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When is a Minivan not a Minivan? When it’s a Kia Carnival

Trust me on this, the most practical way of transporting seven or eight people in comfort, that isn’t a Gulfstream jet or stretch limo, is the family-friendly, lovable minivan.

I know, I know; not cool. On a coolness score of 1-to-10, the humble minivan is, to style aficionados, a definite 1. It’s up there with velour loungewear, Uggs and Crocs. 

But those marketeering maestros at Kia have found a new way to repackage, rebrand, and maybe even reinvent the tofu-esque minivan. It’s called the Carnival.

Here is a minivan disguised as an SUV, or in Kia-speak, an MPV, as in Multi-Purpose Vehicle.

Blink, and you’d really think this new Carnival was a sport-ute. It has all those SUV design cues, from roof rails for strapping on a kayak, to oversize wheel arches, to black-painted 19-inch wheels, to a sleeker, lowered roofline. 

See one in your rearview, and it’ll get your attention. That over-sized, so-called Tiger-nose grille, those Mark-of-Zorro orange LED lights, and brushed aluminum-look, faux skid plates front and rear. 

But dynamically, the Carnival has as much in common with an off-roading SUV as Michael Bublé has with punk rock. 

Like a good minivan, it’s front-wheel drive, has just enough ground clearance, and comes with channels along the sides for those gotta-have sliding doors.

None of this matters. The Carnival is cool, fun to drive, comfortable and super-practical. I loved every minute I drove it, and came away with my masculinity very much intact. 

And like the good minivan it is, the Carnival is all about the interior, and an ability to carry up to eight people in impressive comfort. 

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You get a choice of three flavors. The entry 2022 Carnival LX stickers for $33,272 and in true Kia fashion, is super-nicely equipped with power-sliding side doors, auto emergency braking, cross-traffic collision avoidance and lane-keeping assist. 

Step up to the EX at $37,800 and you add 19-inch alloys, a power tailgate, and a 12.3-inch display with navigation.

Our loaded-to-the-roof-rails, flagship SX Prestige tester cost $46,300 and oozed with leather upholstery, dual sunroofs, a 12-speaker Bose stereo, heated and vented second-row seats, and LED projector headlights.

What all versions have in common is Kia’s tried-and-tested, Teflon-smooth 3.5-liter, 290-horsepower V6 under the hood paired to an equally creamy eight-speed automatic. 

No, there’s nothing too much cutting-edge here. No turbocharging, no plug-in hybrid technology, no all-wheel drive. Here is the meat-and-potato minivan, sorry, Multi-Purpose Vehicle. 

But it all works. Power-open one of those side doors, and there’s seating for three in the second row, with the middle seatback folding flat to make a makeshift table, or what Kia calls a “baby-minding seat”.’

Or opt for the twin, second-row captain’s seats and you get a nice wide gap in between for easier access into the third row.  And talking of third row, it’s properly adult-sized back there, with plenty of kneeroom and headroom. 

Fold down the third and second row seats and the Carnival is an impressive load carrier. But one failing with the top SX model is that the second-row seats can’t be lifted out. A problem when you’re moving your offspring into a new dorm. 

But what, to me, sets the Kia apart from key rivals, like Chrysler’s Pacifica — the minivan’s sector’s top-seller — and Honda’s Odyssey and Toyota’s Siena, is the way it drives. 

That muscley V6 is super-smooth and packs plenty of punch for off-the-line acceleration and quick, safe two-lane passing. It handles confidently as well, with nicely weighted steering and minimal body roll. Stops on a dime too.

No, it’s not the best minivan out there — the Chrysler is still tough to beat. But it’s close. And having your neighbors think you’re driving an SUV as opposed to a soccer-mom van? Priceless.  

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