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Kia’s Carnival Prestige – A CARNIVAL CRUISE

Car Reviews

Kia’s Carnival Prestige – A CARNIVAL CRUISE

Kia’s Carnival Prestige


Santa Clarita, CA – My first extended meeting with Kia was in the mid-‘90s, at one of the early Texas Truck Rodeos. And no, Kia wasn’t building trucks; they were building, however, the new-to-the-U.S. Sportage, a compact SUV offering a right-size footprint atop a completely pedestrian platform. Even at the time the Sportage would be regarded as a bit crude, but any futurist worth his or her salt could see potential in the brand. It’s doubtful, however, that futurism alone would have taken you to Kia’s upscale – and upsized – Carnival. Which – if you will – is a long way from one of Kia’s early initiatives, the Rio. (Perhaps we can blame it on Rio…)

If there’s a more misunderstood segment of today’s auto industry than the minivan, I’ve not seen it. For far too long it’s been dismissed as a mom-mobile, as if something embraced by a mom and her kids would somehow be less than attractive. As a cyclist I love the ability for a minivan to swallow both the bike and its adjacent stuff; hell, you can almost comfortably change into or out of your cycling gear in a minivan, something missing in even the biggest SUVs. Seats fold, doors open wide, and if mounting bikes on the roof you don’t need an extension ladder to reach that roof. And in many instances – hell, almost all instances – a minivan is more efficient going down the road than its crossover counterpart.

Kia’s Carnival was born from the remnants of the company’s previous effort, the Sedona. That van, styled in what I’d call responsibly nondescript, was best known as good value, delivering credible content for those families less-than-interested in $50K window stickers and 4-figure monthlies. But as you’ll know if paying any attention, Kia and its corporate cousin Hyundai aren’t interested in sitting on the sidelines in any segment, including the minivan. And while the product team at Kia didn’t take a wholly clean sheet approach, these new sheets do have an appreciably higher thread count.

Begin with the sheetmetal, which represents an upmarket redo almost comparable to what the then-Chrysler did to create its Pacifica. Kia provides an angular two-box form with an aggressively raked windshield, a rather low roof and reasonably generous greenhouse; the package measures 203 inches overall atop a wheelbase of 122 inches. These numbers are more generous than the far-more popular Telluride (wheelbase of the Carnival is 8 inches greater, while overall length is 6 inches longer), but the tale of the tape is even more evident inside. There, the Carnival offers sixteen more cubic feet of passenger volume, and almost double the cargo space behind the third-row seats. It is, in short, a van – maximizing room while minimizing ground clearance.

Subjectively, everyone seeing the Carnival thought it upscale, and our top-of-the-line Prestige doesn’t differ dramatically – at least its exterior – from the more basic, under-$40K trims. A band of brightwork spanning the C-and-D-pillars is distinctive, adding an expensive look to what is essentially a pedestrian shape. Notably, the Kia’s greenhouse and that of the new Suburban’s are similar, although the Chevy’s windowsill starts roughly a foot above that of the Kia’s.

Access is as easy as it should be, although in the top-of-the-line Prestige its middle row of buckets makes access to the third row of seats more time consuming – at least for us – than it might have been. But everyone (including those in the third row) are given adequate room for legs, shoulders and heads. And the third row flattens in the proverbial jiffy, providing a bunch of space for just about anything you have a mind to carry.

On the road, the Carnival’s 3.5 liter V6’s 290 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque hook up nicely to the Kia’s front wheels – and only the front wheels; all-wheel drive isn’t available. The ride is composed, and while we’d never attempt a track day with the Carnival, its 3,500 pounds of towing capacity would allow us to pull most track-appropriate cars to the track. And we’d have room for spares and clothing inside the van, and perhaps a tarp or roof-mounted tent atop the van. All of this comfort and composure delivers mid-to-high-20s on the road, along with high teens in in-town, stop-and-go driving. 

Our Prestige trim topped out at almost $50K, but a well-equipped EX can be purchased for around $10,000 less. That, to me, would seem to be the sweet spot in the Carnival – the Carnival’s midway, so to speak. There’s much to recommend here, and almost nothing to dislike. 

All you need do is man up. Or – you know – be a mom.

Winnebago LeSharo

TRIP NOTES: Our week with Kia’s Carnival was highlighted by a road trip to June Lake, California from our second home in Santa Clarita, which is roughly 30 minutes north of Los Angeles. With my wife Tina, son Sean and 10-year old grandson Rhys we caravanned with our daughter Lauren and her family: husband Ethan and daughters Evelyn and Josie. Evelyn is three and Josie almost two; as you’d guess, the girls come with lots of stuff, so what Ethan couldn’t put into (or on top of) their 4Runner rode with us in the Carnival, which meant four people and luggage for six. Despite the load the Kia never wavered, even as the trip up to June Lake passed 7,000+ feet. 

June Lake is within a ½ hour of Mammoth Lakes (and its mountain) and convenient to Yosemite, if/when Yosemite isn’t snowed under. Regardless of how much day-tripping you do, the scenery of the Eastern Sierras is breathtaking, well worth the roughly 250 road miles from LAX. And it’s especially easy if you own a Carnival.

Boldt, a contributor to outlets such as, Kelley Blue Book and Autoblog, brings to his laptop some forty years of experience in automotive retail, journalism and public relations. He is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, The Washington Automotive Press Association and L.A.'s Motor Press Guild. David is the Managing Editor of txGarage, a regular panelist on the AutoNetwork Reports webcast/podcast, and the automotive contributor to Dallas' Katy Trail Weekly.

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