wheel or darting for the ditch when a line gets interrupted. The available adaptive cruise control works a treat, too. Standard driver aids include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist and reverse parking sensors.
Dynamic downsides are few, but the Carnival’s biggest weakness is its unsettled ride. Choppy, noisy and on the floaty side, this family-hauler can feel a bit uneasy at times. A full load of kiddies and cargo would probably settle things down, but the unladen tuning needs a little more work to really get things dialed in. Commotion from the tires and wind is also noticeable at speed, likely exacerbated by the cavernous interior.
An attractive and well-rounded offering, the 2022 Kia Carnival is available in four trim levels: LX, EX, SX and SX Prestige. Base price for this not-so-mini van is 33 big ones and change, including $1,175 in delivery fees. As it sits, the EX model shown here checks out for a not-unreasonable $38,775.
If you’re shopping for a minivan, thank you! More drivers would be wise to consider one of these versatility all-stars over the SUVs everyone is obsessed with these days. Making the decision even easier (or perhaps harder), you can’t buy a bad minivan. All the major players are great in their own way. The fuel-sipping Toyota Sienna is hands down the most economical model without a plug; Chrysler’s Pacifica looks the nicest as Stow ‘n Go still blows the competition away; and the Honda Odyssey is the most well-rounded of the bunch and likely the best to drive. As for the Carnival, it’s as excellent an option as any, and has no trouble going toe-to-toe not just with other minivans, but with three-row SUVs, too.