Minivans are possibly the greatest automotive design ever. They’re extremely versatile, pretty fuel efficient, and they don’t require a bunch of modifications to make them more useful.
I feel like they get an undeserved bad rap thanks to haters who can’t see past the 1990s.
The Kia Carnival is one of the newest of the current crop of minivans on the market, but don’t let Kia hear you call it a minivan. It’s an “MPV.” This is a term that is popular in other parts of the world, like Japan and South America, but means nothing to most Americans.
Multi-purpose vehicle sounds like the kind of name you give to a military truck or on/off-road four-wheeler you’ve added a deer rack to. The Carnival is clearly a minivan with sliding doors and three rows of seating. If it quacks like a duck and all that.
The good news is that of all of the minivans I’ve driven in today’s market, the Kia Carnival is my favorite. And not just because its name makes me think of half-dressed samba dancers and Ferris wheels. It’s the only peppy, good-handling minivan of the current crop as well.
The Carnival has a well-tuned 3.5-liter V6 engine that outputs a respectable 290 horsepower. Its eight-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and stays in the background where it should be. The only downer to the Carnival’s powertrain is that it’s front-wheel drive only. But given the balance of an MPV, with a van like this, the slightly front-heavy design means it’s better handling in the snow than expected.
There are four trim levels for the Kia Carnival, starting with the (nobody-actually-buys-this) base model LX. The next step up is the EX, which is much better in terms of accouterments and appeal. Plus, it has just about every safety system there is, which is an important thing for buyers of family vehicles like this one. Pricing for that stays under $40,000.
On the road, the drive quality of the Carnival is really good. It’s a van, so there’s no getting around that long wheelbase, but it’s quicker and less ponderous than most sport utilities or other van options. Mostly, though, it’s just peppy. The engine makes happy V6 grunts when the pedal is pressed and then actually delivers. That’s rare for this segment of vehicles.
Are there downsides to the Kia Carnival? Sure.
There’s no built-in vacuum option, the second-row seats don’t fold down into the floor and there isn’t a hybrid drivetrain option or AWD. But there are no minivan options on the market that do have all of these things. Or even most of them. And the Kia is one of the lower-cost options anyway. Plus, it has the segment’s best warranty.
Of course, a lot of people won’t be interested in the Carnival because they believe the minivan stigma, which is probably why Kia is working so hard to push the idea of MPV in its advertising. That probably won’t work. What will work, though, is an explanation of why the minivan is the most versatile passenger vehicle you can buy.
The minivan has seating for six, seven or eight. It has more cargo space than a midsized pickup and way more cargo space than most SUVs. Sliding doors and folding seats make easy access to everything in the van too.
Add on a towing package and you have even more cargo options like light trailers, cargo trays, bicycle racks, etc. Throw on some cross rails and the roof begets even more storage options.
With a minivan, you can haul the kids and their friends to soccer practice and then hit up the hardware store for some lumber and gypsum board. But make sure to tie down that 5-gallon bucket of paint.
With a minivan like the Kia Carnival, all of these things are possible, and more. That’s why I think they’re awesome.