With kid, or kids, comes stuff. And lots of it. What used to be a two-person weekend away that could be packed into the trunk of a Mazda Miata now requires something quite a bit larger. Additional cargo space is effectively as important as extra seating. There’s a reason people buy minivans aside from people holding ability, and that manifests in space and comfort. To embrace dad mode on a weekend-long trip away, we loaded up a 2023 Kia Carnival SX Prestige to see what the minivan fuss is all about, and to see if the Kia is as good as we’ve heard.
Mini road trip time
Don’t call the Carnival a minivan. Kia calls it an MPV– a multipurpose vehicle– a name that once adorned the Mazda5, a similarly minded “don’t-call-it-a-minivan” minivan. The styling is done deliberately to make it look more SUV or wagon than a van. Why, exactly, is because minivans are still woefully uncool for some reason. To us practical folks who value function over form, a minivan is only uncool in that it can’t go the places we want a vehicle to go off-road, or perform like a fun car on-road. But in terms of spaciousness and family hauling, minivans rule all.
We found that out firsthand on this recent trip. On a recent trip to New Hampshire, we nearly filled the back of a Chevrolet Traverse’s cargo hold. Only a slim gap separated the cargo and headliner. The following week, a game of real-life Tetris was required to pack the same amount of cargo into a Subaru Forester Wilderness. Time helps teach, so we thinned out how much stuff came along for the Kia-backed adventure. What we brought took up a comically small amount of the Carnival’s rear hold.
The Carnival has 40.2 cubic feet of space behind the third row alone, only a few less than my Lexus GX460 has behind its second row. The third row folded, the Carnival’s cargo space grows to 86.9 cubic feet. Make it 145.1 with the second stowed. Needless to say, the stuff we packed for two adults and a baby took up almost none of the trunk area.
Up in the driver seat, the Carnival is similar in feel to that of the Telluride. The interfaces, controls, and even how the van feels from the driver’s seat are very much like that of the title-stealing SUV. And the Stinger GT. It’s not a bad thing. The Carnival doesn’t quite have a “commanding view of the road” that so many want from their family hauler, though that’s just the territory of a minivan. Visibility is otherwise good, and the Carnival is an easy vehicle to drive around town or on a long trip.
Serious luxury in the second row
Where the Carnival sets itself apart is in its second-row accouterments. The optional heated and cooled captains’ chairs recline to what they call “VIP Lounge Seating.” It’s basically akin to a budget-minded private jet. There might not be a better seat in a car under the six-figure mark. My wife said it’s the most comfortable seat in a car that she’s ever experienced, full stop. The Carnival’s ride quality betrays the incredible comfort somewhat, though only slightly. And while a baby in a car seat might not be able to enjoy these luxuries, space for maneuvering a rear-facing seat in and out is copious.
We did some scenic road cruising in the Carnival and found it to be great for such touring. Sometimes you just want a car to be comfortable and blend into the background. The Kia does just that. With 20-30 MPH winds outside and a stunning view of the ocean, the Carnival isolated out the bad and let us view the good. For slow-speed sightseeing, it’s great at casually strolling along to let you take in the view.
A good minivan, and a solid vehicle overall
The Carnival was totally unphased by a snowstorm on the drive home. The factory all-season tires are M+S rated, which is good considering the Carnival isn’t available with all-wheel-drive. It got us through some messy conditions issue-free, which is good enough for us. Still, those in higher elevations will probably long for the Toyota Sienna or Chrysler Pacifica’s available AWD.
Demerits to the Kia are otherwise slim. The gas mileage is mediocre at best; we saw a meager 23 average over our highway-heavy trip. The dashboard is a mix of real buttons and touch-sensitive pseudo-buttons. Sticking to the real thing would be better. And the 3.5L V6 is more than adequate in getting the ~4,500-pound van moving, but it’s feeling a bit behind the times.
The Kia Carnival starts at $32,900. To get goodies like the VIP seats, you have to go up to the SX Prestige trim, which starts at $46,000. Our tester ran $48,690, which feels well worth the price. Shuttling people and things in the most comfortable and convenient way possible might not be the coolest thing a dad can do, but it makes all the sense in the world. Never did I expect to truly like a minivan or even consider how functional they are for family use. The Carnival impressed through and through. It might be space overkill for small families, but the 2023 Kia Carnival really is a good way to embrace your dad vibes.