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2022 Kia Carnival Test Drive Review

The 2022 Kia Carnival is a minivan, but don’t you dare call it one. Think of it as a multi-purpose vehicle instead.

8.2 /10
Overall Score

With the all-new 2022 Carnival, Kia is trying something different. By blending crossover SUV design with sensational technology and genuine VIP passenger seating, Kia hopes the Carnival can carve a bigger slice of the small minivan pie.

Available in LX, EX, SX, and SX Prestige trim, the 2022 Kia Carnival replaces the Kia Sedona in the automaker’s lineup. Carnival prices range from $32,100 to $46,100, not including the destination charge of $1,175.

Our SX Prestige test vehicle had extra-cost Astra Blue paint, accessory floor and cargo mats, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a programmable garage door opener. It came to $47,920, including destination charges.

Look and Feel

8/ 10

Every version of the 2022 Kia Carnival has unique design elements that set it apart from the others. With LX trim, you get the standard grille, a black, toothy thing that is somewhat off-putting. This version of the Carnival also has silver-painted 17-inch aluminum wheels.

Choose the EX trim and the number of available paint colors doubles. You also get handsome 19-inch machined-finish aluminum wheels, simulated open-pore wood trim, and Kia’s convincing SynTex simulated leather in a choice of three colors. But that grille, though.

The Carnival SX trim level swaps the standard grille for a lovely mirrored grid-pattern design. But it also installs black wheels, so we hope you’re a fan of that look. It seems most people are nowadays.

Upgrade to SX Prestige trim, and the visual changes are limited to the cabin. Simulated textured metal dashboard trim, real leather, and the Carnival’s piece de resistance feature – VIP Lounge Seats – are standard.

All Carnivals include SUV styling flourishes such as simulated front and rear skid plates; a floating roof design seemingly held aloft by sturdy, textured metal supports aft of the sliding doors; and with SX and SX Prestige trim, a robust roof-rack. Black trim rings the Carnival’s lower perimeter, and this Kia has a tall hood that’s visible from the driver’s seat.

Though Kia could not hide the sliding door tracks under the rear window glass, it deftly integrated them with character lines that run the length of the vehicle to connect the headlights and taillights. The only other telltale signs that the Carnival is not a crossover SUV are the handles on the sliding doors.

Overall, the Carnival is appealing, even with its standard grille. Sharply angular where a Chrysler Pacifica tends to be softly rounded, conservatively tasteful where a Honda Odyssey tends to be a bit bizarre, and tautly penned where a Toyota Sienna appears swollen and bloated, the Kia Carnival easily wins the “best design” award in the segment.

Inside, the SUV theme continues for the front-seat occupants. The dashboard, center console, and seat arrangements are more like a crossover than a minivan. Couple this approach with Kia’s penchant for style, and the Carnival looks upscale even in base trim.

That entry-level LX model’s interior comes only in a two-tone black-and-gray color scheme, with cloth seats. An LX Seat Package swaps the cloth for gray or Saddle Brown synthetic leather in an appealing perforated pattern.

With EX trim and higher, you can get a Tuscan Umber interior color. It is not for everybody because Tuscan Umber is a fancy way of saying orange. Still, like so many things about the Kia Carnival, it is unusual and attention-grabbing and perfectly matches the vehicle’s personality.


7/ 10

Kia drops a new 3.5-liter V6 engine into the 2022 Carnival. It makes 290 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque and drives the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Neither all-wheel drive nor an electrified powertrain option is available. Towing capacity measures 3,500 pounds.

This V6 is a sweetheart of an engine, supplying smooth, steady, effortless acceleration. The automatic operates unobtrusively, and when you select gears, the shifter feels solid and robust in your hand, imparting a sense of quality every time you drive the Carnival.

Normal, Eco, Sport, and Smart driving modes are available. We used Smart mode most of the time, and it was fine aside from consistent delayed downshift response from the transmission whenever we rounded a corner or a curve and then stepped on the accelerator. The issue was particularly noticeable when heading up a hill. Switching to Sport mode helps to resolve it.

The EPA says a Carnival should get 22 mpg in combined driving, and we averaged fuel economy of 21.7 mpg on our testing loop. That figure included plenty of idling during photography, and while going through all of the technology, so your result is likely to improve upon it.

Dynamically, the front-wheel-drive Carnival feels taut and athletic from behind the steering wheel. It boasts a remarkably flat cornering stance, and the 235/55 Continental all-season tires don’t howl if you drive with some enthusiasm.

Occasionally though, depending on the road surface and with only a driver aboard, the Carnival can feel a little too stiff over broken pavement, too bouncy over drainage dips and speed humps, and too wobbly over uneven undulations. Perhaps when loaded down with people and cargo, it would settle down a bit.

Form and Function

8/ 10

Naturally, given the type of vehicle it is (minivan – shhh!), the Carnival is all kinds of practical. However, the SUV-style design approach for the dashboard and center console limits storage space and utility compared to some of its direct competitors.

With LX trim, the second row has individual captain’s chairs with a wide center pass-through. Add the LX Seat Package, and it includes more than just SynTex simulated leather. A middle second-row seat joins the party, and it slides forward to place a baby or toddler closer to Mom and Dad or slides far back to add shoulder room for staggered, three-across seating. Alternatively, the middle seatback folds flat to provide a table between the outboard seats, or you can remove it to have a pass-through to the third-row seat.

The EX and SX have that same 8-passenger Slide Flex seat configuration. Upgrade to the SX Prestige, and the Carnival has standard power-adjustable, heated and ventilated, fully reclining VIP Lounge Seats wrapped in leather. They even feature an Ottoman-style leg rest. For any family, these seats are genuine showstoppers. Plus, they live under a power rear sunroof that opens separately from the front sunroof, and manual side window shades in the second- and third-row seats add privacy.

There are a couple of compromises with the VIP Lounge Seats. First, occupants sit high in them, and we found headroom to be an issue unless we reclined them a bit. Second, you can’t remove them or fold them flat, and that limits maximum cargo volume. But damn, they are cool.

Third-row seat comfort is suitable for adults, which means the space is roomy for kids. Better yet, because the Carnival’s rearmost cargo area is so large, there is plenty of collision crush space behind the third-row seat, unlike in a typical crossover SUV.

Kia’s “smart” hands-free power-sliding side doors and liftgate have their pros and cons. With the liftgate, on the plus side of the ledger, you don’t need to hop around on one foot while waving the other one under the bumper. Just stand there, and after a few seconds, it will open. On the minus side of the ledger, it can also open when you don’t want it to, such as when you pause to talk with someone at the soccer field or you’re cleaning the back window at the gas station. Fortunately, you can turn this on or off within the driver information center.

When the liftgate raises, the Carnival supplies a deep storage well and 40.2 cubic feet of volume behind the third-row seat. That’s enough to stand four full-size suitcases on end behind the seat, and it can easily handle even a large stroller.

For more space, you can fold the third-row seats into the well using just one hand. This action creates 86.9 cu.-ft. of cargo space and allows the center section of the Slide Flex seats to move all of the way back in its track. For comparison, a Carnival can carry five people plus as much as you can stuff into a Kia Telluride when the SUV has all of its seats folded down.

If you need more room than that and have LX, EX, or SX trim, you can remove the second-row seats to create more cargo volume (145.1 cu.-ft.) than you’ll find in a Chevy Suburban.

The seats are not light, and re-installing them takes care and patience. Hint: make sure the white slots for the seat base’s front latches are lined up before attempting this. And whatever you do, don’t get one side latched in and then slide that half of the seat in the track. Otherwise, you’ll teach your children some choice new words trying to get the other side latched in.

Tech Level

8/ 10

With LX trim, the Carnival has traditional analog gauges separated by a digital driver information center, plus an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with stereo knobs and main menu shortcut buttons. Highlights include Bluetooth, wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto, and six speakers.

Starting with EX trim, the Carnival boasts a 12.3-inch widescreen infotainment system. The Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functions are wired instead of wireless, a step backward in sophistication. But this setup includes HD Radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, voice recognition, and an embedded modem to power UVO Link connected services. It also installs navigation, wireless smartphone charging, and eight speakers.

Two additional features include Passenger View and Passenger Talk. The former uses a camera to show the driver and front passenger what’s happening in the second- and third-row seats. Passenger Talk broadcasts the driver’s voice through the Carnival’s rear speakers, facilitating communication that does not involve shouting. With EX trim, the Carnival also has a Quiet Mode for the stereo that plays music only over the front speakers when your kids are sleeping.

Carnivals with SX trim add a sophisticated dual-screen rear entertainment system with touchscreen control, device mirroring capability, embedded apps for content streaming including YouTube and Netflix, and HDMI connections for video gaming. Download the control app to your device, and you’re ready to enjoy a variety of entertainment sources. The Carnival SX also gives rear-seat passengers voice control capability over some vehicle functions.

Choose SX Prestige trim, and the Carnival comes with a 12.3-inch digital instrumentation display and a 12-speaker Bose Centerpoint surround-sound audio system. The former lends the Carnival significant technological sophistication, while the latter seems to be a step down from the Harman Kardon components Kia has offered in the past, lacking some of the depth and clarity common to HK systems.

Kia provides a so-called quick reference guide to all of this technology, and it’s the size of a novel. For the most part, the tech is intuitive to use, but you’ll do yourself a huge favor if, after buying a loaded Carnival SX Prestige, you block a couple of hours to go through all of the technology, get everything set up the way you want it, and learn how it all works.


9/ 10

Similarly, the Carnival’s list of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) is a long one.

Standard equipment includes forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, active blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning with collision avoidance; active rear cross-traffic warning; lane-departure, -keeping, and -centering assistance; and rear parking sensors. A driver monitoring system is also standard, along with a reversing camera with dynamic parking guidance lines.

To this menu, EX trim adds front parking sensors, cyclist detection, navigation-based adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, and Highway Driving Assist (HDA).

The HDA technology is a Level 2 driving aid that pairs the adaptive cruise control with lane-centering assistance. It’s effective, and in the past, I’ve lauded this system for its capability. However, either due to testing conditions, or the steady improvement of similar tech from other automakers, or HDA’s Carnival-specific calibration, in this evaluation, I found it more an adversary than a partner. Ultimately, I preferred driving the Carnival with HDA turned off because the steering assist was both too obvious and hard to trust.

Additionally, the navigation-based adaptive cruise control can automatically slow the Carnival down for freeway transitions and changes in posted speed limits. While some people will appreciate this feature, others will find it aggravating.

Every Carnival has an ultrasonic rear occupant alert system. Park, lock, and leave the vehicle, and for 24 hours after that, ultrasonic sensors will monitor the cabin for movement. If you’ve accidentally left a child or a pet sleeping inside, when they wake, the sensors will activate the horn and lights and will send the Carnival’s owner a smartphone alert.

Safe Exit Assist is also standard. This system uses the blind-spot warning sensors to detect whether traffic is approaching from behind and warns occupants if it is not safe to exit the Carnival. Knowing that kids in the second-row seat might ignore the warning, it can also override the sliding door locks to prevent them from hopping out anyway.

Starting with SX trim, the Carnival features an outstanding surround-view camera system. The level of clarity is remarkable, and the big 12.3-inch display also helps. A camera-based Blind View Monitor is exclusive to the SX Prestige, showing a live video feed of what’s in the Carnival’s blind spots within the 12.3-inch instrumentation panel.

Crash-test results for this brand-new model were unavailable when this review was published. Be sure to check them out once testing is complete.


9/ 10

Is choosing a 2022 Kia Carnival a cost-effective solution to your people-hauling and cargo-carrying needs? Absolutely. Unless you need all-wheel drive, or 5,000 lbs. or more of towing capacity, or a more efficient electrified drivetrain, you’ve found your dream vehicle.

Compared to a Kia Telluride, the Carnival offers a whole bunch of extra interior room and superior technology for a lower price. Compared to a full-size SUV, the Carnival comes fully loaded for less than you’ll pay for a basic Tahoe or Expedition without any extras. And compared to other minivans, the Carnival offers a real sense of style, sophistication, and an SUV vibe that’s missing from its competitors.

Oh, and the Carnival comes with Kia’s outstanding warranty and roadside assistance coverage. Trust us. You owe it to yourself, your family, and your retirement fund to at least consider buying a 2022 Kia Carnival.

Updated by Christian Wardlaw

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