2022 Kia Carnival First Drive Review: The Head Of The Minivan Class

2022 Kia Carnival First Drive Review: The Head Of The Minivan Class
2022 Kia Carnival
Kia’s 2022 Carnival minivan will replace its outgoing Sedona and is well-positioned in the segment to take on rivals, including the top-selling Chrysler Pacifica, all-new Toyota Sienna and popular Honda Odyssey. Kia

Kia calls its 2022 Kia Carnival a multi-purpose vehicle, but in reality, it’s a state-of-the-art minivan in SUV clothing. What gives it away, besides the classic sliding side door, is roomy third-row seating and all-wheel drive, commonly offered on most SUVs.

Regardless, the Kia Carnival minivan is a superior people mover that’s comfortable for as many as eight passengers. Every variant also has plenty of technology and advanced driver-assistance safety features. Its sleeker-than-most-minivans design might even help parents escape the retro soccer mom and dad reputation when they pull up to drop off a gaggle of kids and their gear at the sports field.

The top-line Kia Carnival Prestige SX has business class-esque seats in the second row—they are the comfiest way to travel in any vehicle under $50,000. The cockpit fit and finish also matches the level of luxury found inside premium vehicles from brands like Audi, BMW and Lexus. More importantly, even the most inexpensive Carnival has a solid array of safety tech. It is everything the recently departed Kia Sedona minivan never quite attained.

The 2022 Kia Carnival is well-positioned to outsell Chrysler’s Pacifica, the minivan segment’s current top-seller whose sales accounted for 40% of the category through April 2021. Following its lead are the Toyota Sienna (32%) and Honda Odyssey (24%). Every top-selling minivan has been redesigned within the last five years to remain competitive among each other as consumers have ditched the segment for more capable SUVs.

2022 Kia Carnival
From the side, the Kia Carnivale minivan looks just like an SUV. So Kia calls an MPV, or multi-purpose vehicle.  Bill Howard

3-Plus-1 Kia Carnival Trim Lines

Kia simplified the Carnival’s lineup to three models and a single engine. A smooth, 3.5-liter, 290-horsepower V6 engine paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission hustle the Carnival’s 4,650-pound weight to 60 mph in a little over seven seconds.

The entry 2022 Carnival LX runs $33,275 with shipping. It has seven seats (an eight-seat package is $2,000), 17-inch alloy wheels (with tall sidewalls to better protect against pothole damage), outside puddle lamps (not essential but a very nice feature), seven USB jacks and an 8-inch center display with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. The LX safety features are solid: blind spot warning, rear parking and rear cross-traffic warning, rear automatic braking, lane centering as well as forward collision warning and avoidance. The only thing missing in the bundle of safety tech is adaptive cruise control, which Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Accord and Toyota Sienna have standard.

The mid-grade Carnival EX ($38,775), makes eight-passenger seating standard and moves from cloth to synthetic leather. Wheel size increases to 19 inches and the center touchscreen is a larger 12.3 inches with navigation. Wireless phone charging also is standard. The EX gets Highway Driving Assist, which is a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane centering.

2022 Kia Carnival
Kia Carnival loaded for vacation. With rows 2 and 3 folded down or removed, Kia says the Carnival has a class-leading 145.1 cubic feet of space, more than all other minivans and more than Chevy Suburban.  Kia

Parents will appreciate the rear-facing camera with infrared night illumination that shows what the kids are doing in rows two and three via the center display. If they’re misbehaving, the cabin intercom feature lets the driver tell the kids to pipe down, or else. If they’re sleeping, a button mutes all but front-row speakers. Entertainment has eight not six speakers. Voice recognition works from the rear seats. The second row and even the third row get side sunshades.

The upper trim Carnival SX is $42,275. Features reserved for the SX include rear cross-traffic and pedestrian braking, surround-view cameras, auto-folding side mirrors, a dual-paned sunroof, dual second-row rear entertainment screens with USB jacks and wireless streaming (wireless connectivity to rear entertainment is not even included in some high-end SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade and the GMC Yukon Denali). There also are 115-volt outlets in the second row and in the cargo bay, ventilated front seats and roof rails.

The extra $5,000 for the SX Prestige variant with the VIP Lounge chairs bumps the price to $47,275. It also has ventilated and power-reclining second-row chairs (seven-passenger seating is standard), where the seat bottom angles up in front to hold the passenger in place and a leg rest extends. Also exclusive to the Prestige is leather upholstery, blind spot cameras that display the side and rear view in the instrument panel when the driver flicks the turn signal and Bose 12-speaker audio.

2022 Kia Carnival
2022 Kia Carnival has Kia’s new tiger-nose grille design and new Kia scripted logo.  Bill Howard

Kia Carnival on the Road

In a week driving 600 mostly highway miles, the Kia Carnival SX Prestige was a gem, providing a quiet and spacious ride and plentiful space in both the second row and the cargo bay. That’s just not possible in an SUV unless it’s full-size and stretches 210 inches long. The Carnival measures 203 inches in length, 78.5 inches wide and 68.5 inches high. Its height just shy of the Kia Telluride, the industry’s best midsize SUV.

For the driver, the Highway Driving Assist system made interstate miles more effortless. The rear-facing blind-spot cameras, located in the side mirrors, made it easier to judge overtaking cars on either side.

The second-row seats are comfy and large enough for napping or lounging, and since the seat bottom front edge tips upward, a reclined passenger doesn’t feel uncomfortable under strong braking force. It’s a premium touch when every row has at least two USB jacks and most Carnivals have side-window shades. The third-row seats offer 36 inches of legroom, about 2 inches more than the Volkswagen Atlas, which is the segment leader for way-back space in the midsize SUV category. The Telluride offers 31.4 inches of third-row legroom.

The Carnival is rated at 19 mpg in city driving, 26 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined. In a trip that was 80% highway driving, the Carnival returned 26 mpg on regular fuel.

2022 Kia Carnival
Second-row VIP Lounger seats on the high end SX Prestige recline like business-class seats. Note sun shades for rows two and three. Each row also gets a pair of USB jacks.  Bill Howard

What Kia Could Do Better for Carnival

Many reviews praise the Carnival’s dashboard and controls. They’re handsome, but even the matte-finish-chrome surfaces reflect sunlight in the driver’s eyes. The center stack infotainment knobs and the steering wheel rocker switches are too short, too slippery and too reflective. Others, particularly Subaru and Toyota, do it better. The Subaru Outback has better buttons and rockers as does Toyota’s Sienna and its RAV4 compact crossover.

The SX Prestige with the second-row chairs are not removable. To recline and fully extend the leg rests, the seat has to be pushed back, which makes the third row unusable. Effectively the Carnival becomes a four-person tourer with extensive luggage space. The Prestige also sacrifices the slick row-two middle seat of the EX, whose backrest folds down to be a big tray table.

Two competitors with hybrid engines get better fuel economy. The Chrysler Pacifica hybrid (really a plug-in hybrid) can run an estimated 32 miles on battery alone and gets 30 mpg combined when it switches back to conventional hybrid driving. The new Toyota Sienna only is offered as a regular hybrid-only and gets 36 mpg. Both are all-wheel-drive. The Honda Odyssey is the same as the Carnival: front-drive only, 22 mpg combined, handles well.

2022 Kia Carnival
Kia Carnival front row, pictured here in Tuscan Umber, matches the upscale feel of premium-brand SUVs.  Kia

Should You Buy?

For buyers in the market for a midsize SUV or a minivan, the Carnival is a must-shop vehicle. Even the entry LX has comprehensive safety features. The EX has enough features for most people and it has every important safety feature, including adaptive cruise control. Handling is crisp and sure-footed. It tows 3,500 pounds.

The Carnival is a breakthrough vehicle, as the Telluride was two years ago. It is a minivan, feel free to call it an MPV the way BMW calls an SUV an SAV (A for activity), and the neighbors will see a nice midsize SUV. The Telluride is a better vehicle especially if you go off paved roads. The Carnival is the better real-world vehicle for people who travel or carpool a lot, and don’t pack light. It’s that good.

2022 Kia Carnival
Eight-passenger mainstream Carnivals have a middle row, middle seat that folds to become a big console.  Kia