2023 Kia Carnival Review: Minivan with style

·10 min read


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Pros: Stylish; great tech; trick second-row seat options

Cons: No hybrid or all-wheel-drive option; comparatively small third row

The 2023 Kia Carnival is guaranteed to wow you in the minivan segment. And no, Kia does not call it a minivan — it uses “MPV," which is basically the European word for minivan — but everything about the Carnival’s feel, ride and drives screams minivan. And that’s OK! Minivan are cool, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Not only are they cool, but the Carnival is the coolest with wild features like the VIP Lounge second row seats. Show up to the school drop-off line in one outfitted like the Carnival in the photos above, and you’re sure to turn a few curious heads.

Of course, utility is still king when it comes to the Carnival. Its box-like shape leaves you with a plethora of cargo space and rear seat legroom that is similar to or more than many of its competitors. If you don’t want the fancy VIP seats, Kia offers the unique "Captain Kirk" seat in the eight-passenger Carnival. Opt for the top trims, and the interior is slathered in eye-catching trim, massive screens and tons of tech.

We’re disappointed that the Carnival doesn’t offer powertrain options to compete with alternatives like the hybrid-only Sienna and Pacifica PHEV, though. They have a gigantic fuel economy advantage that could be reason enough to chose one of those rather than the big Kia. Furthermore, the Carnival doesn't offer all-wheel drive as the Toyota and Chrysler do. Still, if fuel economy and AWD are not priorities, the Carnival is well deserving of a spot on your shortlist. It may even look enough like an SUV to convince minivan detractors to give it a chance, too.

Interior & Technology   |   Passenger & Cargo Space   |   Performance & Fuel Economy

What it's like to drive   |   Pricing & Trim Levels   |   Crash Ratings & Safety Features

What's new for 2023?

Kia doesn’t change a lot for 2023, and all the minor changes take place inside. The SX trim snags the 12.3-inch full digital instrument cluster that was previously exclusive to the SX Prestige. Additionally, the SX Prestige gets a new standard seat configuration. Instead of the reclining VIP Lounge seats coming standard, the regular model’s 8-seat configuration is the standard setup. You can optionally add the VIP seats if you want those instead now.


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What are the Carnival’s interior and in-car technology like?

The Carnivals pictured on this page represent the nicest you're going to find. Both the SX and SX Prestige (pictured above) are the range-topping models, and with them you get improved materials quality and far more equipment. Keep this in mind before expecting to see multiple big screens and VIP Lounge seats in a $33,000 base van -- you can't even get those on the regular SX, they're optional on the Prestige only. Still, there's not as much of a drop-off in terms of quality and ambiance as you'll find in various Toyota Sienna trim levels, and every Carnival has a more upscale look and feel than the appliance-like Honda Odyssey. We should also note that although most of the Carnival's "wow" features are available in other minivans, none offer the same number of them in the same place.

The standard infotainment set-up consists of traditional analog gauges and a user-friendly 8-inch touchscreen that does look a bit cheap in a housing clearly intended for something bigger. That would be the 12.3-inch infotainment screen that arrives with the EX trim. The gauges get swapped out for the all-digital instrument panel in the SX and SX Prestige only. Both SX trims are available with seatback touchscreens (much like the Chrysler Pacifica) that includes Netflix and YouTube apps, plus Kia's Sounds of Nature white noise programs (parents of small kids will know why this is a big deal). Carnivals with the 8-inch screen include wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but those with the 12.3-inch screen require a wired connection. Every trim but the base LX has have access to a wireless charger, while every trim has multiple USB ports per seating row. The SX and SX Prestige have 115-volt inverters — one on the back of the center console and one in the rear cargo area — for accessories with a standard two- or three-prong plug.

How big is the Carnival?

Buyers choose between seven-seat or eight-seat configurations like all the other minivans, but that's where the comparisons stop. The eight-passenger configuration we review in more depth here (pictured above, bottom left and right) features a unique center seat that slides far forward and all the way back to the third row and beyond. This can be handy when trying to stuff as many car seats as possible aboard, or just to create unique seating and cargo configurations. There are then two seven-seat configurations. The first one basically removes the eight-passenger's middle seat and adds in-board armrests to the remaining captain's chairs. The second one, exclusive to and optional on the SX Prestige (pictured above, top left and right), are dubbed VIP Lounge seats due to their massive recline and pop-up footrests. This would be a great choice for families with older children.

The Carnival has a smaller third row than its rivals. Legroom is just 35.6 inches, which is about 2 inches less than the next smallest, the Toyota Sienna, and 3 inches less than the Pacifica, which is the clear winner for full-house comfort. That third row is still plenty acceptable, and although the others are roomier, you may not actually notice.

Kia quotes the best cargo capacity in the business at 40.2 cubic feet behind the third row. Kia also (just barely) boasts the most overall interior space at 145.1 cubic feet, but the Odyssey is nearly tied. Unfortunately, you can’t have the VIP seats and all that cargo room, since those seats don’t fold flat, and they’re not removable either. Slide them forward, and you still have a large, flat space, but it’s a real utility downer compared to other minivans with more flexibility. If you need the space, skip the VIP seats on the SX Prestige. The eight-passenger SX is pictured below with its unique middle seat pushed all the way back.

What are the Carnival’s fuel economy and performance specs?

Kia keeps it simple with the Carnival and only offers one powertrain configuration. It comes with a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 290 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. This is sent through an eight-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels. The Carnival has more horsepower than other minivans, but not by a wide margin. All-wheel drive is not available.

Fuel economy is respectable at 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. That’s right on par with the rest of the V6-powered minivans out there, but you will be burning substantially more gas than if you chose the hybrid-only Toyota Sienna or Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid. Kia has a terrific hybrid powertrain available in the Sportage and Sorento. It's a shame Kia can't make something similar work in the Carnival.

What's the Carnival like to drive?

Out on the road, the engine feels torquey, and is happy to spin the front wheels from a stop at full throttle. The engine sounds good, too, mostly quiet in normal running, but issuing a controlled growl under hard acceleration. The Carnival feels swift and never left us wanting when merging onto a busy highway with a short on-ramp.

It steers confidently, with a nice weight building up in the wheel through corners. The suspension is slightly on the taut side, giving a good feel of the road, with the downside of transmitting more road noise into the cabin — it’s a big box, and it sounds like one. You can have more fun swinging it around than a comparable SUV, but the Sienna is still the best-handling minivan. Long highway trips are pleasant due to the Highway Drive Assist doing most the work for you, and the Bose audio system is great for masking the road noise that intrudes into the cabin. The Carnival will leave you feeling refreshed after covering a ton of ground, which is just what a minivan needs to do.

What other Kia Carnival reviews can I read?

2022 Kia Carnival First Drive Review | The stylish one

Our first experience behind the wheel. We provide initial impressions and all the details about the van you might want to know.

 

The Eight-Passenger 2022 Kia Carnival has a 'Captain Kirk chair'

An in-depth review of the eight-passenger Kia Carnival and it's unique, second-row sliding middle seat we dub the "Captain Kirk chair."

 

2022 Kia Carnival vs the other minivans | How they compare on paper

If you like specs, here’s where you’ll find the Kia Carnival compared to all the other minivans.

What is the 2023 Carnival’s price?

Pricing for the 2023 Kia Carnival can be found below, broken down into the available trim levels of LX, EX, SX and SX Prestige. All include the $1,335 destination charge.

  • LX: $34,235

  • EX: $39,735

  • SX: $42,935

  • SX-Prestige: $47,335

For family duty hauling lots of folks around, both the LX and EX are great values. The LX includes many essentials, and the luxuries added by the EX are worth the extra coin. Notable features for the EX include 19-inch alloy wheels, rear sun shades, eight-passenger seating, leatherette seats, long-sliding rails for the rear seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a power liftgate, tri-zone climate control, and most important of all, many of Kia’s neat in-cabin tech features. These include the Cabin Camera (view of rear rows in the screen), Cabin Intercom, Quiet Mode (turns off rear speakers for sleeping occupants) and adaptive cruise control with Kia’s sublime Highway Drive Assist.

The SX Prestige adds all of the high-class luxury features — the VIP seats are a free option if you’d rather have them over the 8-passenger layout. The only pay-for package on the SX Prestige is the available rear seat entertainment package for $1,000.

You can find a full breakdown of features, specs and local pricing here on Autoblog.

What are the Carnival’s safety ratings and driver assistance features?

Most of the important features come standard on the 2023 Carnival. Driver assistance features on the base LX include forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, blind spot warning w/collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic alert w/collision avoidance, rear parking sensors, rear occupant alert, and a “safe exit assist” feature that watches for cars approaching from the rear when exiting into a street. Stepping up to higher trims unlocks features such as forward collision avoidance for cyclists, rear automatic emergency braking, 360-degree camera, front parking sensors and Highway Driving Assist. The SX and SX-Prestige gets the enhanced blind-spot warning system featuring a live camera feed that won our 2020 Technology of the Year Award.

The 2022 Carnival (2023 ratings not available at time of publishing) was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It received top marks for its crash worthiness and forward collision avoidance tech. Its standard headlights received a "Poor" rating, though, while the SX Prestige got the best-possible "Good" rating. Ratings from the National Highway Traffic Administration are not yet available.

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