Pros

  • Knockout styling
  • Outstanding value
  • Cushy, quiet ride quality

 Cons

  • VIP seats limit third-row access
  • Loud under acceleration
  • Other versions of the same van are more practical

“Where are the other ones?!” This frequent refrain from our judges cut to the core of why the all-new Kia Carnival wasn’t a 2022 Car of the Year finalist. Blame our organizing committee: The only version we requested was a loaded, top-shelf SX Prestige model with the unremovable but fabulous VIP second-row lounge seats. Thus, our judges had to determine its fate using only a version that doesn’t “minivan” as well as others might.

And those VIP seats had technical director Frank Markus—a minivan packaging engineer in a previous life—in a tizzy. “Because I’ve only ever seen these ridiculous limousine versions of the Carnival where access to the third row is nigh impossible, it scores a zero for engineering excellence, and that disqualifies it from consideration in my book,” he said. Hot fire, that. Other judges were more even-keeled. “Third-row access is OK,” features editor Christian Seabaugh countered. Executive editor Mac Morrison climbed aboard, scrambled through the narrow second-row opening into the far back, and held up his hands to say, “Not terribly difficult.”

Third-row ingress is a problem if you use your glitzy minivan as an empty nesters’ taxi for, say, dinner parties and expect adults to regularly clamber between the middle chairs. If you’re hauling kids (or Morrison), as some judges pointed out, they’ll crawl over, under, or around anything with nary a complaint. The VIP seats do slide fore and aft and side to side, but lower trims offer more flexible—and removable—captain’s chairs or a bench.

There were additional demerits. Limit handling isn’t a minivan’s forte, but the Carnival’s slightly nervous behavior when pushed might translate to a lack of confidence from drivers even at moderate speeds. Some judges also dinged the Kia for an unrefined engine sound under hard acceleration, as well as a lack of low-end punch. It took slings for a relative lack of efficiency against other minivans, too, as well as the absence of all-wheel drive on the options sheet.

To the good, once you hit cruising speed, the handsome Carnival is a quiet, relaxing place to be. The onboard screens have beautiful high-res graphics, and the layout allows for easy use. There are multiple charging points in handy places, including the front seat backs. Judges nearly unanimously praised the ride quality, with the Kia registering as having the most impressive ride of any car in the field, in senior editor Conner Golden’s book.

The Carnival also succeeds against our design criteria, turning the minivan into something less dorky than usual. “The surfacing is upscale, more in the vein of a Range Rover than a traditional minivan,” guest judge Chris Theodore said. And the SX Prestige’s luxurious cabin likewise does a reasonable impression of a high-end SUV’s. Significantly, the Kia offers tremendous value, ringing in thousands less than comparably equipped minivans.

In fact, a Carnival just like the one we had at COTY recently bested its full competitive set in a comparison test on the strength of its styling, high-tech features, and value. We should have asked for more Carnivals, though, as our luxe-focused example didn’t allow us to fully evaluate its performance of intended function, and we had little choice but to cut the Carnival’s COTY party short.

View every 2022 Car of the Year contender here

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