All-new Kia Carnival ‘life utility vehicle’ doesn’t offer all-wheel drive or green powertrain, but space and value to spare
The Kia Sedona minivan may still technically be available for the 2021 model year, but it has now officially been replaced by the all-new 2022 Kia Carnival. And though Kia would rather label the Carnival an ‘SUV-inspired full-size family vehicle’ than minivan, in reality it’s a mix of minivan practicality, improved fuel efficiency along with SUV-like styling cues that actually proved super-useful over a week with it – even without young kids in the house.
Minivans are traditionally seen as ideal for parents of young children, with their bulky strollers and rear-facing child seats testing the limits of vehicle spaciousness in the second row and cargo areas. And there’s no doubt they’re great for that, while their standard three rows of seats that can quickly become two are the ultimate in cargo/people flexibility, and almost necessary for those carrying five or more regularly.
But as I discovered in my week with the Carnival, minivans (or MPVs, another preferred Kia label for it) can also be a godsend for those with aging family members with mobility difficulties. The sliding doors provide a much larger aperture to enter than any SUV’s rear door, a feature much more useful to help shuttle around my 80-plus, limited-mobility parents than our two sprightly (relatively) teenage boys.
The Carnival’s sliding rear doors are not only convenient, but they also present a nicely prominent grab handle that helps with the bit of a step up when entering the rear seat area. Dual power doors are standard on all but the base $34,795 LX Carnival model, and can be opened from a distance, which is helpful not only in mall parking lots, but also provide the subtle courtesy of a bit more time for the entering process for those who need it.
Those who prefer SUV to minivan styling may not be quite as impressed with the doors’ exposed tracks, which leave subtle yet exposed pathways down the rear quarter of the Carnival’s bodywork. This is a surprising design decision, especially for an “SUV-inspired” MPV, since many minivans (though not all) have now progressed to integrating that track almost invisibly into the rear-most window frames. But overall its design is modern and a huge advance over the Sedona and becomes Kia’s first vehicle to use its new circle-free logo.
Also more advanced is the Carnival’s powertrain, which features both more power and more fuel efficiency. Its 3.5-litre V6 compared to the 3.3-litre V6 in the Sedona averages 10.6 L/100 km of regular fuel use, which puts the Carnival on equal footing to minivan rivals like the Honda Odyssey and non-Hybrid Chrysler Pacifica. It’s also slightly less than the official ratings of many three-row V6 SUVs, though most of those offer all-wheel drive, as does the latest Toyota Sienna and now also the Windsor, Ontario-built Pacifica. Real-world efficiency was less impressive, however, with a 14.4 L/100 km figure, in mostly urban driving.
This particular Carnival was the top SX model, with an as tested price of $50,495 after options (actually, just $250 for special paint) and freight, but all Carnival models receive the same 290 hp V6, with an 8-speed automatic and front-wheel drive powertrain. The SX is the only seven-seat Carnival, as it comes with dual captain’s chairs in the rear, versus a three-passenger bench.
This fully loaded Carnival’s interior is a wonderful place to spend time. The four captain’s chairs are all heated and cooled, while other $75,000+ luxury vehicles I drove soon after didn’t offer them even for the driver. All but the base model Carnival’s come with a heated steering wheel, wireless phone charging, heated front seats and a power tailgate that can be opened with a foot sweep.
It’s a modern interior as well, with this SX and the EX models receiving a digital dash that replaces the analog gauges and creates a continuous ‘panoramic’ flat screen display that flows into the instrument panel screen hardware above the centre stack. One of the infotainment modes is the driver’s choice of various soundscapes, mostly nature-inspired, with the beach sounds and raining forest being particular favourites.
Like the Kia Telluride and its Hyundai Palisade three-row SUV cousin, the Carnival’s digital dials shift to show what’s in the driver’s blind spot whenever the turn signal is activated. Another welcome camera feature is a button under the shifter that allows the 360-degree cameras to come up even while not in Reverse, which is very handy for navigating tight drive-throughs and parking spots at low speeds. There are lots of USBs throughout, including for the rear seat passengers integrated in the front seatbacks, as well as buttons on the passenger seat that are easily accessible to the driver, presumably to avoid its kicking while enroute. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto comes standard on all models, but don’t forget your cord, as it’s not wireless yet.
Some may shed a tear for the comfy but perhaps dated folding centre armrests for the front seats – a long-time minivan staple, but only for rear captain’s chair passengers now.
Safety is key for both minivans and family SUVs, and Kia has gone above and beyond on this front with the Carnival. Many advanced safety systems are standard on all models: lane keep assist (LKA), lane follow assist (LFA), a driver attention warning that gives you a heads up if the car ahead of you moves forward, and advanced forward collision-avoidance assist (FCA). All but LX models receive Kia’s Safe Exit Assist system, which detects vehicles or bikes coming up behind the Carnival, and doesn’t allow rear passengers to open the doors into traffic.
Overall then, the Kia Carnival offers an impressive amount of value: huge and flexible people and cargo space, sophisticated styling, with many comfort and convenience features not offered on many luxury vehicles that cost tens of thousands more than this Kia. Unfortunately, the Carnival isn’t quite as ambitious in its powertrain offerings, with no AWD, hybrid or plug-in option (yet). But if you don’t mind SUV-sized fuel bills, the Carnival should definitely be on your three-row MPV test drive list.