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Newcomer Kia Carnival takes on minivan favorites Sienna and Odyssey

With the Carnival, Kia tries giving a new look to the old minivan experience. But lengthening the hood means shortchanging things elsewhere.

Kia is marketing the 2022 Carnival minivan as a multi-purpose vehicle, and it does look like that category's trailblazer, the original Mazda MPV. Which is to say boxy and sort of tired.
Kia is marketing the 2022 Carnival minivan as a multi-purpose vehicle, and it does look like that category's trailblazer, the original Mazda MPV. Which is to say boxy and sort of tired.Read moreKia

2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige vs. 2022 Toyota Sienna PLT AWD vs. 2022 Honda Odyssey Elite: The best way to haul a big family?

This week: Kia Carnival

Price: $47,770 as tested. Blue paint, $495.

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “refined power train, well-balanced chassis, handsome styling,” but not that there’s “no all-wheel drive option, slightly less cargo space than key rivals, best features limited to top trim.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Its only purpose is all-purpose.”

Reality: Not as fun as the name would imply.

What’s new: The minivan world is expanding — not an opening line I thought I’d be using in 2021. The Carnival is Kia’s brand-new entry into the family-hauling box marker for the 2022 model year. They’ve tried to add some cool while aiming for the multipurpose vehicle designation, but we’re not fooled. Even though the Carnival does look eerily like the original Mazda MPV minivan, with a snub nose and similar design touches, the sliding doors give it away.

So Mr. Driver’s Seat and the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat have taken their experience raising four Sturgis kids to adulthood to see how the Carnival stacks up to old favorites Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, something I’ll write over the next three weeks. (I regret a Chrysler Pacifica was not available for this comparison, but I did review the hybrid in 2019.)

» READ MORE: 2019 Pacifica Hybrid efficient, roomy, practical — but does it go the distance?

Up to speed: The Carnival lands in the middle of the pack for acceleration. Its 3.5-liter V-6 motors to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, according to Motor Trend. So for those of you looking for a head-snapping minivan, you’ll have to wait a week (or two) to see which one gets you there fastest.

Perhaps Kia dubbed it the Carnival after some acceleration tests. Pulling out is a bit of a bumper-cars adventure, all lurch and go; over a period of a week, I’d taken the Carnival farther than most of my recent test vehicles, with lots of miles around Southeastern Pennsylvania, up to the Poconos and back down to Delaware. But the accelerator and I could never come to terms.

On the curves: The handling is also in keeping with the amusement park atmosphere of the Carnival. The minivan will tackle sharper turns with a sense of adventure, but it rocks and rolls quite a bit.

And when the road gets rough, the Carnival shares that experience thoroughly, transmitting bumps clearly.

Shifty: The Carnival does provide an actual 8-speed transmission, but its shiftability is not complete. Drivers can limit gears, but that’s it, which is par for the minivan course.

Driver’s Seat: I put plenty of miles on the Carnival, and it always left my back and arms sore and tingly. Nothing else might have contributed to it — no landscaping or remodeling adventures can explain it away, and my high mileage was there the following week, too, but the Carnival and the pain were gone.

Still, the seat was supportive and comfortable, with plenty of lumbar and other adjustment settings, so lots of drivers find it works just fine. The gauges are Kia standard issue and provide plenty of information from the home screen.

Friends and stuff: People looking for full-size seats all around will be disappointed in the Carnival. My head sat flush against the ceiling in the back of the Carnival.

The seats in the high-end Carnival are businesslike and solid, not at all cushy.

The middle-row captain’s chairs are also low to the floor and snug in the head, and they do not come out. Frequent cargo haulers may want to opt for the standard second row.

Cargo space is 40.2 cubic feet in the back; 86.9 with the third row folded; and 145.1 behind the first row.

Play some tunes: The stereo, on the other hand, provides a nice sound but also lands in the middle of the pack. I’d call it an A-.

Adjustments happen through dials for volume and tuning, and the touchscreen is huge and easy to navigate.

Keeping warm and cool: Toggles control the temperature, while ebony touch buttons handle the other functions.

Seat heating and ventilation happen with pretty silver toggles, but with a couple quirks.

The first is their easy-to-overlook location on the console.

The second is strange operation. Instead of toggling the same direction for high-medium-low cooling, you toggle back to turn the ventilation on to the highest setting, then toggle forward for medium, and once more for low. Kind of counterintuitive and not in a convenient place to see your mistake.

Night shift: The headlights shine dreadfully low. I couldn’t see parked cars along the street while traveling 30 mph in my suburban neighborhood. You’ll use your high beams a lot.

Fuel economy: I averaged just over 20 mpg in a long range of mixed highway, country and suburban driving, so this is the piggy of the lot. Feed the Carnival whatever.

Where it’s built: Sohari, South Korea.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the Carnival reliability to be a three out of five.

Next week: Let’s try out the AWD hybrid Toyota Sienna.