Even if you haven’t been minivan shopping in a long time, you probably have a reasonable picture of what the current minivan market is like. The Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna slug it out for the pound-for-pound title, and there’s a respectable Chrysler Pacifica (with a somewhat surprising plug-in hybrid version). But the cool option is the Kia.
Hear us out.
Unexpected Sharp Looks
It starts with the silhouette.
Automakers have spent a decade trying to make their minivans look more like their sedans. It’s been the wrong approach the whole time.
Kia showed the entire industry the error of its ways when it junked the nondescript Sedona minivan and brought us this instead for the 2022 model year – the all-new Kia Carnival.It’s not a minivan. In Kia marketing speak, it’s a “multi-purpose vehicle.” The distinction may sound silly, but they’re onto something. It doesn’t feel like a minivan.
Park the Carnival next to Kia’s K5 sedan, and you might not spot a family resemblance.
But line it up next to the wildly popular Kia Telluride SUV, and those big boys are cousins. You can see it in the rocker element low on the doorsills. You can see it in the sculpted doors themselves.
And you can see it in the wheel arches. The Carnival’s aren’t curvy or blended like those on most family haulers. They’re pronounced, like the assertive fenders of sport utilities.
The Carnival’s grille, too, borrows some Tabasco from Kia’s lineup of SUVs.
After all, Americans buy SUVs for their commanding seating position, their maximum internal volume, and their highway-cruising comfort. What is a minivan but an SUV with doors that are easy to open in narrow parking spots?
Kia has solved the boring minivan design problem by realizing that minivans can be muscular linemen to the linebackers of the SUV world. The Carnival has styling nothing else in its segment can touch.
Style Continues Inside
As automotive journalists, we see every car. That means we catch on to changes in the car market long before most car shoppers do. So we’ll let you in on a secret most Americans haven’t discovered yet – Kia designers currently make some of the sharpest interiors on the road.
It shows in the Carnival’s cabin. Directly in front of the driver sits a huge, curved expanse of glass. It’s something we’re just starting to see on new designs, but it shows up perfectly here. The Carnival has a digital display screen that takes the place of the driver’s instruments, and a 12.3-inch central touchscreen that handles entertainment and climate control (base models get a smaller 8-inch screen). They’re housed together in a single bezel, creating a high-tech first impression.
Beyond the screens, the Carnival has some innovative seats. Like all minivans, it offers three rows of seating. In most trims, the second row consists of a pair of captain’s chairs and a small center seat. That one folds neatly down into a table or folds out of the way completely to allow a parent easy access to a child seat in the second row.
It’s a thoughtful touch. As is the intercom system that lets the driver talk to the rear passengers without shouting, and a “quiet mode” on the stereo that lets the driver enjoy music while keeping the rear seats quiet for sleeping kids.
The top-of-the-line SX-Prestige model is an entirely different beast. In Kia’s home market of South Korea, minivans are often used as VIP transport. The SX-Prestige is built for this, with special VIP lounge seats in place of the second row. They’re heated and ventilated, recline fully, and include power leg supports.
They’re also an impractical choice for most families, and make accessing the third row tricky. We’re betting most buyers are better off with the hideaway table, which could be a fantastic convenience for families.
Closing Holes in Traffic
If you haven’t been minivan shopping in a while, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised at the driving experience most of today’s vans offer. But Kia has outdone itself. The Carnival’s standard 290 horsepower V6 is the most powerful engine offered in a 2022 minivan. Power comes on smooth thanks to an unobtrusive 8-speed automatic transmission.
Steering effort is light, especially at parking lot speeds.
Believe it – Kia is Cool Now
It might sound surprising to hear that Kia has made a cool minivan.
But the Korean automaker has undergone a serious makeover in recent years. The Carnival joins a lineup that includes that sought-after Telluride, a sleeper performance car in the Stinger, and a sharp-looking electric hatchback that can get from 0-60 mph in under just 3.5 seconds.
For 2023, the once-dowdy Sportage SUV will get one of the most dramatic makeovers we’ve seen in years, becoming arguably the best-looking vehicle in its segment.
The Carnival fits neatly into an attractive stable of cars and rethinks the minivan in rewarding ways.