2023 Kia Carnival SX Prestige Review

There's just one thing missing from this gem

Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief

Positives: A very original minivan design both inside and out, packed with standard features that are class-leading, impressive lounge seats, smooth ride.
Negatives: No available all-wheel drive, climate controls take some getting used to, second row lounge chairs are no longer standard on the SX Prestige.
Bottom Line: The Carnival is attractive, spacious, luxurious, and it's quite good to drive. It's easily the most original minivan design in years. We just wish all-wheel drive was an option, but we still came away impressed. The Carnival is no laughing matter.
The Kia Carnival is the result of rethinking the minivan, and the result is the most stylish member of the segment that just happens to have the most cargo space and the highest levels of luxury when it's configured to the max. It can't beat the four seasons traction of the Toyota Sienna or the Chrysler Pacifia's optional all-wheel drive, but the presence of a smooth 3.5-liter V6 helps matters when it comes to the driving experience. We drove the top-trim SX Prestige for a week to see if our love for the Carnival is still there. Read our detailed review below.

Driving Experience



The Carnival manages its driving dynamics better than most minivans and SUVs, despite its lack of all-wheel drive. The lusty engine is more than capable of moving the Carnival with some thrust, as well. While we wouldn't autocross it, the Carnival does more than a decent job of steering, handling, and braking. What it does best, however, is move your family with smoothness and comfort without being totally isolating from road surfaces.

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 in-car tech is excellent, and the presence of large twin screens for instrumentation and infotainment are top-notch. There are also ample USB charging ports throughout, which means there won't be much complaining from the kids on longer trips.

Infotainment System: The 12.3" screens provide excellent viewing and good control. It's not the most responsive system we've used, but everything is easy to read and navigate. The optional rear entertainment system is pretty affordable, and easy to view, and it works with the onboard Wi-Fi so you can stream from your device. It also comes with games so your kids can find even more reason not to look outside at anything remotely interesting.

Controls: Almost all of the controls are great, 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. The metallic bar between rows of controls is a tad confusing because it doesn't control anything.




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.




Our kids adored the Carnival, which qualifies as the segment's smoothest riding and most accommodating interior. It might not have the biggest third-row space, but the optional lounge seats in row two are marvelous. Everything is well thought-out, and the quality of the materials is easily the best in the segment.

Front Seats: The seats could use a bit more cushioning, but they're still quite comfortable, and the leather is supple and rich.

Rear Seats: Our tester had the optional Captain's lounge chairs that allow the 2nd-row occupants to put their legs up, kick back, and watch the optional entertainment screens. The third-row legroom is good for adults but not as expansive as the Honda Odyssey's.

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 automatic three-zone climate system works very well, and we found that despite the sometimes confusing controls, heating and cooling the Carnival proved to be quick and easy with great airflow.




The Carnival also happens to be great regarding safety, garnering awards for crash tests and safety tech. Families should take a serious look at the Carnival because it pretty much nails the safety categories but scores only slightly worse than the Odyssey, Pacifica, and the Sienna.

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 Prestige has the full set of Kia safety features, which includes Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist, Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist, Driver Attention Warning & High Beam Assist, Lane Keeping Assist & Lane Following Assist, Parking Distance Warning, Safe Exit Assist & Highway Driving Assist, Full-Speed Smart Cruise Control, Parking Collision-Avoidance Assist, and a Surround View Monitor & Blind-Spot View Monitor.

Optional Tech: None.




The Carnival does a masterful job of providing great storage options, in addition to the largest cargo area in the segment. It beats out both the Odyssey and the Pacifica in that regard, but it utterly destroys the much smaller Sienna.

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.

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 145.1 cubic feet, beating out the rest of the field.

Fuel Economy



The Carnival is decent when it comes to efficiency, but it can't come close to the Toyota Sienna (every trim is hybrid) or the Pacifica PHEV. We drove the Carnival in Sport mode most of the time, and our numbers weren't too bad. We did mostly highway driving, but our combined number was close to the EPA estimates.

Observed: 21.8 mpg.

Distance Driven: 143 miles.




The SX Prestige comes standard with the excellent Bose premium audio system that provided great sound, bass, and clarity. It's a great system that fills the cabin with rich sound and no distortion.

Final Thoughts

The Carnival proves even more that Kia is capable of original thinking when it comes to automotive design. It looks way better than every other minivan in the segment, but it's not just a pretty face. It drives well, provides excellent levels of comfort, and it's very safe. The Carnival's tech, storage, and optional lounge seats make it one of the most attractive minivans in a very long time. Maybe for the next-generation version, it will get all-wheel drive.

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