The 2023 Carnival SX Prestige is the top-end of the minivan spectrum for Kia. I recently had a chance to get this minivan out on the highway and put it through the wringer for people hauling and daily errands – something it is quite adept at handling on either end of the spectrum.
The Carnival seamlessly melds minivan convenience with a luxury cabin to create a family hauler that elevates every experience on the road – and as a Kia, it’s a great value. So, what really sets it apart from others in the segment? Quite a bit, actually.
I drove the top-of-the-line SX Prestige trim, so there are a lot of features that you may not find necessary, but I’m here to tell you that if you choose to opt for the Carnival experience, you will not regret it. It is a wonderful blend of technology, cabin comfort, and of course, safety. There are no slouches in the minivan segment, so setting yourself apart can be difficult, but Carnival manages to do it.
Without a doubt, the Kia Carnival looks less like a minivan than anything that has come along in the segment. At first glance, it looks more like a large SUV than a traditional minivan. The 19-inch black alloy rims on my tester added to the more contemporary and rugged look.
The great thing about the minivan segment is its total focus on human cargo, including its ease of entry and exit. The squat stance not only makes it easy to get in and out, but it helps the exterior style feel long and lean, rather than more traditional bulbous lines that have defined this segment.
While the Carnival may get a lot of attention for its distinct exterior style, this minivan’s cabin quality is what really sets it apart from competitors. My SX Prestige trim offered a leather-trimmed interior throughout all three rows. My only gripe is the extensive use of the glossy black plastic located throughout the second and third rows.
The front row is extremely roomy with everything close at hand for the driver to operate safely and securely with any number of passengers. Leather seating is heated and cooled with unlimited power adjustments. Driver visibility is outstanding.
I really like having such a low step-in height for the second row, it’s safe and so easy to get into. These seats fully recline with a footrest, something nobody is offering in a minivan. The middle seats are power operated, heated and cooled. The third row is a cinch to access with the power positions of the second-row seats. These seats are predictably smaller, but I found them to be comfortable and accommodating, even for adults.
The reclining center seats are nothing short of perfection when it comes to seating positions, access to charging stations, cupholders, and an entertainment complex to keep rear passengers entertained. Carnival’s rear seat entertainment package has two rear-mounted screens with access to the Internet via a Wi-Fi hotspot.
On the SX prestige trim you have a digital gauge cluster along with a center-mounted 12.3-inch touch screen. Below the screen, you will find HVAC controls for the tri-zone climate control system along with haptic buttons for commonly used features.
The center screen provides access to Passenger View, which allows you to see the rear of the cabin via a roof-mounted camera. The view appears on the center screen, helping you keep an eye on your passengers without taking your eyes off the road. There are several exterior cameras that make parking easier by providing different views of the vehicle.
The Carnival gets its push from a 3.5-liter V6 engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Unfortunately, Carnivals do not offer all-wheel drive, but the front-drive is more than adequate. This is the most powerful minivan on sale today, offering 290 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque.
Carnival is EPA-rated at 19 MPG city and 26 MPG highway, and a combined 22 MPG. I found the V6 to offer a seamless acceleration and passing capability. At highway speeds, the quick-shifting automatic takes full advantage of the available horses in the V6.
The V6 features Kia’s new Smartstream fuel injection system that includes both port fuel injectors and direct injection. This combination allows you to benefit from the improved fuel economy of direct injection and the low-end thrust and lack of intake valve carbon buildup of a port-injected engine.
My Carnival SX Prestige had a sticker price of $48,690, which included options from the upgraded Ceramic Silver exterior paint to the rear seat entertainment package. The base Carnival LX can be had for $33,100 and the Carnival EX for $38,600.
Not since the Chrysler Pacifica reset consumer expectations for what a minivan could be more than eight years ago has something hit the segment with this kind of punch. This is an impressive blend of high-tech safety, entertainment and comfort for the whole family to enjoy.
• John Stein is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. He has more than 25 years of experience driving, testing, and writing about the automotive industry, its latest innovations, and vehicles.