Color: Astra Blue
Miles driven: 150
|CG Report Card|
|Room and Comfort||A-|
|Power and Performance||B|
|Fit and Finish||A-|
|Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide’s impressions of the entire model lineup.|
|Big & Tall Comfort|
|Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. “Big” rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, “Tall” rating based on 6’6″-tall male tester.|
|Engine Specs||290-hp 3.5 liter|
|Drive Wheels||Front-wheel drive|
Observed fuel economy: 18.6 mpg
Driving mix: 70% city, 30% highway
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 19/26/22 (mpg city/highway/combined)
Fuel type: Regular gas
Snow performance: N/A
Base price: $45,700 (not including $1295 destination charge)
Options on test vehicle: Rear Seat Entertainment Package ($1000), SX Prestige Seat Package (no cost), special paint ($495)
Price as tested: $48,690
The great: Excellent passenger room and comfort; satisfying acceleration; very respectable highway fuel economy for a vehicle of this size and power
The good: Distinctive styling; upscale trim inside and out; broad array of comfort and convenience features
The not so good: Second-row reclining “lounge” seats are of dubious value and can’t be removed; hybrid and/or all-wheel-drive powertrains not available
Let’s be honest about something right up front: Every minivan on the market today is pretty good. Really good, actually. For 2023 Consumer Guide named the Chrysler Pacifica its minivan Best Buy—this primarily for the vehicle’s deft blend of utility and luxury—but we still recommend seriously that shoppers test drive all four vehicles in the category.
We appreciate the Honda Odyssey for its stout drivetrain and sporty handling, the Toyota Sienna for its excellent fuel economy and available AWD, and the Kia Carnival because it’s cool. Seriously. The Carnival doesn’t quite match the utility or drivetrain sophistication of the other minivans for sale in the U.S., but it does trump all comers when it comes to presentation, and the Carnival presents well.
Kia wants customers to think of the Carnival as an alternative to the minivan, and not a minivan itself. Kia goes so far as to avoid using the word minivan on its own website. Check it out. If you can find the word van anywhere on this site, please let us know. Instead, Kia refers to the Carnival as an MPV (Multi-Purpose Vehicle). No one is being fooled.
That’s okay, we know the truth. And, the truth is, call it a van or not, there’s an awful lot to like about the Carnival. As a public service, we have identified the ideal buyer for the Carnival, and that’s a divorced guy with young kids who’s still in the dating game. As such, dad gets the full utility of a minivan when he has the kids, and a classy luxury ride when he’s out on the town. Call Carnival the bachelor dad party pad, and you get the idea.
The Carnival debuted as a 2022 model, replacing the stodgy Sedona in the Korean maker’s lineup. The van was—and is–a revelation style-wise, proving that even a large, slab-sided van can sport a sexy look if designers believe strongly enough in the project. The Carnival is little changed for 2023. The big news is that the entry-level LXS trim has been dropped from the lineup, and the 2nd-row captain’s chairs, previously standard on top trim levels, are now a no-cost option.
For ’23, the Carnival is available in entry LX, midlevel EX, well-equipped SX, and luxury-level SX Prestige trim levels. Base prices range from around $35,000 to around $48,000. Our test SX Prestige came to $48,690, including the now optional 2nd-row captain’s chairs—dubbed VIP Lounge Seats–which limit seating capacity to seven occupants.
So, how luxurious is a nearly $50,000 minivan, and how impressed will bachelor dad’s perspective second wives be? The answer to both questions is “very.”
Our test van arrived in classy Astra Blue with Tuscan Umber leather seating, with steel-gray accents. Instead of wood trim, the Carnival features brushed hammered-aluminum accents, as well as black-lacquer console and dash trim. The look is fresh, a little aggressive, but ultimately handsome.
In terms of passenger space, Carnival trails the voluminous Sienna, but offers about the same amount of passenger and cargo room as the Odyssey and Pacifica. But unless to plan to regularly fill the van to its limits, you’ll find the cabin open, airy, and plenty roomy.
The front-row seats are plenty comfortable, as are the reclining 2nd-row VIP chairs. As the 2nd-row seats slide both side-to-side as well as for-and-aft, access to the 3rd-row is reasonably easy. The far-back seat is roomy enough for midsize adults, but the knees-up seating position will likely prove fatiguing for larger occupants on longer journeys. Note, too, the VIP seats cannot be removed, something to considering when checking that option box.
Also worth noting that for almost $50,000, the Carnival is not available with power-folding 3rd-row seats, something all of the competition offers. Folding the seats manually, however, is not a crushing chore.
The dashboard and control layout will feel familiar to Kia—and Hyundai—loyalists, and is simply and elegantly arranged. The configurable instrument panel includes Kia’s excellent Blind-Spot View Monitor (BVM). The turn-signal activated system provides a blind-spot camera view on the instrument-panel of the lane you are signaling into. The system works for both left and right lane changes, and is incredibly useful in heavy traffic.
And, for date night, the 12-speaker Bose audio system standard on the SX Prestige should impress. After a dinner of shrimp de jonghe paired with a bottle of Terlano Terlaner Classico, a high-fidelity Spyro Gyra jam should be just the thing to help underscore our bachelor’s erudite credentials.
On the road the Carnival acquits itself well. We had noted our appreciation for the smooth power delivery of the Honda Odyssey, but the Carnival is no slouch in terms of acceleration or refined drivetrain behavior. Plus, the engine makes nice noises when pushed, but is otherwise mostly unheard.
2023 Kia Carnival SX PrestigeRide quality is also good–long-haul road trip good—though cabin noise levels on the road are somewhat higher than in the other vans. Handling is another bright spot. While no one would seriously call the Carnival, or any other minivan, sporty, the Kia comes close, with reasonably quick moves in traffic, and decently controlled roll in fast corners.
The Carnival is EPA rated at a combined 22 mpg. We got closer to the city estimate of 19 mpg in driving biased somewhat towards city operation.
So, let’s say you’re not a bachelor dad on the prowl. Instead, you just need a practical family hauler and you’d prefer your vehicle not look like every other van on the road. We strongly suggest you take the Carnival for a test drive. While it’s a little less functional than the competition, and can’t be had with AWD, it is, frankly, the coolest minivan, and perhaps the only van with real character.
2023 Kia Carnival SX Prestige Gallery
(Click below for enlarged images)