by Martin Pretorius
Kia tries very hard to pitch its Carnival people carrier as a blend between a minivan and an SUV, but at its core, it's much more the former. Just look at the large sliding doors on each side, the cavernous three-row seating, and drivetrain that's limited to front-wheel drive, and you'll see the truth. But there's nothing wrong with the Carnival being a minivan, especially when it is as great as this one.
While the 2023 Kia Carnival shares its Hyundai-Kia N3 platform with the likes of the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, it is packaged rather differently, and shares almost no mechanical components with its sibling and cousin. Only one powertrain is provided in the North American market: a 3.5-liter direct-injected V6 sending 290 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Competitors to the 2023 Kia Carnival include such well-established models as the Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, and Toyota Sienna, and they all offer roughly the same package. However, the new 2023 Kia Carnival minivan is a segment leader on account of its very comprehensive standard specifications, smooth and supple ride quality, and attractive styling inside and out. If you need an all-wheel-drive minivan, though, the Kia loses out to its Chrysler and Toyota rivals.
Seeing as the Kia Carnival only arrived in the USA for the 2022 model year, Kia is keeping the changes minor for 2023. The only updates pertain to the high-end SX and SX Prestige trims, where the SX gains a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster along with a 12.3-inch center display, and a blind-spot view monitor. It also gets a new option in the form of a dual-screen rear entertainment system with media streaming capability.
The SX Prestige trim gets an eight-passenger Slide-Flex seating system with a multi-function center middle-row seat, although these seats can be replaced with second-row VIP Lounge Seats as an option. The SX Prestige can also be fitted with the optional dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system. There are no cosmetic or mechanical changes whatsoever for 2023.
The price of the 2023 Kia Carnival minivan is a big part of what makes it so appealing. The base LX-model Kia Carnival has a price of $32,900, substantially less than for the base Honda Odyssey which starts at $37,490. This is followed by the LXS (LX Seat Package) at $34,900, the EX at an MSRP of $38,400 and the SX at $41,600. The range-topping SX Prestige-spec Kia Carnival will cost $46,000. These prices exclude any options and the destination charge of $1,335.
See trim levels and configurations:
The Kia Carnival is a minivan at its core, but it drives a fair bit better than its market segment justifies. Seeing as it shares its platform with the surprisingly dynamically-accomplished Sorento, the Carnival's driving experience is quite similar to that of its SUV sibling. As with the Sorento, the suspension tuning is slightly on the firm side of comfortable, but not to the extent that road imperfections disturb the serenely smooth ride quality.
This is a car that corners securely, albeit with noticeable body roll, and fail-safe understeer is the default mode when the grip levels are reached. And, while the steering doesn't communicate much about the state of grip from the front tires, it is responsive and there's just enough weight to the steering action to give an impression of stability at speed. This is about as good as a minivan can handle, and matches the best its opponents could muster.
Performance is a mixed bag, largely because the Carnival can only be had with FWD. Consequently, the torquey 3.5-liter V6 engine can easily light up the front tires from a standstill, but once underway, there's enough power on tap to overtake with confidence. With 290 hp and 262 lb-ft going to the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission, there's enough power to hurtle the Carnival from a standstill to 60 mph in about seven seconds flat, which is pretty impressive for a minivan of this size.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
MPVs are not as popular as they used to be, but the Kia Carnival provides ample reasons to reconsider buying that SUV you actually want, as confirmed in our Kia Carnival review. It's very spacious inside, hugely practical, nicely made from high-quality materials, rides and handles with finesse, and there are enough high-tech toys inside to keep all your passengers very happy. In the minivan market, you'll have to look far and wide to find a more complete package among its rivals. One potentially major downside for customers in colder states is the absence of all-wheel drive, something that both the Chrysler Pacifica and Toyota Sienna provide. Both of these rivals also have more efficient hybrid powertrains. If neither of these aspects deter you, there is little reason to look beyond the Carnival's many other positive attributes.
The Carnival has five trims and a price range of over $13,000, so there is a fair amount of choice.
The EX seems to be the one to go for here. As much as we like those first-class lounge second-row seats, we'll most often be driving, or at least riding shotgun. So, we'll take the big screen, tri-zone climate control, and its handful of driver assistance features. It also keeps you closer to $40k.
The most popular competitors of 2023 Kia Carnival: