Payne: Put yer feet up in the bold, cavernous Kia Carnival minivan

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 29, 2021

The new Kia Carnival minivan wants you to know that it’s good looking. It’s a minivan thing, I get it. Minivans are insecure next to their high-riding, muscular SUV peers. So Carnival has raided its hot Telluride and Sorento siblings’ closets to outfit itself with a big grille, boxy stance and bold wheel arches. Nice.

The 2022 Kia Carnival gets dynamic styling to contrast with rounder, less-bold designs from other Asian competitors.

But I want to talk about the awesome Barcaloungers inside.

Because, like pickups and their beds, cavernous interiors make minivans unique. Carnival, embrace your minivan-ness! Your roomy interior blows away SUVs. Reputations are made in the minivan circus with second-row seat tricks (Chrysler’s Stow ‘n’ Go, Honda’s magic sliding seat), and Kia has something to say.

Behold the “VIP Lounge chair” — two of them — available on the top, SX Prestige trim. Prestige will set you back $47,00 but will trump the back seat of a $100,000 Audi A8L. Check out these thrones.

I pressed the rear door handle button and the sliding door — open sesame! — receded automatically. Try that in your Audi. Then I slipped my 6’5” frame into an ocean of caramel leather, my elbows resting on twin armrests. With the push of a button, the chair began to flatten like my grandfather’s living room chair. An ottoman popped up under my legs. The seat back went … All. The. Way. Back.

The 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige trim offers fancy Barcaloungers for the second row.

If there were kids in the third row, they would have been flattened.

OK, so that may be a problem in families with four kids. I can hear the rear seat wars now (I still remember my backseat battles with my sister, and we didn’t have Barcaloungers to fight over). No wonder Kia options Carnival with a rear-seat camera so Mom and Dad can keep an eye on things. As a helpful distraction for the kiddies, Netflix can be streamed in the rear seat screens.

Standard on Carnival is a second-row bench seat that is clever in its own right. The middle section will slide forward so front passengers can attend to, say, a car-seated child. Or the middle seat can be converted into a table. That’s minivan cool right there.

The 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige features second-row recliners with arms and foot rest. Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne kicks back.

Cool seats. Roomy interior. Bold exterior (Ford Flex fans in withdrawal, this is your vehicle.). So how does it stack up to King Pacifica, the reigning master of the minivan segment?

Carnival is handsome, and it’s got to be, in a segment Pacifica redefined. The Chrysler is one of my Top Ten vehicles, a comprehensive piece of automotive genius from its sculpted exterior (recently updated to look more SUV-like) to its innovative interior.

The Carnival may have VIP lounge seats, but the Pacifica’s interior tour de force includes a vacuum cleaner, kick-open sliding doors, sliding console drawer, and the ability to bury both rear rows under the floor (Carnival manages only the third row) or remove the second row entirely.

After spending time in the back of a Pacifica a few years ago, the first-grade child of a Tesla owner said to me: “Mr. Payne, this car is better than my dad’s Model S!”

Pacifica just keeps piling on the goodies, and for 2021 now options all-wheel drive and a plug-in hybrid with 30 miles of range for local commutes. For all this bling, the Pacifica is still a remarkable value. Where Kia traditionally dominates Detroit manufacturers in value (price a Telluride next to a Ford Explorer sometime), Pacifica is neck-and-neck with Carnival pricing.

The posh interior of the 2022 Kia Carnival includes an option for caramel leather seats.

Indeed, it’s Chrysler that brings the segment’s value player with the under-$30,000 Voyager minivan — essentially a last-gen-styled Pacifica that undercuts Carnival by two grand. Rock on, Motown.

Features aside, however, Carnival will turn heads for the brand’s bulletproof reputation. Think #1 on JD Power’s 2021 three-year U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study. That, and the eye-grabbing 100,000-mile drivetrain warranty. That reliability is gold for families whose western road trips (guilty as charged) are built around their vehicles. And I’ve been asked more than once about Chrysler’s basement-level quality ratings.

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne reclines in the 2022 Kia Carnival's econd-row recliners. A console camera keeps an eye on him.

Pleasing looks aside, the Carnival also takes a page from the V-6-powered Pacifica’s playbook in tech and drivetrain. The infotainment system is superb, with lots of clever touches. The turn signal triggers a camera that shows your blind spot in the instrument display. A microphone enables communication to the distant third row. And the display is upgradable to a sweeping all-digital screen that brings to mind a Merc.

Under the hood is a good ol’ reliable V-6 that puts out a healthy 290 horses and can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Ultimately, the Carnival will be compared against its Telluride sibling, which is the pride of the Kia litter. A loaded Telluride SX with Prestige package — Nappa leather seats, head-up display, sultry headlights — costs about the same as my Carnival Prestige tester.

The 2022 Kia Carnival's V6 tows 3,500 pounds while boasting 290 horsepower.

But the Telluride won’t let you recline in Barcalounger comfort. Minivan, take a bow.

2022 Kia Carnival

Vehicle type: Front engine, front-wheel-drive, seven-passenger minivan

Price: $33,275, including $1,175 destination fee ($42,770 SX and $47,770 SX Prestige models as tested)

Powerplant: 3.5-liter V-6

Power: 290 horsepower, 262 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.0 seconds (Car and Driver); towing capacity, 3.500 pounds

Weight: 4,727 pounds (SX Prestige as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 19 city/26 highway/22 combined

Report card

Highs: Interior dexterity; one word — Barcaloungers

Lows: No all-wheel-drive option; awesome Barcaloungers may cause backseat kid wars

Overall: 3 stars

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