Kia may not market it as such, but there’s no mistaking that this week’s Daddy’s Digest car review is for a minivan. The 2022 Kia Carnival SX is touted as a “Life Utility Vehicle”, which is not wrong, but it’s a pretty concerted effort to not be described as what it is. That said, I get where they’re coming from – for one reason or another, the minivan is considered to be incredibly uncool, and many families have eschewed them in favour of crossover sport utility vehicles. They’ve done so to the extent that the SUV itself is now the new minivan, and nobody is fooling anybody when they buy one. For people who are true to themselves and want a functional vehicle that serves their family in the best way possible, the minivan can still be the coolest choice out there.
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As the minivan formerly known as the Sedona, Kia has adopted the Carnival nameplate in North America for this all-new 2022 model year. It’s not necessarily a brand new name, however – the Sedona has always been called the Carnival in international markets going back to 1998. While the base model starts at $34,795 Canadian, the top-of-the-line SX we borrowed from Kia Canada rang in at $48,595. For your money, standard features include rear parking sensors, a heated windshield, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, pushbutton engine start, wireless phone charging, power sliding doors and rear tailgate, multi-zone automatic climate control, LED headlights and taillights, dual sunroofs, Bose premium audio, and leather seating surfaces.
As the nicest Carnival you can get, the SX also gets second-row VIP Lounge captain chairs that are power-adjustable. While they’re fixed and non-removable (lower trim levels can still remove the second row), they do offer unprecedented lay-back comfort and relaxation for middle-row passengers. Although the initial impression is that it feels like leaning back into a dentists’ chair, the leg rest and recline positions are hard to beat. The seats are adjustable in fore-aft, but also in side to side positions. During a road trip out of town, having the middle row adjusted further inward made it easier for one parent to care for a rear-facing infant while seated next to them. The third row of seating folds easily and neatly into the floor when not in use.
The SX’s list of gadgets get a boost too, with a Passenger View Monitor camera system that helps parents keep tabs on rear passengers, which aids them in more accurately determining the optimal time to threaten to turn the car around. The gauge cluster is a 12.3-inch screen, which is high resolution, easy to read, and has nifty background designs that match the time of day. Both the first and second row of seats are heated and cooled, and there is a 360-degree around-view camera that’s useful for tight parking situations.
As has been the case with the Kia lineup for the past few years, ergonomics for the infotainment and centre stack are among the better ones in the industry. While previous Kias made use of hard buttons, the Carnival does replace them with capacitive touch buttons for much of the media and climate controls, although hard buttons and knobs still exist for volume, temperature, and defrost controls. All in all, it’s still an easy system to use, and the menu layout is quite intuitive. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality is standard equipment, but unfortunately doesn’t make the most of the whole 12.3-inch display when in use.
The engine in all trims of Carnival is the same – a 3.5-litre V6 that pumps out 290 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive (no all-wheel drive is available), the powertrain is a smooth operator – pulling strongly throughout the rev range and acting together as a very refined unit. With competitors like the Toyota Sienna going to a four-cylinder hybrid configuration, the Kia trades some of the efficiency for a more premium feel, as well as more get-up-and-go versus the Toyota. The V6 is rated for 12 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres on the highway – which is just over a third more than the Sienna with all-wheel drive.
Ride and handling for the 2022 Kia Carnival is a relative master class in comfort. Despite being equipped with noisier winter tires, the cabin is very quiet at highway speeds, and the suspension soaked up any and all road imperfections extremely well. Combined with great seat comfort at all positions, and all the extra cargo space that comes with a minivan, the Carnival is a wonderful long trip machine and takes to the road every bit as well as the highly regarded Kia Telluride SUV, but with more space throughout.
In the safety department, the Carnival SX gets the full gamut of Kia’s driver-assist features. The forward-collision warning and automatic braking gets enhanced with intersection turning assistance, and there are the usual blind-spot warning (with collision avoidance steering assist), lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. There’s also a driver attention warning system, as well as front and rear parking sensors paired with a parking collision avoidance assist system.
Overall, the 2022 Kia Carnival SX is a great family vehicle with luxurious seating for seven (eight for all other lower trims). For larger families who need the people and cargo space, a proper minivan (sorry – Life Activity Vehicle) is indispensable. Having things like sliding doors is very useful in tighter parking lots, and the Carnival’s feature set would typically be more at home on much more premium cars. While the hybrid Toyota Sienna is considerably more frugal at the pumps, the Kia Carnival is a better van to ride and drive in. With great attention to detail paid inside and out, the old Sedona has transformed from an also-ran into a product that’s competitive at the top of its class.