2022 Kia Carnival First Test Review: Is This All-New MPV An MVP?

If you read our First Look review, you already know the all-new 2022 Kia Carnival is quite the looker, chock full of style and technology. You would also know that Kia considers the Carnival an MPV, not a minivan, despite its front-wheel-drive powertrain, dual sliding doors, and spacious, kid-friendly seating arrangements.

Whatever you want to call it, we can confirm the Carnival is cart-stoppingly handsome; on our weekly grocery shopping trip, a young man in charge of collecting the shopping carts and a customer driving away both stopped their respective four-wheelers to ask, “Wow, what is that? Who makes it?”

Sophisticated, Standout Styling

The attraction? Kia’s mystifying new logo on the nose and the Carnival’s sophisticated, standout styling. The signature piece on our Carnival SX Prestige is the L-shaped metalwork that stretches upward from the beltline toward the roof, just aft of the sliding doors. If it wasn’t so thoughtfully finished, it would garishly call out this dead space between the second- and third-row windows. Instead, Kia designers gave it a slightly subdued finish and broke up the swath of metal with a light-catching hexagonal pattern and chamfered trailing edge so that it dazzles without distracting.

In an architectural nod, Kia brought the outside inside by echoing the hexagonal pattern on the arc of metal trim that spans the dash. It’s a similar pattern, but with softer, smoother edges that are as lovely to your eyes as they are to your fingertips; this cool metal ledge is a great place to rest your paws while adjusting the A/C vents or toggling through the touch-sensitive controls below.

Details like this abound throughout the Carnival’s sumptuous and tech-laden cabin. Those new to Kia will be charmed by such party tricks as the turn-signal system that triggers a porthole view of the rear blind spots in the digital gauge cluster; signal right or left, and a camera feed of your blind spot pops into view, replacing the speedo or tach. Further inboard of the driver displays, in the gracefully curved housing that sits atop the dash, is the infotainment touchscreen powered by Kia’s slick UVO system. Decide against connecting Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (via USB or wireless Bluetooth) and UVO serves up its own unique features, including radio-station frequencies displayed in a warm-looking digital recreation of incandescent Nixie lamps and a catalog of relaxing nature sounds that you can pipe throughout the cabin for naps or meditation. Facilitating this downtime are the two second-row captain’s chairs that recline like La-Z-Boys (complete with footrests) at the push of a button.

Track Numbers and Feedback

At 290 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, the Carnival’s 3.5-liter V-6 is tops in output amongst the minivan set, but that doesn’t make it the quickest. At 7.5 seconds to 60 mph, it trails a similarly spec’d 2021 Honda Odyssey we tested by 0.8 second, a gap that narrows to 0.5 second by the quarter-mile mark (15.7 seconds at 90.7 mph). But the Carnival isn’t a minivan, right? Against a few similarly equipped three-row SUVs, the Carnival holds its own. All three V-6-powered 2021 Toyota Highlanders we recently tested out-accelerate it, as does the 2021 Hyundai Palisade. But the Carnival does beat the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas to 60 (7.8 seconds) and in the quarter mile (16.0 seconds at 88.6 mph). Road test editor Erick Ayapana noted that power felt adequate, although he also noticed torque steer at launch and a long third gear.

In braking, the Carnival is near the head of the MPV, SUV, and minivan pack. Its 118-foot stopping distance from 60 mph is only 2 feet longer than one of the Highlanders, equals the Palisade, and is between 4 and 7 feet better than the other minivans we tested. Ayapana liked the body control and bite of the brakes, but noted front-end dive, and, after repeated stops, smoky brakes and progressively longer stopping distances.

The Carnival’s handling characteristics can be summarized as “fun, while it lasts.” Road test editor Chris Walton noted that traction and stability control will only remain off for 2 to 3 laps around our figure-eight course before a 30-mph nanny kicks in. “On the best unfettered lap there’s quite a lot of grip and sliding available on the skidpad. The transmission was quick to kick down to second and upshift very smoothly to third,” said Walton.

But How Does It Drive IRL?

On the road, the Carnival has solid, if uninspiring, road manners. Adequate is a good way to describe full-throttle acceleration onto the freeway. Once you’ve merged, you can engage the adaptive cruise control, which will follow traffic ahead, read road lines, and steer you back should you drift. The system is fine in fast-flowing traffic and in heavy, creeping traffic, but in more variable conditions (high speeds to sudden stops), its late-braking tendency can be a bit unnerving.

Kia offers several different drive modes across its lineup, and the Carnival has Normal, Eco, Sport, and Smart from which to choose. None will raise goosebumps or hackles; in Sport, you’ll notice heavier steering, a more sensitive throttle, and more frequent shifting to remain in the rev range. Eco does essentially the opposite; throttle (and HVAC) response is lazier and the transmission prioritizes higher gears, all in the name of better fuel economy. As for Smart? It’s a mixed bag, depending on how you drive.

The ride and handling tradeoff is perfectly acceptable for jaunts around town or long hauls to visit the in-laws. High style aside, Carnival is fundamentally meant for carrying up to eight people and all of their stuff, so the bit of wallowing around corners and the aforementioned diving under hard braking is easily forgiven.

Should You Buy One?

Word on the street is that the two guys in that Trader Joe’s parking lot aren’t the only ones who find the Carnival a sweet-looking ride. We’re hearing whispers of dealer markups (despite protests from the home office) at levels we saw when Kia’s other hottie, the Telluride, was fresh and new. So, if you like what you see here and can find one close to MSRP, we say go for it.

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