Spacious and flexible, approachable and safe -- the minivan is a marvel of suburban utility. The problem is that most people don't actually want to be seen driving one, so many shoppers skew toward cooler-looking SUVs. To combat this, the major players in the class have pushed minivan design in a direction that's perhaps best described as "sci-fi bullet train" with mixed results.
Kia's solution to the problem of uncool perception is to dress its new 2022 Carnival "multipurpose vehicle" in SUV cosplay. The result is a minivan that boasts all of the advantages and amenities of its classmates while standing aesthetically apart with sport utility style.
The Carnival wears an upright, boxy design with a front end shaped more like Kia's Telluride than the Sedona it replaces. Details like the L-shaped, chrome C-pillars break up the minivan's profile and, along with the sculpted wheel arches and dark lower sills, help pull the eye upward to create the appearance of a taller, more rugged ride. At first glance, the Carnival looks almost exactly like a full-size SUV from most angles, but then you notice the reversed handles and tracks for the sliding doors, and suddenly the minivan-ness of the silhouette becomes apparent.
The Carnival's power sliding doors open to reveal a spacious interior that's available in seven- or eight-passenger configurations. The standard eight-seat setup features a 40/20/40-split second-row bench with a center section that can fold over to create a table-like armrest for the outboard seats. The bench can also slide far enough forward allowing front seat passengers to easily reach a car seat. The second row can also be completely removed when you need to access the Carnival's maximum 145.1 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Upgrade from the base LX to an EX or SX model and the cloth upholstery is replaced with artificial leather. Step up to the top spec SX Prestige for real leather trim and a pair of power-adjustable VIP seats in place of the second-row bench. These luxurious buckets automatically recline or return upright at the touch of a button, and they feature heated and cooled surfaces and can even deploy footrests for maximum relaxation. The Prestige setup elevates the Carnival from a nicely appointed family hauler to a fairly luxurious shuttle with more passenger space, more cargo capacity and easier entry than a taller SUV can offer. With the third row folded flat, I can slide the VIP seats far enough back for a full recline and leg extension, even with the front seats in a comfortable driving position. Try doing that in an Escalade.
The seven-seat SX Prestige isn't without its compromises, however. The nonremovable VIP seats mean this trim maxes out at 86.9 cubes of cargo capacity behind the second row, and getting to the third row is more of a squeeze.
Speaking of that standard third row, there's plenty of legroom back there for two average-size adults, and enough shoulder space for three kids. Pulling a strap quickly folds the 60/40 split bench flat into the Carnival's floor, and a single pull lifts it back up, leaving a still-impressive 40.2 cubic feet for cargo.
On the options list, you'll find Kia's smart power tailgate, which automatically opens the hatch when you approach the rear of the vehicle with the key in your pocket. I usually find this feature extremely annoying, but Kia must have improved its detection logic from earlier applications. I experienced almost no false-positive accidental openings during my testing, and the tailgate now automatically closes when you walk away, making loading groceries or other cargo a truly hands-free process.