Automotive designers work very hard to create noteworthy vehicles with brand identifying personas. For decades, the budget brands—you know who they are (were)—let their destinies rise and fall on the ‘value’ persona, using bland, in-offensive styling with the greatest mass appeal.

Today, design reigns as king. You know an Audi, BMW, or Mercedes model with a quick glance. Many Toyota’s and Honda’s share a design emphasis too, while Chevy and Ford share styling cues across their lineups. Creating a family of similar vehicles (hopefully) instills more brand awareness and loyalty.

So no one should be surprised that Kia, as well as its owner sibling Hyundai, has recently placed far-greater emphasis on all aspects of their product offerings street stance and visual presence. Hiring designers, as well as engineers, from the very best automakers has led to a rapid transition to some very attractive, and very capable, new vehicles. This week’s Carnival is but one example.

The Carnival, an MPV according to Kia (Multi-Purpose Vehicle), is a minivan that looks like a three-row crossover and replaces the departed Sedona. While, yes, the Carnival does retain sliding doors and hiding seats like a minivan, the exterior stance is bold yet easy to look at in a shrinking sea of available minivans fiercely fighting for sensible buyers.

Wearing the new corporate logo badge, as well as vertically integrated LED running lamps, the Carnival uses strategic trim pieces to create the crossover impression under the front valance, along the flanks, with the tightly-cropped wheelwells, and the rear fascia. The diamond-pattern metal trim on the C-panel behind the sliding side doors is another large departure from conventional big window minivan presentations.

The first seconds inside and the favorable impressions expand. In sampled SX Prestige, the top of three trim levels (base LX starts at $33,275, SX, $42,770, Prestige, $47,770) and it’s clear that Kia spared little expense in creating a dynamic cabin. Possibly sharing notes with their peers at Genesis, the Carnival’s upscale cabin absolutely embarrasses the textures, finish, details and functionality of the Odyssey and Sienna vans—and as usual, for a lot less money.


Wearing two-tone leather, our Tuscan Umber Prestige (steel blue) offers an expansive dual-panel digital instrument package that is easily accessed and configured as well as linked so it looks like one wide screen. Dual is the theme throughout; dual power sunroofs, dual rear Bluetooth monitors, dual second row heated, ventilated, power reclining VIP lounge (think Lazy-Boy) bucket seats with power footrests, plus dual banks of LED reading lamps.

From the helm, the Carnival is a very nice driver—vastly superior to any current three-row crossover that is anywhere close to this much interior room. The view out is excellent, aided by blind-spot/lane-change cameras for each side, a low hood line, and a wide-angle rear camera that includes perimeter views. Credit the latest tech, but also the fundamentals of a minivan chassis for the pleasing drive dynamics—long wheelbase, wide track, low center of gravity. Ingress and egress is excellent all around, aided by power sliders on the extra-large side doors plus a power liftgate.

Third row seating splits to fold into the floor—like all rivals, while the optional VIP second row seats are not removable, and do not fold away, so ordering your Carnival so equipped says you are going for maximum passenger comfort and lesser cargo carrying capability.

LX and SX models with middle buckets or bench, boost the most interior room of all current minivans. Honda might offer more pockets and cubbies, but the Kia is the most polished feeling—and looking.

Power comes from a 3.5-liter V-6 running through a new 8-speed automatic. With 4,644-pounds to haul around, the 290-hp Carnival is plenty quick while the realized fuel economy matched the EPA highway estimate; 19/26/22-mpg.

Currently, the Carnival lacks a hybrid-powertrain option—like two rivals offer. It also works with front wheel drive only, lacking the AWD choice that the Sienna and Pacifica present, which counters the MPV/crossover vibe being promoted. Both could change in the coming years.

However, the Carnival’s impressive list of features, the crowd-pleasing design outside, the upscale interior, the composed and stable manners on the road, the quiet cabin, the functional console with multiple USB ports, just the overall feel of this latest Kia, is enough to make buyers forget all about the Sedona or that, heaven forbid, this minivan is far more practical and user-friendly than a comparably sized crossover.

We’ve now been witness to the Hyundai Palisade and Santa Fe, the Genesis GV80 crossover as well as the G70 sedan, plus the Kia Telluride and now the Carnival. It is clear, that Hyundai has invested billions into these latest products and these vehicles have not only caught the competition, but in many cases, the latest cars and crossovers from S. Korea are setting new standards.

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