You could accuse Kia of trickery with the 2022 Carnival, a minivan that pretends to be an SUV, but sometimes you have to sugar the medicine that people need to take. Practical, flexible, and capable modern minivans may be, but for many drivers they’re still far from desirable, even if in a lot of cases they’d be the most sensible option.
Kia’s fix is to give the new Carnival a makeover, cherry-picking styling cues more familiar from SUVs in the hope of sweetening its family model. Retiring the Sedona branding was the first part of that, with the new name giving the automaker an opportunity to blur the line between the SUV many drivers want, and the minivan that they probably need.
The big front grille and bold lighting signature are trademark SUV, while the side proportions look more like a lowered truck than the old Sedona’s homely silhouette. Big wheels – like the 19-inch machine-finished alloys on this 2022 Carnival EX – help there, too. Even just the way Kia breaks up the side glass with pillars sets the Carnival apart from its minivan brethren.
The nice thing about Kia’s styling dalliances is that there’s no real compromise to go along with the aesthetic. Sure, it may look more like an SUV, but you still get power sliding rear doors, a low trunk floor, and seating inside for – in theory – up to eight.
Under the hood is a 3.5-liter V6, good for 290 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. The EPA rates it for 19 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 22 mpg combined. Pricing kicks off at $32,100 (plus $1,175 destination), rises to $38,775 all-in for this EX, and hits $47,275 before options for the top-trim SX Prestige.
It makes the Kia noticeably cheaper at the low end than Chrysler’s Pacifica and Toyota’s Sienna, and about the same as the Honda Odyssey. It also leaves the Carnival in the same ballpark as Kia’s well-received Telluride.
Lest you be swayed too far from the Telluride, Kia’s actual SUV does still offer some features the Carnival misses out on. All-wheel drive is the most glaring omission, with the Carnival only offered in front-wheel drive form. The slightly smaller engine has a lower tow rating, too: 3,500 pounds on the Carnival, versus 5,000 pounds on the Telluride.
Neither minivan nor SUV offer a hybrid, mild or plug-in, which increasingly sets Kia apart in the category. Toyota’s 2021 Sienna is only available as a mild hybrid, while Chrysler’s Pacifica goes a step further and offers a plug-in hybrid option. It’s worth noting you can’t get the Pacifica Hybrid with AWD, though, just with the gas-only drivetrain.
Electric absence notwithstanding, there’s nothing particularly bad about Kia’s V6. It’s smooth and plenty powerful, and despite the larger wheels the Carnival doesn’t get crashy over poor-quality asphalt. Neither is it raucous, and the eight-speed automatic shifts with the unobtrusive ease you’d hope for something in this segment.
Is it going to set your heart racing? No, unsurprisingly not, though as with most minivans there’s a smile-provoking degree of power in a straight line when you’re not laden down with family and cargo. As for when it does come time to fill the Carnival up, there it’s particularly flexible.
Longer – both overall and in wheelbase – than the old Sedona, this new minivan is particularly capacious. The eighth spot is really what Kia describes as a “child minding seat”; in reality you’re going to want to treat the Carnival as a seven-seater. The second-row slides and can be removed, though it’s not as easily done as the individual chairs found in, say, the Pacifica.
It’d be nice if it could fold flat into the floor, though instead Kia offers more upscale seating there in the higher trims. You can have a Carnival with second-row recliners, for example, that have extending leg rests, heating, and cooling. It’s worth noting that, unlike the bench, they can’t be removed.
As for the third row, that folds into the floor leaving a flat space. With the seats up, you get a healthy 40.2 cu-ft of cargo space; drop them, and remove the bench if fitted, and that rises to a whopping 145.1 cu-ft. Kia also includes plenty of cubbies and nooks to fill, though not with quite the same degree of devious packaging that Toyota and Honda go to.
For the front row, the Carnival’s dashboard bears some of the familiar hallmarks of other recent Kia models. The broad 12.3-inch touchscreen is a worthy option, standard on the EX trim and above; without it, you get a smaller 8-inch display. Either way there’s Android Auto and Apple Car Play. All three rows get several USB chargers, and there’s rear A/C as standard too.
EX throws in a power liftgate, navigation, Kia’s UVO Link connectivity, a wireless phone charger, heated front seats, sunshades for the second and third rows, tri-zone climate control, and forward parking sensors to go with the standard reversing sensors. It also includes Kia’s Highway Driving Assist, a hands-on system which does an impressive job of keeping pace with traffic and keeping you centered in the lane. EX trim also adds cyclist and junction turning support to the standard forward collision avoidance assistance.
All Carnival trims get blind-spot collision avoidance assistance, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist and lane following assist, leading vehicle departure alert, and safe exit assist. There’s also a rear occupant alert with ultrasonic sensors; EX trim throws in Passenger View and Passenger Talk, to keep an eye on and communicate better, respectively, with those in the rear.
If there’s a shortfall, it’s how some of those features are packaged up. Kia’s dashboard design is solid, but there’s a fair amount of piano black plastic, both glossy and a finger-print magnet. It all looks decent, for the most part, but it doesn’t feel quite as premium as some other recent models from the automaker.
2022 Kia Carnival Verdict
As anybody who has looked after kids probably knows, there are times when you have to disguise what’s best for them in order to make it palatable. Maybe we can’t blame Kia, then, for taking the same strategy and using it to nudge the 2022 Carnival past the dour minivan reputation.
The irony is that, even without the crossover-aping style and stance, there’s a whole lot to like here. Family-friendly features, plenty of safety tech, and aggressive pricing combine with a smooth drivetrain and spacious cabin. The absence of a hybrid and all-wheel drive are my biggest complaints.
The enlightened family driver won’t need Kia’s SUV pantomime, but there’s a fair chance the 2022 Carnival’s burlier looks will coax a few potential SUV shoppers away from a vehicle that simply wouldn’t be as practical. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” may be a well-played strategy at this point, but I suspect it’ll pay dividends all the same for a car desperate not to be included with the rest of its minivan brethren.