The new 2022 Kia Carnival MPV continues Kia’s recent onslaught of impressive products that perform above their pay grade, and boasts aggressive exterior styling, a roomy and luxurious interior, well balanced on-road performance, and great value in a small but competitive segment.
With most of the attention still on the Telluride, the Carnival is possibly the smarter buy, especially for families that don’t need the extra ground clearance or all wheel drive. However, for Carnival shoppers looking for all the latest technological goodies, there’s a compromise you’ll need to make.
SUV-Inspired Exterior Styling
Kia let me borrow a top-of-the-line Carnival SX Prestige in its hero color, Astra Blue, which is a deep metallic color. All Carnival SX and SX Prestige models come with 19” gloss black wheels and satin chrome accents on the exterior. This is most noticeable on the prominent C-pillar garnish which also features a textured pattern that’s continued on the interior trim for a cohesive design.
The Carnival is easily the most aggressive-looking minivan available right now with its taller hood, exposed headlight elements, SUV-like profile, and thin rear light bar. It’s also available in the same ceramic silver color as the Stinger. Note this is slightly different than the K5 and Telluride’s Wolf Gray. The Carnival SX and SX Prestige also come standard with roof rails featuring a floating rear end that makes it easier to tie down cargo on the roof.
Only the SX Prestige comes with the full LED headlights and LED taillight bar, although the turn signals, reverse lights, and license plate lighting are incandescent on all models. The SX Prestige’s signature daytime running lights double as the front LED turn signals, while a small element within this lamp stays white while the rest of the light turns amber.
The Carnival is one of the first Kias to show off the new logo on the exterior a stainless steel finish, and while driving I was asked by more than one person what this car was, whether that be due to the new logo or just due to the unique look of the Carnival’s exterior. Just like with other new Kia models, you’ll definitely get a lot of attention in the Carnival.
A Cocoon of Luxury For Your Family
As with competitors like the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, and Chrysler Pacifica, Kia’s new Carnival is optimized for interior comfort. However, the Carnival takes it to another level, and there’s a lot to talk about here. I had the chance to spend a weekend with my wife and baby daughter in the Carnival SX Prestige, and it was a memorable one.
After opening the standard power sliding rear doors from the key fob, we were welcomed into the Carnival by the ultra-luxurious second-row VIP lounge seats (standard on SX Prestige only) in Tuscan Umber. These captain’s chairs have an extremely wide range of movement, allowing you to adjust each seat manually inboard or outboard and forward or back to the desired position, and then providing power reclining seatbacks, power tilting seat bottoms, power tilting and extending legrests, and aircraft-style wing-out headrests. Each seat also has dual armrests that can be raised or lowered.
You’ll feel like you’re in your own private jet while enjoying the second row, and if you’re taller like I am, you can use the secondary power controls for the passenger seat to adjust it, allowing you to stretch your feet all the way out in front of you. Three-stage heated and ventilated seats allow you to stay at your desired temperature, assisted by a rear-seat automatic climate control panel and four individual air vents.
Once you’ve adjusted your seat to the perfect position, you can switch on the built-in dual rear-seat entertainment screens to stream Netflix, YouTube, Twitch, plug in your gaming console to the HDMI ports (possible courtesy of the household style outlet in the center console), or mirror your smartphone for unlimited entertainment possibilities. The screens can take a beating and adjust to point more upwards or downwards depending on your position.
You can also control your view of the outside world from the back, with a secondary power opening sunroof with manual sunshade cover, one-touch power windows in the doors, and manual sunshades for all rear side windows to keep the light out on sunny days if so desired.
All your electronic devices will stay charged at all times with no less than nine USB power outlets throughout all three rows, two 12V outlets, and two household style outlets. There are also thoughtful phone slots between the cupholders in both the first and second rows, and the third row cupholders sit between additional storage locations. While there’s plenty of storage in the Carnival, it’s not quite class-leading, with no pass-through storage area in the center console in the first row, shallow cubbies on the front doors, and only bottle holders on the sliding rear doors.
You and your kids will both love the Carnival. It’s super easy to mount a carseat in the second or third rows, and the VIP lounge seats power tilting seat bottoms mean that you can easily adjust your children to sit more upright or recline for a sleep without having to adjust the carseat itself. Rear-facing carseats can bump up against the rear entertainment screens without damaging them because those screens are so tough. Small families will love the SX Prestige because you can set a rear-facing carseat far forward in one of the VIP lounge seats and then slide the other one back further to give you a better view of your child.
When they’re old enough for front-facing carseats, they’ll love the kids’ mode on the rear entertainment screens because it has Baby Shark videos and games built in, and also provides access to YouTube Kids. You can hook up either monitor by Bluetooth to the Bose audio system to play it through the speakers or connect a Bluetooth headset to listen privately. You can also link the two screens together so all rear passengers can be watching the same thing if desired.
Parents will love the rear-seat camera system which allows you to keep an eye on your kids on the center 12.3” touchscreen while driving without having to turn around. You can then use Passenger Talk if they’re getting rowdy to have your voice magnified through the sound system. When they fall asleep, you can switch audio to quiet mode which limits the volume and plays music only through the front speakers. The camera system also only shows on two thirds of the screen and you can easily configure the other third to show your map, audio, or many other options.
Speaking of driver goodies, the Carnival SX Prestige features a 12.3” digital gauge cluster which is unique in the minivan segment. Only the Honda Odyssey also has a digital cluster and it is a smaller partial gauge cluster without the configurability of the Carnival. Speaking of configurability, you can choose between classic and dynamic modes – the classic modes show traditional round gauges which change theme when you change the drive modes, while the dynamic mode has a more open feel with a landscape that changes to match the time of day and the weather in your current location. The gauge cluster also features Kia’s turn signal camera feature, and those cameras are also used in the ultra-crisp 360-degree top-down parking camera system.
Kia has also packaged a ton of thoughtful software features with the Carnival. For example, the car will alert you if the leading vehicle has departed after you have been stopped at a red light. This gentle reminder prevents drivers behind you from getting frustrated if you were looking away when the light went green. Also, there is a navigation-based feature that turns on air recirculating when you drive through a known area with low air quality, such as an oil refinery, and then turns it back to outside air and turns on an auto-defogging system after you leave the area. Finally, you can control all the power functions on the VIP lounge seats, including the seat positions and the heated and ventilated seats from the driver’s seat. It’s thoughtful details like this that Kia didn’t need to include but did anyway.
The Carnival Is A Joy To Drive
Knowing the priorities of the Carnival, I wasn’t expecting much from the driving experience, but I was thoroughly impressed. While the 3.5L V6 provides 290 horsepower, it’s mediocre 248 lb-ft torque never gives you a feeling of speed, but it does provide power instantly and in a linear fashion through its 8-speed automatic transmission. More impressively, the Carnival handles incredibly well. It corners flatly and can be pushed hard around bends at speed without any complaints from the tires, something I wasn’t expecting with the size and height of the Carnival.
The smart cruise control system is also one of the best I’ve driven, and better than other Hyundais and Kias I’ve driven with older versions of this system. Even in its most aggressive setting, the Carnival smoothly brakes without leaving large gaps in front of itself in traffic, taking advantage of the navigation-based Highway Driving Assist, and it stays totally centered in the lane. It’ll also adjust the target speed dynamically to the speed limit.
However, gas mileage is fairly low. While it’s rated at 19 mpg city / 26 mpg highway, I saw closer to 15 mpg during my time with the Carnival, due to pushing it harder than I think some may in the real world.
The Compromise: Practicality vs Luxury
Unfortunately, there is one big compromise that potential Carnival buyers will need to make. This stems from the way that the trim levels are designed, and the choice to make is between practicality and luxury. The Carnival SX Prestige offers so many features that are not available on lower trims, including the dual sunroof system (no other trim level offers any sunroof), the digital gauge cluster, leather seating (all other trim levels are either cloth or leatherette), full LED headlights and LED taillight bar, 12-speaker Bose sound system, LED interior lighting, 360-degree camera, turn signal cameras, heated steering wheel, and more.
If you want those luxury features of the SX Prestige, you will also need to live with the VIP lounge seats, which at first sounds like a great thing. However, they definitely reduce overall practicality of the car. For example, there is no outboard mechanism to easily gain access to the third row – you will need to either walk between the captain’s chairs to the third row or reach over awkwardly to the power seat controls which sit on the inboard side of the seats to adjust them forwards. Furthermore, the VIP lounge seats are taller, longer, and thicker than the standard second row seats in lower trim levels, which reduces headroom in the second row when the seats are upright, and reduces legroom in the third row even when the VIP seats are in their normal forward positions. It’ll also be a tighter fit if you need to put carseats in the third row with the VIP lounge seats in place.
Additionally, in lower trim levels you can remove the second row seats completely for a large, flat load floor with 145 cubic feet of space, but the VIP lounge seats cannot be removed, meaning that cargo space is limited to only what you can fit behind them in the furthest forward position.
Therefore, for larger families or those who need to regularly carry around a lot of cargo, it’ll be tough to justify the extra expense for the SX Prestige, even with all the additional features you’ll enjoy. Be ready to make this compromise when you go to buy your Carnival.
Carnival is the Value King of the Minivan Segment
Kia has packaged a lot into its new Carnival MPV, and the SX Prestige is a true luxury experience. However, the product planners at Kia America knew they needed to keep the price point reasonable. The result is that not only does the base model LX start at $32,100, which is on par with the Honda Odyssey and thousands cheaper than the base models of the Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Pacifica, but the fully loaded SX Prestige comes in at just $46,100, while the top-of-the-line Odyssey comes in at $47,820 and the Sienna and Pacifica both have fully loaded models over $50,000. So you won’t need to justify any additional expense if you are looking to buy a Carnival.
However, it’s a tough market out there, and you shouldn’t expect to pay any less than MSRP right now.
After spending a weekend with the Kia Carnival, I can confidently say that this is the first minivan I would seriously consider. It’s impressively well put together and very attractive. That being said, I wish Kia had offered the VIP lounge seats as a standalone option rather than a standard feature with the SX Prestige model.