Review update: 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige proves minivans can look cool

August 19, 2021

The Kia Carnival was in my possession less than a few hours before I received a text from a friend who loves everything from luxurious Audis to fast Mustangs. “If you’re in the neighborhood swing by with the Carnival,” he said “It’s kinda cool.”

Two weeks before the Carnival arrived another friend asked when I’d be getting into the latest Kia.

Like any good Carnival, this minivan has people excited.

There’s good reason for the excitement. The 2022 Kia Carnival replaced the Sedona, a minivan easy to forget, and immediately tied the Chrysler Pacifica for top honors on The Car Connection with a TCC Rating of 7.2 out of 10. It handily bests the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna’s ratings thanks to its style, strong feature set, and smooth powertrain. But there’s no hybrid model, no all-wheel drive, and the packaging is a bit compromised compared to the competition.

I spent a week hauling the kids to camp, running errands, and road tripping to northern Minnesota to find where the 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige hits and misses.

2022 Kia Carnival

2022 Kia Carnival

2022 Kia Carnival

2022 Kia Carnival

2022 Kia Carnival

2022 Kia Carnival

2022 Kia Carnival

2022 Kia Carnival

Hit: A minivan with style

Kia proved minivans don’t have to look like boring bars of soap with the 2022 Carnival. Inside and out the Carnival’s handsome design borders on being an SUV in drag. My wife thought it might be a Telluride with a refresh that had gone sideways. It’s a box that has original 1980’s Chrysler Town and Country vibes in its side profile and sharp LED lighting. Inside, the dashboard is a mishmash of Telluride SUV and K5 sedan that looks good, and thankfully retains switches for the climate control and a volume knob.

2022 Kia Carnival

2022 Kia Carnival

Miss: “VIP Lounge Seats”

My loaded $47,770 SX Prestige model featured “VIP Lounge Seats” in the second row, which are power operated and turn into La-Z-Boys with a pop-out footrest and tilt/recline function. In theory, they seem awesome. Who doesn’t want airplane-style reclining captain’s chairs in their minivan? In reality, they are somewhat useless. There simply isn’t enough space when the seats recline to stretch out, and the seats can’t be removed because of the electronics mounted below them. While sitting upright in them as a 5-foot-10 person, my head room was limited by the twin-pane sunroof. Functionally they are ideal for tweens just out of booster seats before hitting their teenage years.

2022 Kia Carnival

2022 Kia Carnival

Hit: Smooth operator

Carnivals are powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 producing 290 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque sent to the front-wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 produces more power than any other minivan and it blends into the background with reasonable fuel economy ratings of 19 mpg city, 26 highway, and 22 combined. But the 8-speed automatic transmission is the most appealing transmission available in a minivan today. Its shifts are smoother and more decisive than the 9-speeds that are tolerable in the Chrysler Pacifica and Honda Odyssey.

 

2022 Kia Carnival, silver, and 2021 Toyota Sienna, green

2022 Kia Carnival, silver, and 2021 Toyota Sienna, green

Miss: AWD what? Hybrid who?

The Chrysler Pacifica can be had with all-wheel drive or with a plug-in hybrid powertrain. The Toyota Sienna only comes with a hybrid powertrain and can be optioned with all-wheel drive. The Carnival can be had with neither despite riding on a modular platform shared with the Sorento crossover SUV and K5 sedan, both of which can be optioned with all-wheel drive. It’s a missed opportunity that gives competitors an edge.

 

2022 Kia Carnival

2022 Kia Carnival

Hit: Comfortable cruiser

The Carnival, depending which seat you’re placed in, makes for a terrific road-trip warrior. Clearly cut from similar cloth as the Telluride, it’s both comfortable and quiet with that smooth powertrain just settling into the background. Unlike the Sorento, Seltos, and K5, which have obnoxious wind noise, the Carnival provides that Telluride polish that punches above its price class to surprise and delight.

 

2022 Kia Carnival

2022 Kia Carnival

Miss: The two-star third row

Minivans are meant to be people haulers. While more than four passengers in the Carnival isn’t a crowd, not everyone will be pleased with their accommodations. The third-row seat would warrant a two-star Yelp review. With the second-row slid back there’s no leg room to speak of, and to achieve acceptable space the second-row riders will feel shafted. The third row is barely defined as the kid zone, and it’s mostly acceptable for short drives; the third row in a Pacifica or Odyssey is adult-friendly.

Suddenly we live in a timeline where a minivan is cool looking with a powerful powertrain resulting in a fantastic family cruiser, but take stock of how often the third row is needed and for whom. It’s also best to skip over those fancy “VIP Lounge” seats and opt for the SX model to save $5,000.

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2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige

Base price: $26,135
Price as tested: $47,770
Powertrain: 290-hp V-6, 8-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 19/26/22 mpg
The hits: Looks fantastic inside and out, smooth powertrain, comfortable and refined cruiser
The misses: Silly “VIP Lounge Seats,” lacks AWD or hybrid powertrain options, cramped third row

2021
The Car Connection
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2021
The Car Connection
 
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