SEATTLE, Wash. — Though I’m sure many minivan buyers would like to pretend otherwise, sliding-door family haulers are the epitome of dull practicality.
Sure, the Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Sienna, and Honda Odyssey designers have done their best to keep things fresh (especially the new Sienna, which was inspired by the Shinkansen bullet train in Japan). But they still haul legacy “Mom-car” vibes that turn off buyers in favor of less practical, “cooler” rides.
That’s a shame because a considerable chunk of SUV buyers would be much better off with a minivan. High rooflines and easy access to both the second and third rows, plus spacious cargo storage even when hauling seven or eight passengers, should make minivans an easy choice for many people.
Alas, SUVs and crossovers dominate the sales charts. But what if there was a minivan that wasn’t a minivan? A family-oriented vehicle that looked awesome but still let you haul your family and all their stuff?
That’s the new 2022 Kia Carnival, and it might be the coolest minivan on the market.
Wait, sorry. Kia insists that it’s not a minivan even though it has a high roof, a unibody platform, two enormous sliding doors, and lots of room. It’s a “multi-purpose vehicle.” Right.
But it does look terrific. During a week with the Carnival running around Seattle and Portland, I noticed a constant stream of folks checking it out. It helps that it’s brand new, but passersby were shocked when I opened the side doors to show them around.
A gaggle of wealthy 30-something businessmen heading for Sunday brunch at my hotel stopped in their tracks, and one said he’d happily trade his new BMW X5 for it. A dad pushing his toddler in a stroller did a double-take and walked around the back to see what kind of car it was. People eating outside at cafes turned to look.
It helps that the Carnival is brand new, but it looks sharp and doesn’t give off a minivan vibe at all. Kia says it has a “bold and boxy appearance” and the same visual language found on the new Telluride and Seltos. And it does! From front or back, the Carnival feels premium and luxurious.
My test unit was an SX trim, the second from the top, and it was priced at a very reasonable $42,770. Kia, like Hyundai, isn’t big on options and the only checkbox was $495 for Ceramic Silver Paint.
With a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and a 5-year/60,000-mile bumper to bumper, it’s a practical family hauler too. A well-equipped Carnival SX is a solid deal with the average cost of a new car pushing well into the high-$40,000 range.
It has a 3.5L V6 making 290 hp (and good enough for 3,500 pounds of towing), in turn making 19/26/22 mpg city/highway/combined. That’s not great, especially compared to the hybrid Toyota Sienna that makes 36 mpg, but the Carnival’s much better warranty does help soften the blow a bit.
My test unit has a gorgeous interior outfitted in Tuscan Umber, a lovely orange-ish brown. The front row feels like an SUV, with a higher seating position and a storage-friendly console in the middle.
Two cupholders and a vertical phone holder are in the middle, with more storage bins in front and behind the gear lever. A large console storage bin under the center armrest completes the ensemble.
Terrific design and clever features improve the parental experience.
A sharp-looking chrome accent piece runs the entire width of the cabin, separating upper from lower in the front. An 8-inch touchscreen is standard, while the SX has a 12.3-inch touchscreen. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.
Kia’s full safety suite is standard, too, including automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, and lane-keep assist should make nervous parents feel better.
Fancier tech, like intelligent cruise control that uses the nav system to lower speeds ahead of upcoming curves, and a blind-spot monitoring system that uses rear-facing cameras to show a live view of adjacent lanes in the dash cluster, are options.
Cameras in the ceiling featuring zoom and night vision are available to keep an eye on kids in the back. At the same time, a Passenger Talk intercom system allows parents and kids to speak to each other without shouting (or with shouting, if necessary).
The SX-Premium trim has an outrageous reclining second-row with VIP Lounge Seating featuring wing-out headrests and leg extensions like a first-class airline seat might have. It’s a wild way to travel or to relax on a long journey, and it’s something no one else in the minivan segment offers.
The Kia Carnival redefines what a minivan can be thanks to terrific design and clever features that improve the parental experience.
We’re limited a bit by internal-combustion engines. Still, it makes me wonder what the electric minivans of the future will be able to do with massive skateboard battery packs and acres of interior space. Smaller vehicles like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 already feel far larger than their exterior size would suggest, and I can’t wait for the enormous electric Carnivals of the future.