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  • Writer's pictureMarc Gonzalez

2021 KIA Carnival

Let's be honest; minivans in the past 15 years haven't been the sexier option. It's been all about SUVs and crossovers; this trend has also affected the sales of sedans and station wagons. When KIA announced the Carnival in February, we were pretty excited to see it in the flesh (lien sur Facebook). We had it for a couple of days, and we are not disappointed! This Kia is manufactured in South Korea at the Gwangmyeong plant and has an MSRP of $48,595.

Photo by Vince P. Sziget
2021 Kia Carnival

The Kia Carnival was the first model with the new KIA logo. It perfectly blends in with the rest of the front grille. The grille has a nice blend of sportiness and luxury, embodying the essence of this multi-purpose vehicle as the Korean brand calls this new offering. Whatever angle you look at it, it looks classy and commanding. The 19-inch black alloy wheels reinforce the look of the minivan. You will find a chrome door garnish on the sides, visible yet subtle. The design is all about contrast; another example is the rear tailgate with the funky lightbar over the sharp lines of the license plate and different sharp lines for the lower end of the tailgate. All in all, we like the bolder direction taken by the brand with this vehicle.

KIA Carnival
Photo by Vince P. Sziget

Inside, the overall quality has seen a giant leap forward in every aspect. The screens, the materials inside the cabin, the seats, everything feels upscale and improved. Let's start with the driver's side; the steering wheel is leather-wrapped, the buttons are clear and easy to use. The 12.3-inch LCD cluster screen is very customizable. The display will vary depending on the drive mode you've selected. You have the speedometer on the left and the tachometer on the right. As seen on other models in the family, when you put your blinker on, a camera will appear to show the blind spot directly in the cluster, a safety feature that we appreciated. Unfortunately, even with a fully digital cluster, you cannot get a map on it, so that's a bit of a bummer. On the left side of the dashboard, you will find the controls of the sliding doors so you can make it easier for people that aren't used to your vehicle to climb in or out by the touch of a button.

KIA Carnival infotainment
Photo by Vince P. Sziget

On to the center console, the Kia Carnival is equipped with a 12.3-inch touchscreen that is responsive and full of features such as a navigation screen and your Apple Carplay/Android Auto setup. You also have some neat party tricks like the Passenger view camera that allows you to zoom in on a specific spot to see which passenger is causing the kerfuffle in the back. Similarly, the Passenger talk function is there to help you relay your voice to the back. Before moving on to the rest of the interior, Quiet mode lets the front passenger hear music while the rest of the cabin sleeps by concentrating the sound in the front and diminishing the base in the speakers. The Bose premium sound system is pretty good, and they did a great job of optimizing the sound for all passengers. Under the air vents, you will find all the necessary controls for the infotainment system and the climate controls. We didn't like that almost all buttons are not physical, so you have to press harder, thus making it a bit more difficult to adjust while driving, especially the climate controls. We give a good score on making it easy to change the rear climate, it compensates a little bit, but climate controls should always be physical buttons, in our opinion.

The Kia Carnival can seat up to 8 passengers depending on which configuration you'll prefer. Our test model was equipped with the captain chairs in the second row, making it a 7-passenger. Everyone in the vehicle will find a comfortable place to sit, whether it is the first, second, or third row. The driver will easily find a comfortable position; the passenger can say the same. But the party starts with the plush captain chairs next to the sliding doors. Before going any further, these seats can fold, slide left to the right, and front or back depending on what you need. It's also easy for children to take place in the third row because the space between the two seats is plentiful for small people to navigate.

Let's talk now captain chairs, a little bit more in-depth. First of all, on the passenger side, you can move the seat in front of you to make yourself even more comfortable, like in an S-class or a Bentley... in a fifty thousand dollars minivan! There is even a charging port next to these controls. Back to the chairs, on the lower end, there is a footrest to make your relaxing experience even better. They are also power-adjustable to make yourself at home even on a long road trip. There is even a movable center console; with cupholders and two outlets to charge devices. The third row isn't as configurable as the second row, but it is still a nice place to spend some time. The seats are decent, and there's also a couple of charging ports and cupholders. A quick word on car seats, the 8-passenger version of the Carnival is the best for transporting the youngest children because it is easier to fix the rear anchor on them than the captain chairs in the second row. The problem with the cushy chairs is that the rear anchor is placed so low on the seats that not all car seats will have such a long strap to fix it in place safely. In the third row, there aren't any differences between the 7 or 8 passenger version, you can fix two car seats in the back, but you should be aware that in the 7-seater, it may be tricky to have access to the back seats since the captain chairs take up a little bit more space. The Carnival can accommodate up to five child seats depending on their size and the configuration of the vehicle, which is very good if you're transporting many children.

KIA Carnival
Photo by Vince P. Sziget

Back in the driver's seat, let's take a look at the driving experience of the Multi-Purpose Vehicle Kia Carnival. This vehicle is powered by a 3.5L 6-cylinder engine that produces 290hp and 262lb-ft of torque. The engine is coupled to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Compared to other rivals in the segment, this minivan doesn't offer all-wheel drive, one rare flaw of the new Carnival. Another flaw is the lack of any hybrid option because fuel consumption is about what you would expect of such a big vehicle with a 6-cylinder: around 10.3L/100km on the highway and 14.5L/100km in the city, those figures are higher than the manufacturers announces. On a positive note, the South Korean brand advertises a towing capacity of 3,500lbs on this family offering, a competitive figure in the segment.

KIA Carnival
Photo by Vince P. Sziget

On the road, the Carnival's powertrain has proven to be still effective today. There is no hesitation when you want to pass someone on the highway. There are your 4 typical Kia drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, and Smart; the latter is the most balanced and makes the driving feel enjoyable. In corners, you will feel body roll because of the size of the vehicle, but the stability control is excellent to keep the vehicle's balance. The shocks do a great job keeping the van stable on bumpy roads. Road and wind noise would have to be reduced to keep up the luxury image. Handling is better than what you would expect from a minivan; while it's assisted electronically, you still get a pleasant feeling of the road in Sport mode. Parking the van for the night is pretty easy with its small turning radius and front and back parking sensors.

And this was Kia's focus when redesigning the Sedona that became the Carnival, they wanted the people-mover to be enjoyable with a hint of luxury, and we give them a thumbs-up. In typical Korean brand's fashion, it comes with the latest safety technology and excellent materials and modern styling. The Kia minivan has never looked as good as it does, and if you are in the market for a big people-mover, you should take a look at the Carnival before looking at SUVs.

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