First Drive Review: 2022 Kia Carnival is the best minivan/MPV on the market

Chris Teague

Chris Teague

The Carnival is three-row vehicle excellence you didn't see coming.

Wait, wait, wait. If you were under the impression that the Kia Carnival isn’t a minivan, well that’s just means that the automaker’s marketing department has done their job well. Look, it doesn’t matter if you think it’s a minivan (it is) or if you’re buying the whole multi-purpose vehicle speak. The point is, the 2022 Kia Carnival is very, very good.

The exterior Carnival was crafted at Kia’s design studio in California by artists that clearly understood what Americans want out of their minivan – they want the outside to not look like one. For the cabin design, the design team in South Korea took over and managed to tall all the things the general buying public loves about the functionality of a three-row minivan and pack it into the package created in SoCal.

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From the side, it’s hard to tell if the Carnival is a three-row SUV or a minivan.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

With its large but lowered SUV looks, the Carnival looks more like a Chevy Traverse than the Kia Sedona it replaces. When parked, it caught more than a few eyes, which honestly isn’t surprising. It doesn’t quite look like what people have see before (similar to how the Kia Telluride appeared when new) but it also isn’t easy to figure out whether it’s a van or a SUV.

Kia sells the Carnival in four trim levels: LX, EX, SX, and SX-Prestige. They provided an SX and SX-Prestige for simultaneous review. Those two models have a starting price of $41,100 and $46,100, respectively. The base model Carnival LX starts just over $32,000.

Every grade comes standard with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that delivers 290 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. That’s plenty of power though in the heavier SX-Prestige grade the Carnival feels heavier to drive and seems slower off the line. It is heavier than the LX base model by around 400 pounds and 126 pounds heavier than the Carnival SX.

Like a good-driving SUV, the Carnival delivers a proper amount of steering feedback and turning is precise. It’s just as easy to cruise at high speed in the Carnival as it is to maneuver around a parking lot. You can’t say that about any full-size SUV on the market today. The Kia has good outward visibility and is easy to get into and out of a parking space.

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The Carnival’s setup is more like an SUV than the typical minivan.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Like other minivans, the center console of the Carnival divides front row occupant seating, but this is more in the style of an SUV than, say the Toyota Sienna, where you feel like you’re sequestered to your own cabin. There’s plenty of small item storage but there isn’t the nifty under-stack place for handbags or shopping bags like what can be found in the Chrysler Pacifica.

Having the car’s instrument cluster and infotainment screen under one housing is just as attractive in the Carnival as it is in Mercedes-Benz models. The base model gets an 8.0-inch infotainment touch screen and a mostly analog cluster with a driver information display. Any grade above the SX gets a 12-inch infotainment touch screen but you have to opt for the fully loaded SX-Prestige to get a matching 12-inch fully-digital instrument cluster. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and multiple USB ports are standard.

As in other Kia products, the infotainment system is easy to operate and clear to read. The all-digital instrument cluster isn’t anything worth upgrading to on its own. Sure, it’s a high-tech addition that works as advertised, but you’re not really missing anything by not getting it.

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The all-digital instrument cluster is only available on Carnival SX-Prestige models.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

There are other reasons to get the SX-Prestige though. It comes standard with a 12-speaker Bose sound system (other models have six or eight speakers), a rear seat entertainment system and rear seat voice recognition (both also on SX), a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated second- and third-row seats, second-row VIP lounge seats, and pure leather seat trim.

The Carnival seats seven or eight, depending on trim level. When opting for the VIP lounge seats, owners lose the ability to have removable seats, which are standard on every other trim level.

If your kids are in car seats, the second-row amenities (aside from the entertainment system) probably aren’t a deal breaker. For you, a Carnival SX is likely loaded with more than enough comfort and convenience features to please. Parents with teens who are prone to complain on road trips will want the SX-Prestige version.

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Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The Kia Carnival and the Kia K5 are the best Kias out there right now. The Carnival is the brand’s best full vehicle effort in years. It ticks nearly every box, including the “don’t make it look like I’m driving a minivan” one. If you’re in the market for a people mover, like the looks of an SUV, don’t like climbing in and out of an SUV, and don’t require off-roading capability, you could do much, much worse than the Carnival, for much, much more money.

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