Since the rise of SUVs, minivans have been cast aside like that ugly Christmas sweater you refuse to wear. Minivans have a bad rap. They’re ugly, not all that fun to drive, and, compared to SUVs, lack the high-riding body that consumers crave. It’s sad. Once the humble family vehicle, the minivan has been replaced by the SUV. Your parents probably had a minivan when you were a child; mine did. It was almost like a right of passage. When you have kids, you get a minivan. Nowadays, though, you avoid a minivan at all cost, because there’s an SUV that can do something similar.
No, minivans aren’t cool, but automotive journalists know something that the majority of consumers don’t: No SUV can replicate a minivan. Those elongated bodies, as ugly as they may be, make them masters of interior space. The ungainly sliding doors and low ride height mean you can easily get into the vehicle, instead of having to physically hop into a seat. There aren’t many minivans on the market these days, because all of the crossover shoppers killed them off, but the ones that are on sale are so much better than the crud machines you remember riding in for hours as a kid.
Minivans these days are seriously good. And of the vans on sale, the 2022 Kia Carnival is one of the best. It’s good enough to woo SUV lovers and to put the “momobile” stereotype to rest. Just as its name conjures up memories of a Ferris wheel, games, stale popcorn, and creepy circus music, Kia’s Carnival minivan is a luxurious traveling party with wheels.
Kia classifies the Carnival as an MPV, a multipurpose vehicle. It’s smart marketing to help minivans ditch their stereotypes. Don’t buy into the jargon, though. The Carnival is still clearly a minivan, but it has bold lines and muscular elements from the brand’s excellent Telluride to make you feel better about being seen behind the wheel.
Other minivans, like the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, and Chrysler Pacifica have softer, curvier designs that you won’t find on SUVs. The Carnival, whether it’s classified as an MPV or a minivan, is the best-looking people carrier in the segment. It’s fresh, modern, and bold. Exactly what minivans need to be in the crusade against SUVs.
If the Carnival’s transformation on the outside is dramatic over the outgoing Sedona, what Kia did on the inside is stupefying. In the range-topping SX Prestige trim, the Carnival feels downright luxurious. The Mercedes-Benz-like 12.3-inch touchscreen and 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster look sharp, with the hammered metallic trim piece, rich caramel leather upholstery (some thought it looked orange, I’m pretty sure they needed to get their eyes checked), and a rear-entertainment system with a few built-in apps, are far nicer than similar elements you’ll find on other minivans on the market.
While I usually prefer to drive, the best seats in the Carnival are the ones found in the second row. The SX Prestige comes with what Kia calls “VIP Lounge Seats” that recline, slide, and extend. The last part may sound confusing. These lounge seats are like the massive massaging seats that people used to sit in for hours at malls. They fully recline, to where you’re nearly parallel with the minivan’s floor, with the leg rest extended for added comfort. With heating and ventilating functions, enough space for two skinny people, and the rear entertainment system, the lounge seats turn even the longest journey into an enjoyable affair.
Pop your kids in these seats, let them find their preferred seating position, and watch them zone out to Netflix on the rear screens. I would’ve loved to go on a road trip in a Carnival as a kid. I wouldn’t have complained as much and wouldn’t have asked (at least not as often) the dreaded question, “Are we there yet?”
The only issue with the lounge seats is that they aren’t all that practical and can be difficult to operate. You’ll have to go through a 10-minute training course on how to operate them before actually being able to use them. With the seats slightly reclined, the third row becomes unusable. Keep the second row in a somewhat upright position, though and the third row is comfortable enough for adults. The third row can be stowed easily, too, with the use of simple controls at the back, though manual labor is required.
The lounge seats also eat into overall cargo space, as the non-removable seats result in the minivan only offering up to 86.9 cubic feet of cargo space. If you prefer cargo capacity and don’t want to spoil your second-row passengers, you can skip the SX Prestige trim and go for one of the lower trims and get nearly the same level of opulence with extra usability.
The Carnival has the right engine to feel like a Boeing 747. It’s powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that’s good for 290 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It feels smooth and plenty quick enough for a van that tips the scales at around 4,600 pounds. The eight-speed automatic transmission works well with the V6, shifting promptly and steadily. While others in the class, like the Sienna and Pacifica, are offered with all-wheel drive, the Carnival is front-wheel-drive only. That’s not a huge bummer, but with a minivan that looks this rugged, we do think it could hurt its appeal.
If it weren’t for the lack of all-wheel drive, the Carnival would be the ultimate family vehicle. For a minivan, it handles and rides well, with suspension tuning that manages to strike a fine balance of being soft without wallowing around. It’s a minivan, so you won’t be racing anyone or tackling corners with, but if you find yourself trying to pull an evasive maneuver upon takeoff, you’ll want to know that the Carnival feels willing to impress with a hefty steering wheel and a firm brake pedal feel.
Absolutely. Listen, I know minivans aren’t cool. I get that. I also get that the way a vehicle looks and makes you feel plays a large role in a purchase. SUVs are cooler than minivans, they just are. They look cooler, get more attention from your neighbors, and can tackle the gravel path to the cabin that you rent annually through Airbnb. But, if you sit down and have a real conversation with yourself, you’ll find that minivans are far better overall vehicles than SUVs.
And, if you find yourself near a Kia dealership and are mulling over the idea of a minivan, you owe it to yourself to test out a Carnival. It might sound weird, but it’s hard not to feel cool from behind the wheel of Kia’s people carrier. It oozes style and still hits all of the right notes for families or people that just want to be extra comfortable on a drive. The Carnival proves that minivans don’t have to just be for families, but for people that want a high-tech vehicle that offers a spacious cabin and comfortable seats. If you happen to have a family, though, the Carnival is sublime.
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