Home » The 2024 Kia Carnival Is Low-Key The Best Family Car You Can Buy

The 2024 Kia Carnival Is Low-Key The Best Family Car You Can Buy

Carnival Review 3
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When everyone tells me the same thing, my first instinct is not to believe them, it’s to doubt them. So when all my auto writer pals told me that the Kia Carnival was an almost unmatched road-tripping vehicle I wondered how it could meet my heightened expectations. Reader, it didn’t. It surpassed them.

Kia has made a considerable effort to label the Carinval a seven- or eight-passenger MPV and not a minivan, I suppose hoping to avoid the soccer mom stigma or, perhaps, to conjure up images of the beloved and gone Mazda5 [Editor’s note: No mention of Biz Markie? -TH]. I’m not sure it’s worked, but Kia also put considerable effort into making this the perfect family hauler and, frankly, it’s so good they can call it a luxury sports coupe and I’d probably give them a pass.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

There are no bad minivans on the market and all of them make great road trip machines. The trick to the Carnival is that everything works so well and so harmoniously in such an attractive package at such a good price that I don’t think anything else can touch it now that the Ford Flex is gone. It’s this or a used Flex, those are your options.

(Full disclosure: I bumped into a buddy at Kia and asked when I could get into a Carnival and he promised one by the end of the year, which timed out nicely with a holiday trip I needed to do. They actually shipped the whole thing from CA to NY so I got it factory-fresh with a tank of gas. I returned the favor by having all the mini M&Ms vacuumed out of it – MH)

What Is The Kia Carnival?

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Here’s an actual conversation that took place in the Carnival:

Wife: I can’t believe I want a minivan, but I want this.

Me: Actually, it’s an MPV.

Wife:…

Kid: More like an MVP, right?

Whatever you want to call it, it’s a large-ish van with a tailgate, sliding doors on each side, and the option of either a seven-seat configuration with second-row captain’s chairs or an eight-passenger layout with two rows of benches. It’s based on the same platform as pretty much every other larger front-wheel drive Kia/Hyundai vehicle and comes only with a V6 and only with an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s not a perfect vehicle and lacks the efficiency of some of its competitors, which is an issue that’s likely to soon be fixed.

The Basics

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Price: $33,200 base LX, $46,300 SX Prestige, $49,480 as tested (with dual screen rear entertainment and $1,365 destination charge)

Engine: 3.5-liter GDI V6

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Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Drivetrain: Front-wheel-drive

Horsepower: 290 horsepower at 6,400 rpm

Torque: 262 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,000 rpm

Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, 22 mpg combined

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Body Style: Five-door van

Curb Weight: 4,727 pounds

How Does It Look?

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I saw a Kia Sedona out on the street and it’s hard to imagine that the Sedona is somehow the predecessor to the Carnival. There’s no nice way to say this, but the Sedona looks like it plays the sousaphone. IYKYK.

2012 Kia Sedona

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We did a whole podcast with one of Kia’s main designers and he explains why the cars look so good. This does not look like a minivan. The new Toyota Sienna looks confusingly bug-like, the Honda Odyssey is needlessly fussy, and the Chrysler Pacifica was handsomer before the refresh.

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Compared to its competition or, really, any car, the Carnival is taut and elegant. I had someone think it was an SUV due, I think, to the short front and rear overhang and muscular door lines. The DLO (daylight opening, aka the windows on the side) also has a proportionality to the doors that feels un-minivan.

[Ed Note: I feel like we’re splitting hairs, here. I mean, if this thing didn’t have sliding doors, wouldn’t it be an SUV? -DT]

The metallic textured C-pillar is the little flourish that really ties the design together and it nicely mimics the effect on the grille. It looks premium and expensive.

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How About The Inside?

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I put about 2,000 miles on the Carnival and rarely has 2,000 miles felt so effortless. The heated and ventilated front seats were just firm enough to keep my tuckus from falling asleep on long hauls. The dual 12.3-inch panoramic screens are sensibly placed and make for easy viewing

This is the SX Prestige model with the optional second-row powered VIP “Lounge” seats, which offer an almost full, first-class recline as well as also being heated and ventilated. Here’s my daughter and her buddy about 15 minutes into a trip to a museum if you want to know how comfortable those are:

Kia Carnival Interior

Her seat is mostly reclined and has the footstool up so she can full-on chillax. Her buddy is flat-out asleep. Because I’m picking up some grandparents for the drive, you can see that the foldable third-row seats are also engaged. The second-row seats can actually move both laterally and fore/aft depending on how you want to configure the interior:

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With the seats down, there’s plenty of room for an IKEA run, which I quickly did before having to give the van back (something I was loathe to do):

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Is the interior the best interior I’ve ever seen? Not quite. There are more buttons on this car than can be found in some cars, but a few touch capacitive and piano black bits remain. The Stow ‘n Go seats in the Pacifica are the industry’s gold standard and the Kia’s hideaway third-row seats work, but they don’t have that Chrysler ease.

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I’d also kill the rear seat entertainment package. The screens look nice and I appreciate that no remote control is needed, but the kids just want iPads these days.

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Also, my daughter is now offended when she sees something that seems too “babyish.”

The VIP lounge seats are a sweet touch and everyone loved them, but if I buy one of these (I might) I’m definitely going to try for the eight-passenger setup because I respect the utility. I might get outvoted here.

What’s It Like To Drive

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Should I put the pic of the kid asleep in here again with my daughter giving the old this guy jab?

The way to judge a minivan is not on its ability to hold the road (it holds it just fine), rather, most owners care that it can smoothly transmit partial genetic copies of themselves from one place to the next.

Here is where the Carnival excels. It’s just a MacPherson strut-type suspension ahead of the driver and a multilink setup out back. There’s nothing particularly novel about that. It’s the tuning here that prioritizes a Charmin-soft ride without sacrificing handling on the rare times you find yourself bored enough to try and hoon a minivan.

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With almost 300 horsepower on tap from the same direct-injection V6 that Kia/Hyundai use across their line, the Carnival isn’t slow (Car and Driver managed to get one to 60 mph in seven seconds flat). Even better, it doesn’t feel slow, thanks to an honest-to-Iacocca eight-speed conventional automatic. No CVT nonsense here.

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All that power is going to the front wheels, so if you want to beat on it, you can induce a little wheel chirp under hard acceleration. Understeer? Yeah, you can get understeer if that’s your bag, which makes it just like every other minivan.

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One of Kia’s great features is that it offers most of its advanced driver assistance features on all trims, which include lane keep assist and rear cross-traffic collision avoidance. All but the base trims also get Highway Driving Assist. I’m not a huge cruise control person, but I did try the Highway Driving Assist, which is a Level 2 ADAS system that combines radar cruise control and lane keeping assist with GPS data about road speed and curves. I liked it and used it more than I expected.

Gee, This Seems Perfect, What’s The Catch?

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Other than the sliding doors, which are awesome but seem to scare some people, the fuel economy is not great. Kia says it’ll get just 19 MPG in the city and 26 MPG on the highway. I managed a much better 24 MPG around the city and up to 30 MPG for long stretches on the highway, but this doesn’t stack up well against the competition.

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On the lower end, the Kia compares favorably with the Honda Odyssey, which is 19/28/22 (city/highway/combined). The Pacifica Hybrid is 30 MPG combined and 82 MPG combined if plugged in first. The best comparison is probably to the Toyota Sienna 2WD Hybrid, which offers 36/36/36.

The good news is that a Kia Carnival Hybrid is almost certainly coming in 2025 and that should fix this one glaring issue. The only other piece that isn’t ideal is the road noise is a little high for this class, which sounded to me like it was caused by the Continental CrossClimate tires.

Does The 2024 Kia Carnival Fulfill Its Purpose?

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Hell yeah it does. I had another dad come up to me after an ultimate frisbee game and he was so excited to see the car. He told me he has almost exactly the same one and it rules. He still feels this way after buying at the height of new car prices and apparently putting down $10,000 over the sticker price.

I’m used to people stopping me to talk about pink Porsches and the like, but not for a minivan. If you need to move people then you can hardly move people more easily or more comfortably than this.

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How Would You Build One?

I’m glad you asked. The pricing here is really stellar, starting almost $6,000 less than a base Pacifica and about $4,000 off of the Toyota Sienna. The high level of standard features means that you don’t get that much more for the super lux-o SX Prestige (which itself is $6k off the starting price of the Pinnacle Pacifica, which isn’t as nice).

Kia Carnival Build Sheet

I got the EX because I like the passenger talk system that allows you to talk to the rearmost passenger, I want Highway Driving Assist, and the Flare Red paint looks great. I also added carpeted floor mats. That’s just a hair over $40,000, delivered, for a vehicle that does pretty much everything I’d need a car to do. That’s hard to beat.

What’s The Punctum Of The 2024 Kia Carnival?

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This is a USB port built into the rear of the front passenger seat for use by the rear passenger. This is the ideal place to put one of these. Everything in the Kia Carnival just makes sense. It’s a vehicle that makes sense.

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(Photo credits: Matt Hardigree, Kia)

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Pedro
Pedro
2 months ago

Those mpg numbers in 2023 are shameful (and KIA is not alone), but this seems a prime candidate for plug in hybrid tech.. Also EV 9 coming – many many e-MPG.

Nicholas Adams
Nicholas Adams
3 months ago

Wish they offered it in AWD. Living in a snowy state, it matters.

My ideal vehicle is probably a jacked up Sienna hybrid AWD. I know they make lift kits, but I’m not sure why no manufacturer has decided to bridge the gap between minivan cargo excellence and SUV ride height. MPGs? The Sienna could lose a couple and still be class leading. Give it to me Toyota!

Luke8512
Luke8512
3 months ago

Validation!!! The one the you speced out, is the exact one I bought!

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
3 months ago

KIA must have done something right. I feel like I’m suddenly seeing these things everywhere. Two have shown up on my street alone. New Oddesys and Siennas, not so much and Pacificas are like unicorns around here. I guess they are filling a gap in the market.

I know someone who got one just before the holidays and loves it. He doesn’t daily drive it, but uses it to get his rather large family out of town to the cabin. Including grandparents and their mobility stuff. He told me he is pleasantly surprised by how much better the fuel economy is than he was told to expect.

He upgraded from a passenger version of the Transit connect, so maybe he is an oddball example. He did say the Transit was a hell of a lot easier to manoeuvre and park, but didn’t have the same space or refinement.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
3 months ago

They really are all over the place even compared to Sedonas. The over 43,000 Carnivals they sold in 2023 was the best minivan sales year Kia had since the mid-2000s, when minivans made up 6% or more overall market share. Peaked at 61k sold in 2004, last broke the 40k mark in 2007 by less than 500 units. Heck, only broke the 30k mark once since then, in 2015 with 36.7k.

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