The Kia Carnival MPV delivers the utility and versatility of the classic family minivan with the athletic styling of a modern sport utility vehicle.
Kia never uses the “M” word to describe the Carnival, in fact, they don’t mention it all. Instead, they refer to the Carnival as an MPV or multi-purpose vehicle. This is a fitting description, as the Carnival is fully capable of meeting multiple transportation needs and with its sliding doors, configurable seating, and a low/wide floor it’s super handy, just like one of those “small” vans.
The Carnival is available in a wide range of trims, including the base LX, mid-range EX and SX, and the top-rated SX Prestige. Our ride for the week was the well-appointed SX Prestige trim in stunning Ceramic Silver.
On the outside, the Carnival features a high-tech evolution of the brand’s signature tiger-nose grille, flanked by bi-function LED headlights and standard LED daytime running lights. Its wide wheel arches and taut body lines eschew typical slab-sided minivan styling cues. The SX Prestige trim adds Dual LED headlights with High & Low projection, LED fog lights, and LED rear combination lamps.
Hands-free Smart power sliding rear doors come standard. These doors operate just like the Smart hands-free power tailgate; they automatically open when you approach and stand near the door. The Smart power tailgate is available on EX and above trims.
Inside, the Carnival LX includes standard seating for seven passengers, with optional seating for eight. EX and SX trims come with eight-passenger seating. The SX Prestige is only available in a seven-passenger configuration, but the seats are a bit fancier than the ones you’ll find in the lower trims. The SX Prestige adds pure leather seat trim and heated and ventilated 2nd-row VIP lounge seats with power one-touch relaxation mode.
The SX Prestige also adds a Dual Power sunroof. What’s cool about this feature is that the rear sunroof, located over the second row, actually opens, unlike a lot of vehicles that only offer a fixed glass panel over the rear.
The only downfall of the SX Prestige interior, besides the fights over who gets to sit in the second row, is the fact that the second-row lounge chairs are not removable. If you’re the type who likes to transport large items in the back of your vehicle, you might have to step down to the SX. It’s not the full luxury experience, but you get a lot of the same features.
Speaking of cargo, the Carnival offers a generous 145.1 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded. That’s more than the Toyota Sienna or Chrysler Pacifica and a lot more cargo volume than the average midsize SUV. Even with all three rows in place, the Carnival still offers over 40.1 cubic feet of space behind the third row, which is more than double what you get from the Ford Explorer.
In terms of technology, all trims except for the base LX come equipped with a 12.3-inch audio display unit that includes navigation. SX trims add a 12.3-inch Instrument Cluster Display, creating a seamless panoramic display.
The LX comes with a standard 8-inch touchscreen, which is still pretty decent, and includes standard wireless Apple Carplay and Android Auto integration.
Higher trims also offer a Driver & Passenger Talk two-way intercom system that enables rear passengers to hear the driver’s voice clearly over the speakers. As a former minivan owner, I can attest that this would have been a helpful feature to have back in the ole Dodge Caravan days. There’s also the optional Passenger View with Night Vision feature if you like to keep an eye on what the kids in the second and third rows are up to.
The Kia Carnival comes equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that delivers 290 horsepower to the front wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. Unfortunately, unlike its competitor, the Toyota Sienna, there is no all-wheel-drive or hybrid option available at the moment. However, recent reports suggest that a hybrid version is currently in development. Since the Carnival shares the same N3 platform as the Kia Sportage PHEV and other vehicles in the Kia-Hyundai family, a hybrid or plug-in hybrid variant is not out of the question.
Even without a hybrid option, the Carnival still manages an EPA estimated rating of 19 City and 26 Highway, which is impressive for a vehicle that offers the same total passenger volume as the Chevrolet Tahoe.
Of course, no Kia would be complete without the brand’s generous 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
While you may not get fancy leather seats or a big touchscreen, opting for the base LX trim doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on the important safety features. All trims include what Kia calls their Dynamic Driving System, basically, it’s a long list of advanced standard safety features including Forward Collision Avoidance, Blind-Spot Collision Avoidance, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance, Lane Keeping Assist, and Lane Following Assist.
A surround view monitor isn’t available on the lower trims but is included on the SX and SX Premium.
The Carnival also includes standard Safe Exit Assist that uses the rear sensors to scan for approaching vehicles, if a hazard is detected it won’t allow the passengers to open their door until it has passed by.
I get that Kia doesn’t want to call the Carnival a…gasp…minivan. I mean, what’s cool about a minivan in the age of the SUV, right? Well, whatever you call it, the Carnival MPV should be at the top of your list if you’re looking for a versatile family hauler with SUV-like styling and seating for up to eight passengers.
Kia was generous enough to loan us this well-equipped Kia Carnival MPV SX Prestige for a week to shoot and evaluate.