2022 Kia Carnival Review: Minivan Makeover

Hi, my name is Kyle, and I am a follower at the Church of Minivan.

I admit, by all appearances, I am not the typical devotee. There are no kids in our household. “Household” is a a misnomer too, since we call a smallish condo in the sky home. A condo located in the largest city in the country, no less.

That’s the issue though, isn’t it? There is a pre-conceived notion of who wants, or even likes, minivans. It reduces the entire segment down to a punchline. I’m as sick of the stereotype as Kia seems to be with the M-word itself. The 2022 Kia Carnival ostensibly replaces the Sedona, but you won’t find “minivan” anywhere in the company’s literature for it. Americans will see it called a “Grand Utility Vehicle,” while Canada goes even more big-idea with “Life Utility Vehicle.”

Whatever it’s called, the Carnival is a luxurious people-mover, one anybody looking at three-row crossovers should think long and hard about instead. This makeover could be enough to make them true believers.

SUV style

The Carnival is a beguiling big boy of a vehicle. Kia has stretched the nose and made it more vertical, moving away from the typical one-box shape. There’s a lot of Seltos to the look here, which transitions to more of a Telluride feel as you move around to the sides. The textured chrome C-pillars are a nice touch, visually lifting the whole Carnival for that chunkier crossover look. The absolute boxiness of the package is harder to ignore from the direct rear, but Kia has gifted the Carnival with a very cool, futuristic LED signature in its full-width taillight bar.

Chunky wheel arches, big wheels, and a faux skid-plate complete the quasi-off-roader look. It’s a small wonder, then, that Kia didn’t go to more effort to hide the sliding door tracks the way every one of its competitors do.

SEE ALSO: 2021 Kia Sportage Review: In Search of Mojo

As the first North American model to wear the new Kia logo, the Carnival drew plenty of attention. People aren’t sure what it is, but they’re sure curious—including an employee at an unnamed competitor’s HQ. You can’t say that happens much for any vehicle with sliding doors.

So spacious, so comfortable

The exterior styling might lure in those wanting a crossover, but it’s got nothing on the Carnival’s interior. The top trim in both US and Canada—like this tester—takes advantage of the shape with VIP-style second-row captain’s chairs. These thrones can slide nearly three feet fore and aft, as well as inboard by a few inches. Most impressive is the ability to go into a full recline with the touch of a button, complete with powered footrest for proper pampering. Slide these puppies back, go horizontal, and take a nap. I sure did—I’ve had less comfortable sleeps in first class.

Kia did have to make some compromises to fit the two best seats in the segment into the middle of the Carnival. They can’t be removed, for one. Even sliding them back and forth requires significant force; strangely, that’s not the case for side-to-side movement. The latter fact is important, because in this configuration, the path to the way-back is between the two second-row seats. Once back there, headroom is merely okay at 36.5 inches (927 mm), though even adults will be happy with the 35.9 inches (913 mm) of legroom.

Eight-seat Carnivals offer a second-row quick-release for an easier beeline from the powered sliding doors to the third row. The middle section of the 40/20/40 row can also slide independently as well as fold over, making it a small, movable table for either row. Owners can also remove the second-row bench, opening up storage space to a massive 145.1 cubic feet (4,110 L). Storage space with all three rows upright is a still healthy 40.2 cubes (1,139 L).

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In-cabin tech

Depending on trim, 2022 Carnivals use either an 8.0- or 12.3-inch infotainment system, running Kia’s latest UVO system. I’ve had plenty of experience with it in other models, and it remains as easy to use in the Carnival. Surprisingly, the 8.0-inch screen sticks with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, even though other Kias with the same size screen have gone wireless. Both systems offer dual-Bluetooth connectivity though, as well as the option to create two user profiles—handy for busy families.

Higher-spec models like this Canadian SX Prestige pick up another 12.3-inch screen behind the steering wheel. The digital instrument panel is clean, crisp, and customizable. In addition, it features Kia’s clever Blind-spot view monitor, which pipes in a live camera feed from the Carnival’s side whenever a turn signal is active.

Speaking of safety, every Carnival comes standard with advanced forward collision avoidance, lane-change collision detection, lane-keep assist, and driver attention warning. Other features, including rear cross-traffic alert, additional parking sensors, 360-degree camera, and Highway Drive Assist are available on higher trims.

SEE ALSO: 2021 Chrysler Pacifica AWD Review: First Drive

Kia has peppered the Carnival interior with at least seven USB ports, and as many as nine, to account for all the devices a full brood needs to charge. American Carnival buyers can also spec a dual-screen rear seat entertainment system, which can (separately) mirror smartphones as well as connect to headphones via Bluetooth. Canadian buyers will find the entertainment system as a dealer-installed accessory, according to a Kia rep.

Other full-house-friendly features include the Passenger Camera and Passenger Talk features. The former offers the driver an easy bird’s-eye view of the back rows via the main infotainment screen. Meanwhile, the latter amplifies the driver’s voice for those in the way-back. On the flip side, a quiet mode disables all but the front speakers, and puts a limit on radio volume, for when you’ve finally got someone in the back to sleep.

Less adventurous drivetrain

Kia offers a single drivetrain for the 2022 Carnival. A 3.5-liter V6 produces 290 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, making it the most powerful option in the class (by 3 hp). Surprisingly, Kia hasn’t fitted this SUV-aping vehicle with AWD—instead, an eight-speed auto sends power to the front wheels alone.

From behind the wheel, the Carnival drives like, well, a minivan. That’s no knock on it: modern minivans are incredibly car-like, and the Carnival is no exception. The overriding quality is smoothness: the big LUV smothers bumps and ruts in the road, transmitting only the faintest hint to the cabin. The steering is light and responsive, while a decent amount of body roll at higher speeds telegraph the Carnival’s low limits nice and early.

The EPA estimates the Carnival at 22 mpg combined, split between 19 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. The Canadian equivalents are 10.6, 12.0, and 8.9 L/100 km, respectively. After around 150 miles (250 km), my tester was sitting at 21 mpg (11.2 L/100 km), putting it right at par with other V6, front-drive minivans. The Carnival can’t hope to match the Toyota Sienna and its standard hybrid system, however.

Verdict: 2022 Kia Carnival Review

The old Sedona was languishing in last place in the minivan race. Kia needed something dramatic to shake things up if it wanted to stay in the segment. The 2022 Kia Carnival is just that, bringing in a boatload of style and the best second row in the business. For all the SUV posturing though, it’s still odd that it arrives without available AWD, which is something both Toyota and Chrysler offer now.

At a starting price of $33,275 ($36,345 CAD) for the LX trim, including destination, the one thing the Carnival inherits from the moribund Sedona is its sense of value. Even this loaded SX Prestige (SX in Canada) example sits comfortably under $50k, or very slightly over in the land of poutine.

In an ironic twist, leaning into the SUV life has made the Carnival ever so slightly less practical than the other minivans out there. It’s still vastly more useful than a crossover though—including Kia’s own Telluride—which is the segment Kia could conceivably steal sales from. And if that means more fellow followers, I’ll save some space on the (powered, reclining) pew.

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