The 2022 Kia Carnival Is the Best Minivan, But Vans Aren’t What They Used to Be

kia-carnival-sx-2022-03-angle--dynamic--exterior--front--gray.jpg 2022 Kia Carnival | photo by Christian Lantry

Minivan popularity has been in retreat since a reported peak in popularity more than two decades ago, and now just four brands field mainstream contenders. After a week spent testing the class, we’ve concluded the all-new Kia Carnival is the best minivan out there. But our enthusiasm for the group at large is tepid: Minivans, it seems, aren’t what they used to be.

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That’s not to say we don’t love minivans (we do) or that yesteryear’s models were objectively better (they weren’t). But a number of head-scratching aspects, many from misguided attempts to seem like anything other than a minivan, make the current batch of ultimate family haulers seem, well, not so ultimate after all.

Where the Dust Settled

Renamed the Carnival for 2022, Kia’s redesigned people-hauler replaces the outgoing Sedona minivan. Across 19 categories and 420 possible points, the Carnival beat out three model-year 2021 rivals: the Chrysler Pacifica and Honda Odyssey, both with substantial updates for the model year, and the redesigned Toyota Sienna, now a hybrid-only choice. As always, it’s important to contextualize these scores among the specific examples we tested, all well-equipped: a Carnival SX, Pacifica Limited, Odyssey Elite and Sienna Platinum. Our Pacifica and Sienna had optional all-wheel drive; the Carnival and Odyssey were front-wheel drive.

With 259 points awarded by our two-judge panel, myself and editor Jennifer Geiger, the Carnival topped the No. 2 Pacifica (247 points), No. 3 Odyssey (235) and No. 4 Sienna (229). Kia won with just 62% of the maximum points available in the test. That trails winners in our recent comparisons of compact sedans (the winner earned 63% of maximum points available), small affordable SUVs and mid-size SUVs (65% in both cases), and three-row SUVs (a whopping 74%). Kia’s win over the other vans is decisive, though, with 12 more points than the second-place Pacifica.

Shop the 2022 Kia Carnival near you

2022 Kia Carnival LXS
11,462 mi.
2022 Kia Carnival LXS
76,781 mi.

Tremendous Value, Plus Other Small Wins

Typical of Kia, our Carnival’s as-tested price — $42,770 including destination — fell nearly $8,000 below the group average. It was some 20% less than the as-tested Pacifica and Sienna, and though it lacked certain features present in its as-tested rivals, it felt every bit as competitive in most areas. The Carnival’s best-in-class warranty sealed an already impressive deal.

If value was the Carnival’s largest category win — it scored 35 out of 40 points, 7 points beyond the next-highest Odyssey —  Kia augmented it with a few smaller wins. Inside, high-resolution displays for the touchscreen and both the backup and in-cabin cameras give the Carnival a fresh, high-tech edge; the high-res backup camera helped give Kia a best-in-group score for outward visibility.

None of our as-tested minivans had knockout interior quality, but the Carnival plays a respectable hand, with weighty controls and soft-touch surfaces that extend to the second row, not just the first — a rarity in this group. Also rare is a good drivetrain: The Pacifica blunts its big V-6 with too much curb weight, the Odyssey suffers an indecisive transmission and the Sienna hybrid powertrain starts strong but soon plateaus. The Carnival has none of those problems. Its strong-revving V-6 matches to a decisive transmission, making quick work of passing maneuvers and off-the-line acceleration.

Downsides Aside

Checkered results characterized much of the test. The Pacifica strung together enough category wins to signal mass appeal — only to stumble badly in enough other categories to land in second place. None of the other three contenders individually won more than four categories outright, but mounting category losses relegated the Sienna and Odyssey to the bottom half of overall rankings. The Carnival won just four categories outright, but it lost badly in no other areas.

That’s not to say Kia, like the others, didn’t have its share of head-scratchers. Hard-to-use touch-sensitive buttons have invaded portions of the center controls, a concerning development that’s spreading anew. Like its Sedona predecessor, the Carnival abandons the traditional minivan floor console — a setup that preserves floor-level storage space below the center controls — for a carlike flow-through console with more bulk than utility. Taking a page out of sportier SUVs, Kia, Honda and Toyota all have curiously firm suspension tuning for their minivans; only Chrysler’s soft tuning gets it right. If the Carnival’s firm ride and powerful engine suggest good handling, Kia lets you down: It feels immediately out of place on curvy roads.

But the Odyssey and Pacifica also stink it up on the handling front. You get the idea: Flaws peppered all four contenders, and more than a few were eminently avoidable. Our ultimate minivan might combine the Pacifica’s ride quality and interior versatility with the Odyssey’s storage areas, the Carnival’s drivetrain and cabin tech, and the Sienna’s handling chops.

Nothing of the sort exists, but the Carnival is ultimately the closest thing to it — its strengths sometimes towering, its weaknesses mild. It might very well be the best minivan for you. But we must caution that your needs may differ. As always, we recommend you size up our scores in any of the 19 categories you care about most to determine which minivan suits you best.

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey Mays

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