After falling out of favor in the early 2000s, minivans are finally in vogue again. All right, not really—just checking to make sure you’re paying attention. But as long as these workhorses continue to offer much more utility than their stylish three-row SUV counterparts, you can make a strong case for the minivan’s survival. And the new 2022 Kia Carnival is already a top pick.
Welcome to the Carnival
A fully loaded 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige took the crown in our latest four-way minivan comparison test. But not everyone wants to spend $47,000 on a new car. It turns out, the mid-level Carnival EX retains much of the same magic as the SX Prestige model.
Admittedly, the Carnival EX loses out on several flashy features. A large digital instrument cluster, rear-seat entertainment system, genuine leather, 12-speaker sound system, and dual power sunroofs add a soupcon of luxury to the Carnival SX Prestige, but these are not must-haves. Such is the case with a built-in vacuum, which some of Kia’s rivals offer but is nowhere to be found on any Carnival trim. However, during our two weeks in the Carnival EX, the only thing we missed was a 360-degree camera system, a standard feature on the next trim level up the ladder: the Carnival SX.
Priced at $38,775, our test car featured eight seats instead of the seven on the SX Prestige, each wearing high-quality synthetic leather. A handy “child-minding” middle seat slides forward to give the front passenger easy access to a baby in the back, or alternatively, it slides back to become a table for third-row occupants. LATCH anchors are easily accessible because the hooks aren’t buried too deep in the seat.
Unlike some minivans, the 2022 Kia Carnival has removable second-row seats. However, installing and reinstalling these chairs isn’t something you’ll want to do every day, given their heft; some people will need assistance moving the cumbersome seats from the car to the garage. Fortunately, if you don’t need to remove them, the second-row seats fold down easily—just like those in the third row.
We managed to fit an 82-inch TV inside the cabin, with just enough room to spare to leave one second-row seat installed. Try doing that in a three-row SUV. We also appreciated the Carnival’s low load height that makes it easy to fill up the spacious cargo area, which is competitive with other minivans.
Helping make the cabin more comfortable are heated front seats, tri-zone automatic climate control, and sunshades for the back rows. All three rows are littered with USB ports, and there’s a handy 12-volt outlet in the rear for powering portable accessories. A 12.3-inch touchscreen benefits from Kia’s easy-to-use interface and houses the Passenger View feature for seeing kids in the back. The latter is a fun item, but it’s also a little distracting. We wished there was an extra camera facing the other direction to see a child in a rear-facing car seat.
A host of safety equipment comes standard on every 2022 Kia Carnival, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and rear cross-traffic alert. Our test van also came with the genuinely helpful Highway Driving Assist feature, which combines adaptive cruise control with lane centering technology.
Yes, We Actually Tested It
This may be of lesser concern to minivan customers, but we’re pleased enough with the 2022 Kia Carnival’s on-road performance compared to its rivals. It drives pretty much how you’d expect a minivan to drive. With its soft suspension and insipid steering, the Carnival feels every bit as big as it is. Nothing really surprised us when we subjected it to our figure-eight handling test, which measures how a car accelerates, brakes, and corners at its limits. We noted understeer and slow steering but praised the van’s consistent brakes. Rounding the bends in 28.0 seconds at an average of 0.59 g, the Carnival clocked a similar time to those of the Toyota Sienna and the Chrysler Pacifica, and it performed noticeably better than a Honda Odyssey EX-L (28.9 seconds at 0.57 g).
The Carnival is not quick, but we had no complaints merging onto the freeway thanks to its responsive powertrain. Its 3.5-liter V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission work well together to provide smooth acceleration. We found enough power for everyday situations; the engine never struggled even going uphill. On the test track, the 2022 Kia Carnival EX accelerated to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, about on par with the Sienna (7.9 seconds) and quicker than the Pacifica (8.3 seconds). But none of these minivans is as speedy as the Odyssey, which hit the mark in 6.7 seconds.
Braking was similarly uneventful; the Carnival needed 125 feet to stop in our 60-0-mph test. We noted a lot of nose dive, as is expected for a minivan. But the body remained composed during the exercise.
The 2022 Kia Carnival EX probably won’t convince many SUV buyers to make the switch to a minivan. But it may turn heads away from the Sienna, Odyssey, and Pacifica—and you don’t need to pick the top-trim model to feel cosseted. Although we wish there were a few more features available as options on the Carnival EX, this trim delivers the essentials at a reasonable price. Indeed, even though some new minivans sell for upward of $50,000, the Carnival proves you absolutely can still get a nice brand-new example for less than $40,000.
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