Updated: Apr 1
We live in strange times. You've probably had that down cold since, oh, March of 2020. But right here, right now, the hottest competition within a mass-market segment of automobiles is the minivan. There are FOUR excellent choices. Last year, there were only three. And then came Kia.
Oh, Kia's been selling a minivan in the USA since the 2006 model year (except for 2013 and 2014). It was the Sedona. Without being too unkind (which I may have been, but probably not, in my review of the 2016 Sedona), it was number 11 on everybody's list of the Top Five Minivans.
Kia knew it had to hit the target this time---and it had to tell Americans this was something new. So the Sedona is gone and the new-generation machine gets the name it's had in Asia all along, the Kia Carnival.
Kia also doesn't want us calling this a minivan. They call it an MPV---multi-purpose vehicle---and their press materials refer to it as a "CUV (Crossover Utility Vehicle) alternative". Of course, they need to acknowledge how the Carnival stacks up against other vehicles people will cross-shop (Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey), so it lists them as MPVs, too. We'll see if Chrysler, Toyota and Honda roll with the name change. In a way, it makes sense. If your concept of a minivan dates back before five years ago, when the Chrysler Pacifica debuted, it's outdated. That was a game-changing vehicle---and Toyota, Honda, and now Kia have caught up, and in some ways, passed the Pacifica, whose remaining distinction is the availability of a plug-in hybrid model.
Under the hood, the Kia's pretty straightforward, using its venerable 3.5-liter V6, rated at 290 horsepower. That's 45 more than the new Sienna, 30 more than the plug-in hybrid Pacifica, ten more than the Odyssey, and three more than the gasoline-powered Pacifica. There's an eight-speed automatic transmission, and the EPA fuel economy average is 19 city/26 highway.
If there's a "meh" to be had in the '22 Carnival, that's it---the fuel economy. It brings up the rear, with Honda and the gasoline-powered Pacifica at 19/28, and the Sienna (available only as a hybrid now) at 35/36 (the plug-in hybrid Pacifica does 30/30, with the bonus of 32 miles of pure electric range).
It's in the interior that the 2022 Kia Carnival dazzles. The third row of seating folds flat into the floor, allowing for some significant cargo space. The second-row luxury seating looks like someone's been browsing Bentley and Maybach websites and the diamond-patterned trim pieces are gorgeous.
Admittedly, the pictures you're seeing of this near-luxo cabin are of our test car, the top-of-the-line SX Prestige. Using the build tool on the Kia website, the base LX model will be a lot heavier in black, grey or tan fabric and black plastic, but still the overall design and layout appears to be a cut above minivan----ahem---MPV expectations.
The 2022 Kia Carnival starts at $32,100 for the LX model, goes to $34,100 for the LX Seat Package (which swaps out cloth for SynTex (looks like leather but isn't), bumps passenger capacity to eight from seven and gives the driver a 10-way power adjustable seat with lumbar instead of a six-way, heats the front seats and wraps the steering wheel and shift knob in leather), jumps to $37,600 for the EX, $41,100 for the SX and tops out with the SX Prestige at $46,100.
The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see for yourself, but among the standard equipment highlights at that price are a dual power tilting and sliding sunroof, a a Bose premium audio system, leather seat trim, heated and ventilated second-row VIP seating and navigation.
The only extra-cost option on our tester is the Astra Blue paint at $495. So, with $1,175 inland freight and handling, the as-tested price of the 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige is $47,770.
That puts the as-tested price of the Carnival SX Prestige $4,382 below the Toyota Sienna Limited I reviewed last month. You get more power, but the Toyota is a full hybrid that gets better mileage and has all-wheel drive.
The Kia is $4,650 under the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid I reviewed in February. It's not really an apples-to-apples comparison, though, since the Pacifica is a plug-in hybrid and it's been four and a half years since I drove a gasoline-powered Pacifica. However, Chrysler's website shows base prices of $48,815 for the Limited and $54,095 for the Pinnacle. Our as-tested price for the Carnival beats both of those. It's $1,565 less than the Honda Odyssey Elite I reviewed in October of last year. They're also very close on horsepower and fuel economy.
My take---by making the Sienna hybrid-only, Toyota has carved out its own space and competes a bit with the Chrysler Pacifica plug-in.
The vehicles that seem most vulnerable to competition from the Carnival are the gasoline-powered Pacifica and the Honda Odyssey. Luxury at a Costco price is a compelling value argument for the families that buy miniva----MPVs.