The functional, practical, multi-purpose minivan holds generational appeal to many, while sadly serving as a punch line for others.
Parents of a certain age enjoy roominess and easy second row access. Their offspring often times just make light and poke fun with verbal jabs dripping with Soccer Mom sarcasm.
All too often, those who once snickered or chuckled while looking askew at minivans find themselves begrudgingly making the purchase. The process need not unfold this way. Why not enjoy the ride and positivity’s along the way?
Alas even Kia, the South Korean automaker, now does its best to distance itself from the minivan moniker choosing to market its versatile Carnival with a MPV designation (multipurpose vehicle) with few mentions of ‘minivan’ throughout its promotional copy; think MPV as long body with a crossover-type incarnation from the A-pillar forward.
Those of us who rode in a Brady Bunch era station wagon back in the day (Mike, Carol and their blended family’s ride of choice: a 1971 Plymouth Satellite Wagon) marveled at the mature stately nature of minivans when the genre-busting front-wheel-drive minivan arrived in the mid-1980s with peak sales throughout the 1990s.
From a 60-something perspective, minivans (or MPVs) make perfect sense as a hauler of goods and people (and good people) for those in or approaching retirement age. Versatility never goes out of style and Carnival’s second seating row is completely removable from its floor rail creating a huge hauler with a three-person third row of 60/40-split seating that manually folds and flips backward into a recessed floor with the use of just one hand. All Carnival trims include a power rear door except its entry trim with manual version.
Despite the length, Caravan drives with predictable handling and surprisingly yet welcome comfortable ride. The foot brake returns an ample push range rather than a quick grip.
The Carnival name arrived in North America in the 2022 model year. Kia first began marketing its minivan in the 2002 model year under the Sedona name as a value-driven selection. Back then, just about every major automaker hawked a minivan. Those numbers have dwindled substantially the past two decades with less than a half-a-dozen players left standing while Kia continues marketing the lowest starting price selection of the bunch.
The 2022 name change corresponded with a next-generation update (the fourth since 2022). Carnival in 2022 grew by three-and-a-half inches and remains available in one set length. In past decades, rivals often offered extended length versions although at 203 inches, Carnival measures plenty long.
Another visual distinction between Sedona and Carnival; Carnival includes the new straight-lined corporate logo Kia introduced in 2021 replacing the round medallion version found at the hood’s front, steering wheel and hatch door.
Expect four Carnival trim level choices in 2023 (LX, EX, SX and SX Prestige) and one engine opportunity. The naturally aspirated (non-turbo) internal combustion engine is Kia’s proven 3.0-liter V-6 with gas direct injection utilizing regular, 87-octane fuel and delivering 290 horsepower. It’s not built for performance but enjoys all the perks to haul people and products.
The sizeable 19-gallon tank combines with 22 mpg delivering a nice potential range between fill ups of 418 miles, although combined milage rates slightly below its three key competitors. It’s a slightly larger engine that what Sedona’s outgoing 3.3-liter naturally-aspirated V-6 offered while delivering 276 horses. Carnival also manages to squeeze out one-mile better city and two miles better highway fuel economy.
No electric vehicle (EV), gas-electric hybrid (also known as hybrid electric vehicle or HEV) or plug-in hybrid electric version (PHEV) is yet offered. Currently only Chrysler offers its Pacifica minivan with PHEV option with its estimated 32 miles of pure electric driving working with a hybrid gas-electric engine providing additional travel miles. Toyota’s Sienna minivan includes a standard gas-electric hybrid (the non-plug-in variety) under hood.
Updates in 2023 remain minimal from 2002’s fourth-generation update, although a couple of trim levels get spiced up. Blind spot monitoring now comes standard in SX with a rear entertainment screen optional. The SX Prestige enjoys optional top-line second-row lounge seating (and part of our tester) and optional rear entertainment screen.
Both Chrysler Pacifica and Toyota Sienna offer all-wheel drive as an alternative to standard front-wheel drive. Carnival, however, offers peace of mind Toyota and Chrysler choose not to match. Kia continues offering a 10-year/100,000-mile (whichever comes first) powertrain warranty benefitting original purchasers. It’s an easy-to understand and digest perk other Kia products continue promoting as well as vehicles from Hyundai, Kia’s parent company.
Kudos for devising a relatively simplistic and easy-follow pricing structure. A Carnival LX trim starts at $33,100 with each subsequent upward trim adding a bit more standard equipment. Each trim includes an impressive array of standard safety features. Aside from $495 premium exterior paint selections, few factory options figure into the equation. One such opportunity is a $2,000 LX seat package with eight-way power adjustable first row buckets and eight-passenger seating throughout. Another is a second-row dual screen entertainment package available in upper trims.
By comparison, a Honda Odyssey minivan starts at $37,490, a Toyota Sienna starts at $36,135 while Chrysler’s Pacifica sneaks in at $37,270 with the conventional internal combustion engine.
Our top-line SX Prestige arrived with a $45,700 starting price. It added aboard two of the few standard-alone extras available: premium Astra blue exterior paint ($495) a dual screen second-row entertainment package ($1,000) and $200 worth of carpeted floor mats. The bottom line after $1,295 destination charge reached $48,690 representing one of the priciest Carnival mix-and-match choices in 2023.
The rear side panel’s exposed horizontal slide grove are utilized by the power sliding side doors when opening and closing. Some rivals build the long, straight pathway into the bottom of rear side windows minimizing visual cues, but the track brings its own artistic bent as its back end touches the wrap around taillights.
Both doors offer power assist and many ways to open via key fobs, far left-side dashboard panel buttons and a simple tug of the exterior strap handle. The inside B-pillar also includes a square button to quickly close the door usable when inside or outside.
Both SX and SX Prestige include thick C-pillar satin chrome garnish with a diamond-like pattern. The EX and SX include a silver-painted version. In front, a stream of LED daytime running light beams underscore a pair of bejeweled headlight bulbs and their narrow housing.
Inside, all seating positions are within easy reach of a USB port. The second row has access via ports installed into the inboard sides of the front seats with row threes built into the side walls. Three easy-to-spot ports along the lower dash await front riders as does a cove where wireless charging takes place with compatible phones.
An eight-speed automatic transmission comes standard with a sizeable, smooth shifting vertically-sliding grab bar found between front buckets seats. Nearby, a button summoning one of four drive modes. Each mode changes the graphics inside the all-digital instrument panel. Also within easy reach: the electronic parking brake.
At the steering wheel’s 3’o’clock position is a push button commanding the center instrument panel’s multi-panel windows. Also in the mix: cruise control functions. At 9 o’clock, secondary sound system volume and select up-down tabs.
Optional row two Lounge Seating, available solely in SX Prestige, includes two separate power operated Captain’s Chairs in row two where seats and backrests recline when pushing inboard cushion-found power buttons. Lounge Seating remains in place unlike other second row seating opportunities that are removable from other Carnival trims. Lounge Seating accommodations seven riders while eight riders is the norm in most interior configurations.
It’s certainly the sturdy choice and comfort leader with leather trim, heated/vented comforts and a footrest. If plans include utilizing Carnival primarily for adult transport, it’s recommended since the smaller throng probably would not appreciate the added comfort (and too much apple juice might spill upon the nice leather). In addition to manually sliding forward and back, Lounge Seating also travels east west on a separate floor track when lifting up manual cup-like outboard seat cushion release levers.
Headroom is at a premium in row three for those of us so done with puberty. As with most minivans the pre-teen set and scruffy puppies will find this three-seat area appealing, but that’s about all. Both second and third rows conveniently add a pair of manually closing circular ceiling vents. Row two includes ceiling and B-pillar grab handles assisting entry and exit.
The dash borrows the exterior C-pillar’s satin chrome garnish, in a long narrow fashion traveling from side door to side door running parallel with narrow air vents above. These elements split the dash into two distinct sections. Within SX and SX Prestige, the top half supports dual, 12.3-inch black display screens combining digital instrument panel readouts and touch-sensitive sound system/navigation combo into one wide screen. This panoramic, rectangular display’s top portion jets above the rather low-situated dash top with the left end rocking a brim helping diminish the sun’s involvement. The lower center half includes push-sensitive HVAC controls, push tabs and shot gun side glove box.
Smartly, Kia includes two smallish old-school chrome nobs within the lower hemisphere interacting with the sound system, a welcome twist to a layout heavy on touch sensitivity. Popular Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Smartphone pairings come standard as does a Wi-fi hotspot. The touch screen includes recognizable icons but sometimes lacks instant reaction/feedback when pressed into action.
2023 Kia Carnival
Price as tested: $48,690
Engine: 3.0-liter V-6
Overall Length: 203.0 inches
Wheelbase: 121.7 inches
Overall Height: 68.5 inches
Overall Width: 78.5 inches
Curb weight: 4,535 pounds
Fuel economy: 19 city/26 highway
Powertrain warranty: 10 Years/100,000
Assembly: South Korea