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The 2023 Kia Carnival is an ark of accommodation. Its lean styling is a refreshing reset to the typical minivan’s big hips and broad beam

An exterior view of the blue Kia Carnival in front of a train station

The 2023 Kia Carnival MPV SX Prestige tester was $49,285 with three options. (Mark Maynard photos or as credited)

Table of Contents

The Last Honest Vehicle
Pricing
New for 2023
Interior Function
Back Seats and Cargo
Powertrain and Performance
Ride and Handling
Why Buy the Kia Carnival?
Specifications

BY MARK MAYNARD

I see the look in fathers’ eyes as they follow my slow cruise in the Kia Carnival MPV through the beach parking lot. It is a look of envy — with resignation that their lot in life could be so much easier with that damn M-word — minivan. But, no, their hands and their partner’s hands are struggling to untangle a stroller from a crowded trunk while they schlep armloads of a trike, scooter, and a stuffed duffel of clothes and snacks for when everybody is wet, tired, and cranky.

There is much irrational venom directed at this most-efficient mode of moving people. It is as if the minivan represents swallowed pride to make the best of a sad situation.

I count my blessings that this stage has passed in my life. But I always enjoyed testing minivans. Not for their lively drivability but for an hour or so of free time. I’d park the latest test minivan in the driveway, and the kids would want to do homework or watch a movie. It was a secure space that would give me 45 minutes of peace and quiet … for laundry or cooking.

There is comfort and security in the family minivan. It is the modern ark of accommodation. Sure, bring a friend or three. And parents can pull the seats for room to haul furniture … to usher that college kid to the college dorm.

Minivans are built for comfort and accommodation. They are part lounge and part romper room. And any minivan with a combustion engine will get better fuel economy and cost less to maintain (tires and suspension elements) than a comparably sized SUV.

Driver controls are smartly placed and ergonomically designed.

Driver controls are smartly placed and ergonomically designed.

The Last Honest Vehicle

Unlike the SUV, the minivan is the last honest vehicle made today. Minivans don’t have to be something other than what they were intended. A minivan does not need sport bucket seats with their annoying in-your-crack bottom bolsters. A minivan doesn’t need paddle shifters. They surely don’t need a tachometer, which might be the most worthless space-cluttering element in the driver’s gauge display for an automatic-transmission vehicle. And they don’t need a Sport mode to turn the gauge display red.

Manufacturers have tried to sportify the minivan to little avail. Sporty features, such as aerodynamic fairings and hot wheels, just added to the cost. Today, the minivan segment is small: the Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, and today’s tester, the Kia Carnival MPV.

Kia has sold a minivan in the U.S. since 2002 called Sedona. It was unremarkable at the time when compared to the competition from Honda, Chrysler, and Toyota. But it did get high marks for safety from NHTSA and IIHS.

Undeterred, Kia moved forward with a second generation in 2005 as a 2006. A third generation came along in 2014 as a 2015. And now, the fourth generation debuted in North America in Feb. 2021 as a 2022 model. The 2022 redesign included adding Kia’s global nameplate Carnival MPV, or multi-purpose vehicle.

There isn’t a beauty competition for a minivan — it just can’t be ugly. Except for the Kia Carnival, there is dowdy minivan DNA in the exterior styling of the competitors, mainly in the big hips and a broad beam. The Kia Carnival, however, looks more like a business attaché. It has lean lines without contrived curves or bulges to hint at “sport.” The Carnival’s styling is legitimate and contemporary.

The 12.3-inch-wide navigation screen

A 12.3-inch navigation screen. (Kia)

2023 Kia Carnival Pricing

All models of Carnival are front-wheel drive with no option for all-wheel drive. For that traction capability, minivan shoppers must consider the Chrysler Pacifica or Toyota Sienna.

The 2023 Kia Carnival MPV is sold in four trim levels of LX, EX, SX, and SX Prestige. Pricing starts at $34,465 for the LX, and there is an LX Seat Package model for $36,465; it adds eight-passenger seating with SynTex upholstery and second-row slide-flex seat adjustment.

The midrange EX and SX start at $39,965 and $43,165.

The SX Prestige tester starts at $47,565 and was $49,285 with three options:

  • Astra Blue paint ($495);
  • Rear seat entertainment package ($1,000);
  • Carpeted floor mats ($200, for three rows).

All MSRPs include the $1,395 freight charge from Gwangmyeong, Korea.

For current Carnival pricing and incentives, go to Kia.com

VIP lounge seating with power controls.

VIP lounge seating with power controls.

What’s New On the 2023 Kia Carnival?

With the Carnival’s debut just a year ago, updates for 2023 are a minor shuffling of features for the SX and SX Prestige models. And there were price increases of $800 for the LX and EX models and $500 for the SX; the freight charge went up by $70.

SX

  • Integrated panoramic 12.3-inch digital cluster and 12.3-inch center display are now standard;
  • Blind-Spot View Monitor is now standard;
  • Dual screen rear seat entertainment and streaming media package was added as a $1,000 option.

SX Prestige

  • 8-passenger Slide-Flex Seating with second-row center multi-function seat is now standard;
  • Dual screen rear seat entertainment system and streaming media capability is a new $1,000 option;
  • 2nd row VIP Lounge Seats is a no-cost option, replacing 2nd-row Slide-Flex Seats. The seat package is for seven-passenger seating and adds a pair of power-operated VIP lounge seats that recline with leg support and an adjustable headrest. The seats also are heated and ventilated.
The video Passenger View display.

The video Passenger View display.

Carnival Interior Function

Space is the luxurious frontier of a minivan. And while the Kia Carnival is not a luxury vehicle, its refinement of interior materials, switchgear, and touchpoints are of rewarding quality.

The Carnival cabin has big-and-tall front headroom of 40.9 inches and shoulder room (door to door) of 64.2 inches, which is 2.6 inches wider than the Kia Telluride SUV.

Sightlines for the driver are unobstructed at the side mirrors and across the hood. Of special value is the around-view camera with overhead and forward views. The camera can be switched on when inching forward in a parking slot or the garage.

There is no stress to step in and buckle up, and definitely no need for running boards, but there is still an elevated ride height for a clear view down the road.

The interior design is fresh with no old-fogey faux wood trim, just clean metallic trim elements. All controls are smartly placed and ergonomically designed.

The shift console is a functional work zone with cup holders divided by a phone slot. A charging e-bin includes a wireless pad and USB charging ports. Small storage areas are handily placed throughout, including a large armrest box.

Rather than a flip-down conversation mirror to keep an eye on children, Kia has a video passenger view and talk function. It is accessed through the main 12.3-inch wide screen and can be set up as a one-touch button on the steering wheel.

The third row seats in the Kia Carnival

Third-row legroom of 35.6 inches is up to 3 inches less than in some competitors.

Back Seats and Cargo Space

Sliding side doors are a parent’s friend — power-operated and foot activated. The openness of the doors allows a parent to get close to the child seat for buckling without hoisting a child up into an SUV seating position.

The driver has controls to open and close either side door, which is helpful for the school taxi when admitting your charges, especially when there is rain or snow.

I would prefer the standard three-position second row; it has more family function than the VIP Lounge seats that are exclusive to the SX Prestige. With the eight-seat configuration, the second-row seats can be removed, or just the center seat removed for an aisle pass-through to the third row.

Kia adds a nifty feature of slide-flex seat adjustment. Both window seats can be moved manually inward by a couple of inches. The side movement is beneficial with the VIP Lounge seats, which cannot be removed and do not have a fold-and-tumble design for third-row access. The side flex isn’t much, but it doesn’t take much for a kid to slip by and into the third row.

Lounge seats (heated and ventilated) seem like a cool idea, cruising in a La-Z-Boy style with legs supported. But the full recline position made me feel propped up and vulnerable. It might seem more special when parked and watching a movie. I felt uncomfortable (safe) with the sizeable iPad-like video screens so close on the front seatbacks.

There is adult legroom in the second row — a max of 40.5 inches if a tall person is not sitting ahead. But a tall adult might not feel comfortable in full recline of the lounge seats.

The power panel for second-row climate controls.

Electronic second-row climate controls.

Carnival’s Third Row

There is no shortage of details for those in the third row. There are charging ports, an inset for cups or juice boxes, and a phone slot.

Headroom of 38.6 inches is adequate for adults of average size. However, the max legroom of 35.6 inches is up to 3 inches less than some competitors.

The Carnival cargo area with the third row folded

Fold the third row for 5 feet in length of flat storage.

Carnival Cargo Space

Carnival earns its cargo salt with the obligatory 4-foot width, as if owners will load sheets of plywood. As with most minivans, the waaay back has multi-function.

With the third-row seats in place, there is a deep well of steamer-trunk capacity that neatly corrals a multitude of grocery bags or whatever. Fold the 60/40 seatbacks to drop flat into the cargo well and a parent could roll in bikes and trikes or strap down a large dog kennel. The interior height of 40 inches is about 31 inches or less for a midsize SUV. With the third row folded there is flat space that is 5 feet in length.

The storage well in the cargo area when the third row seats are upright

Steamer-trunk cargo capacity behind the third row.

Carnival Powertrain and Performance

No overworked turbocharged four-cylinder for this Carnival. All models have the same V-6 and eight-speed automatic powertrain. The 290-horsepower direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6 has 262 foot-pounds of peak torque at 5,000 rpm.

Fuel economy ratings are 19 mpg city, 26 highway, and 22 mpg combined using the recommended 87 octane fuel. In my week of testing, the mileage around town was 19-21 mpg, and on the highway, I tooled along at 28.9 mpg, which might have gone higher had I not needed to exit.

With the generous 19-gallon fuel tank, thrifty drivers could expect a vacation-driving range of 500 miles or more.

Acceleration force is easy to modulate to maximize mileage or to put the hammer down for evasive action. There is no delay in acceleration response.

An open hood view of the 290-hp 3.5-liter V-6

The 290-hp 3.5-liter V-6. (Kia)

Carnival SX Prestige Ride and Handling

One of the most endearing aspects of minivan ownership is, generally, a forgiving ride quality. The Kia Carnival is especially adept at not tossing heads when pulling into driveways or when transitioning speed bumps.

The suspension is a well-engineered four-wheel independent setup with steel springs and gas-charged shock absorbers. The front has MacPherson struts and a multi-link at the rear.

Ride quality with the 19-inch Goodyear Assurance Finesse tires (235/55) was poised and carpet smooth — traits I did not expect from my past experiences with Goodyear Assurance tires. These tires are affordable and will cost between $220 and $250 each when replaced.

Advantageous is the light weight to the steering and very compact turning circle of 38 feet. It is possible to make a U-turn on most residential streets. Steering control, though light, is entirely on track while cruising at speed.

Four-wheel-disc braking engages with uncommon smoothness and direct engagement. Front and rear rotors are 12.8 inches, with ventilated discs at the front and solid discs rear. These discs are comparable to the competition’s and seem fit to handle a 3,500-pound trailer with brakes.

19-inch Goodyear Assurance Finesse tires and black alloy wheels.

The SX Prestige tester in 19-inch Goodyear Assurance Finesse tires and black alloy wheels.

Why Buy the Kia Carnival?

Minivan marketers have told me that once the children are out of the house, many parents hold onto their weary, old minivan. It’s just too convenient for its size.

If so, the Kia Carnival SX Prestige will be their upgrade minivan. The VIP seats will be a special perk for those travel getaways with friends.

And best of all, the Kia Carnival doesn’t look like a minivan.

The Carnival EX and SX trim levels are the meat and potatoes of family fare. And the package for rear seat entertainment is worth the $1,500 option. It’s the price for 45 minutes of rest time for parents.

A rear view of the Astra Blue Carnival

The Kia Carnival has a very compact turning circle of 38 feet. (Kia)

Kia Carnival SX Prestige Specifications

Body style: large 7- to 8-passenger front-wheel-drive minivan

Engine: 290-hp, direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6; 262 lb.-ft. torque at 5,000 rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 19/26/22 mpg; 87 octane

Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds

BY THE NUMBERS

Fuel tank: 19 gallons

Cargo space: 40.2 to 86.9 cubic feet

Front head/leg room: 40.9/41.1 inches

2nd-row head/leg room: 39.5/40.5 inches

3rd-row head/leg room: 38.6/35.6 inches

Length/wheelbase: 203/121.7 inches

Curb weight: 4,727 pounds

Turning circle: 38 feet

FEATURES

SX Prestige standard features, include: smart-key entry and push-button ignition, electric parking brake, surround-view monitor, 12.3-inch dual panoramic displays for driver gauges and navigation, blind-spot view monitors (side mirror image display in driver gauges); smart cruise control with stop-and-go; dual power tilt and slide sunroof; LED projection headlights and LED rear combination lights; LED interior lighting; leather-trimmed upholstery; heated and ventilated front and rear seats; Bose premium audio; heated steering wheel; auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink controls, passenger view (camera) and passenger talk.

Safety features include: 7 air bags (including driver’s knee bag), rear occupant alert with ultrasonic sensors, parking distance warning forward and reverse

Driver-assist technologies, include: forward collision-avoidance assist with cyclist and junction turning; blind-spot collision-avoidance assist; rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist; driver attention warning and high-beam assist; lane-keeping assist and lane-following assist; parking collision-avoidance assist reverse; safe exist assist; highway driving assist.

PRICING

Base price: $47,565, including $1,395 freight charge; price as tested $49,285

Options on test vehicle: Astra Blue paint $495; rear seat entertainment package $1,000; carpeted floor mats $200, for three rows.

Where assembled: Gwangmyeong, Korea

Warranties: 10-years/100,000-miles powertrain; 5-years/60,000-miles bumper to bumper with roadside assistance