|Positives: Beautifully styled inside and out, looks more like an SUV than a breadbox minivan, sublime interior design and ergonomics, capable engine and good driving dynamics, brilliant seating configurations.|
|Negatives: No available all-wheel drive.|
|Bottom Line: The Carnival is easily our favorite minivan, even better than the new Toyota Sienna, largely because it oozes style, quality, and versatility above and beyond what we expected. It drives well, looks great, and has just about everything a family would want, including that all-important non-minivan look.|
Minivans have historically not been great to drive since they tend to be nose heavy and more geared towards comfort than sharpness. The Carnival, however, is actually quite good to drive given its purpose and dimensions. It feel buttoned up for something this big, and the engine, though noisy at full throttle, provides enough power for it to manage freeway on-ramps and high-speed cruising without a problem. All the while, it manages a comfortable ride for the whole family.
Ride Quality: There's some mild firmness, which we like, and it doesn't feel totally isolated and mushy. It manages bumps and pavement gaps very well.
Acceleration: The 290-hp V6 and the 8-speed automatic work well-together to produce solid acceleration and downshifts. It'll hit 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, but it feels quicker than that. It's quicker than the Toyota Sienna but slower than the Chrysler Pacifica (gas) and the Honda Odyssey.
Braking: The Carnival's brakes have good modulation and exhibit no dead spots or that dreaded mushy pedal feel. We had no problem bringing it to a stop, even loaded with five people and luggage.
Steering: Steering is responsive, and turn-in is good. Steering feedback is mostly absent, however, and the effort is light.
Handling: The Carnival manages to keep its body roll mostly in check, and it never really felt out of sorts. The dampers are well-tuned, and handling is quite predictable, not something we can say about most minivans.
The technology in the Carnival is one of its strongest points, and that's important for a minivan. There are also ample USB charging ports throughout, which means there won't be much complaining from the kids on longer trips. Our tester didn't have digital instrument cluster, which would've look great with the large infotainment screen since they share the same frame on the dash.
Infotainment System: The 12.3" screen in the SX is clear and vivid. It's not the most responsive system we've used, but everything is easy to read and navigate. The optional rear entertainment system is marvelous and works with the onboard Wi-Fi so you can stream from your device. It also comes packed with games for the kiddos.
Controls: Almost all of the controls are top notch, including the conventional gearshift knob, the steering wheel controls, and the seat temperature levers. We just don't like the HVAC controls, which are touch only. There's also a useless silver accent bar between the two temperature switches. It seems like it performs an operation, but it just serves to separate functions. A simple line would've been less confusing.
While the Carnival isn't the most attractive vehicle on the road, it is easily the handsomest one in the segment by virtue of its SUV-like styling, adventurous details, and a sublime interior. We applaud Kia for taking a big risk and coming out with a true differentiator in the segment. It's just too bad the Carnival doesn't have optional All-Wheel Drive, which would've been consistent with its SUV looks.
Front: The nose slopes far less than every other minivan, and the result is an SUV-look that's intentional. The "Tiger Nose" grille is textured and contoured, pairing well with the headlights and driving lights that are framed inside it.
Rear: The sophisticated, thin taillights look great here, capped with a red lens that spans the full width of the rear.
Profile: The most convincing perspective that shows of the Carnival's SUV styling comes by way of a long hood, a full-length crease that incorporates the sliding door track, and our favorite part, the textured metal "Q-Bert-esque" hockey stick detail from the C-pillar back.
Cabin: This could qualify as a luxury vehicle with its two-tone upholstery, excellent ergonomics, and the open layout that makes the interior look even bigger than it already is. Every seat looks high-end, and the finishing is excellent. It's hard to believe you get this kind of interior for the low $40ks.
There aren't many vehicles that are this comfortable and room for so many people, and the high-adjustability of the seating configuration in row two makes the Carnival even more appealing. There's tons of room in all three rows, and no-one will feel claustrophobic stretched out in this family hauler.
Front Seats: The SynTex fabric really does look and feel like real leather. It's nicer than some leather appointed interiors, really, and it had us fooled until we looked at the Monroney sticker. They're supportive and decently bolstered, too.
Rear Seats: Each of the three sections in row two slides forward and back. The middle section slides into the foot compartment of row three at its farthest position, which makes for a great configuration to keep the kids separated while also maximizing the cargo space with row three folded flat.
NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The build quality is excellent, and we didn't notice any rattles or creaks while driving. The engine can be noisy when you mash the gas, but it's not an unpleasant or overly intrusive sound.
Visibility: Windows are huge all around, and visibility is excellent. The great seating position contributes to this, as well.
Climate: The climate system works well, and all three rows heat and cool quickly.
The Carnival also happens to be great when it comes to safety, garnering top awards for crash tests and safety tech. Families should take a serious look at the Carnival, as result.
IIHS Rating: It misses the Top Safety Pick+ by a hair due to "poor" headlights and "acceptable" LATCH ease of use, but it nails the crash tests and gets "superior" accident avoidance tech.
NHTSA Rating: Not tested.
Standard Tech: The SX comes standard with Kia DRIVEWISE Driver Assist Technology, Forward Collision Avoidance, Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist, Rear-Cross Traffic Collision Avoidance, Safe Exit Assist & Highway Driving Assist, Lane Keeping Assist & Lane Following Assist, and Smart Cruise Control w/ Stop & Go.
Optional Tech: None.
What's a great minivan without oodles of storage options and great cargo capacity. Well, the Carnival is at the top of the heap in both of these regards, and there's no shortage of cubbies and caverns for all your family's gear.
Storage Space: Even though there's a conventional shifter, the center console has plenty of room. We love the phone holder between the two cupholders, as well as the large front compartment, the big armrest and large door pockets. The center seat in row two also folds flat with a tray and cupholders.
Cargo Room: The cargo section is a huge 40.2 cubic feet when all the seats are in place, which is #1 in the segment. Overall cargo space with the seats folded flat is a whopping 144.9 cubes, bigger than the rest of the minivan pack.
The only two minivans that are semi-misers are the Sienna (all are hybrid) and the Pacifica Hybrid. The Kia isn't bad, but don't look for it to break any efficiency records. It's about what we expect for a minivan. We did a lot of highway miles fully laden and in Sport mode, so it came out pretty well given the circumstances.
Observed: 23.4 mpg.
Distance Driven: 701 miles.
The stock sound system is pretty good, and we didn't notice any issues. Most of the time, we were listening to our kids scream, so it was hard to utilize it to its full capabilities. There was no distortion, and the bass was pretty good. Our tester did not come with the Bose premium system that's standard on the SX Prestige.