Mountain Wheels: Kia’s Carnival blends the world of SUV and futuristic minivan |

Mountain Wheels: Kia’s Carnival blends the world of SUV and futuristic minivan

Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels
Designed as a bulky, multipassenger vehicle that’s still pretty cool looking, the new Kia Carnival mixes up minivan utility with more minivan utility.
Andy Stonehouse/Courtesy photo

There are still many driving families out there for whom a massive SUV is not quite the right answer to their multiperson journeys — or load of kid-related cargo.

To provide what is perhaps the most futuristic answer to that need, and to largely transcend the ignominy faced by those who spent their childhoods in earlier-generation minivans, Kia has a new answer. Especially since domestic carmakers, besides Chrysler’s Pacifica and its fleet-only Voyager, have largely abandoned that space.

Say hello to the very distinctive Kia Carnival. No exotic “e” on its name, as I initially thought; just wholesome, California-designed, American-focused, seven-or-eight-person, people-moving power wrapped up with showy features and great capability.

Kia itself does not hold back any punches, highlighting “bold and boxy” as a positive attribute here and positioning Carnival as sort of a minivan/SUV blend — much as Pacifica, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna have also tried to shed the minivan label. You probably know which of those have opted to add all-wheel drive or hybrid versions to their lineup; for the moment, Carnival is simply front-wheel drive and powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine.

Whatever the case, it’s a big leap from the outgoing Sedona, with looks that are very much in line with the impossible-to-find Telluride full-size and the somewhat smaller Sorento SUVs. It also feels about as big as a Chevy Tahoe, though the center of gravity and the various passenger access points are much lower to the ground.

That means 168 cubic feet of passenger room and 145.1 cubic feet of cargo room, the latter of which outclasses even the new taller and more capacious Chevy Suburban. It rides on a 121.7-inch wheelbase and is 203 inches long; Tahoe is only 8 inches longer. That bigness means a lot of territory in parking spaces, so the surround-view mirror, 360-degree camera and reverse-collision-avoidance sensors certainly help.

There are four trim levels, and mine was the nearly top-of-the-line SX priced at an attractive $42,770 with a list of options that might cost that much alone on a German import, if they made not-quite minivans. That means dual (and just slightly in-the-way) rear video screens, sci-fi-style elevated roof rails, 19-inch wheels and ventilated seats, while a snazzy Ceramic Silver paint job was an extra $495.

That V-6 also gives it 290 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, which is a lot of power for what still, frankly, often feels like a very large, empty box. It sometimes takes a bit of coaxing uphill, as it’s just over 4,600 pounds, but on Front Range roads, it will fly. The power also means 3,500 pounds of towing capacity.

My biggest issue was how absolutely sucked into 18-wheeler ruts the Carnival got on the freeway; its overall handling was more than adequate for its size, and the ride is acceptably hollow if you have all the seats dropped to, perhaps literally, park a Kia Soul in the back. Maybe.

The seats and passenger setup are of course inventive here, with moderately violent yank-flop-and-fold third-row seats that disappear into the floor or leave a gigantic stroller, luggage or keg-sized cargo space if the seats are up.

The second row is sort of a Space Shuttle setup, with 40/20/40 seats mounted on rails that seem like they slide about 6 feet with the third row stowed. You can, I guess, socially isolate one (or two) of your rear passengers, which might be helpful in large families. Dual power-sliding doors, two rows of sunshades and an interesting two-layer cargo shelf system on the rear wall all speak to versatility, and easy kids and child-seat access.

Looks are a continuation of the very forward design aesthetic seen in Kia’s larger SUVs, which includes such oddities as metallic fish-scale panels on the Carnival’s C-pillars and dramatic, wraparound LED lights.

Inside, it’s more of the Telluride/Sedona look, including piano-black haptic controls, nearly real looking wood highlights and a broad, unified console featuring Mercedes-styled metal-look toggles for seat heat and the camera. Everything is hyper-styled, featuring a checkerboard/Matrix design, from the front grille to the speaker vents.

Andy Stonehouse

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