There are many things it’s not…Let’s start by ruling out the people who won’t be interested in Kia’s rebranded Sedona minivan. Firstly, this isn’t a range which offers a wealth of choice. There are three trim levels, a solitary engine and transmission option, and few available options. The Carnival doesn’t offer AWD – unlike rivals including the Chrysler Pacific – and nor is it available in hybrid form. Its combined fuel economy of just 22 mpg compares unfavorably with the Toyota Sienna’s figure of 36.

Nobody is going to buy an eight-seater minivan expecting fun on mountain passes, but the Carnival is still underwhelming. From numb steering to galleon-like lean in tight bends, it’s best to adopt a leisurely approach to driving, especially if headwinds start smacking into that bluff body. At least the 3.5-liter, 290 hp V6 offers decent acceleration, allied to a smooth eight-speed automatic transmission.

…but it suits many people. Having established that driving pleasure is low down the list of Carnival attributes, let’s consider the areas where it literally and metaphorically excels. That lengthy body might present an uninspiring side profile, but it’s fairly pleasing at both ends, especially in a flattering paint color. Plus, the foursquare roofline and lengthy chassis engender huge volumes of interior space, capable of seating eight in comfort.

Let’s explore that a bit further. Sliding side doors open to reveal a tastefully presented cabin whose middle row seats can be augmented with a central chair that folds into a table or comes out (as do its neighbors). On flagship SX Prestige models, twin captain’s chairs reduce overall capacity to seven while introducing footrests and recliners. A broad horizontal dash combines twin screens behind a single pane of glass in the modern vogue, though the swathes of gloss black plastic found elsewhere aren’t optimal for the messy realities of family life. The ride quality is excellent, in tandem with comfortable seats and plenty of legroom. There are also loads of storage, from plentiful cupholders to deep storage pockets, and the large tailgate reveals a flat, well-shaped load space.

2023 Kia Carnival Interior

All the toys. A good minivan needs plenty of cargo space, but it also requires plenty of standard equipment. Here, Kia has the competition licked. For a starting price of $33,935, even base models deliver smartphone mirroring and wireless device charging, alongside power-sliding side doors. If your budget stretches to $39,435, our favored EX models bring twin 12.3-inch display screens, power everywhere from the driver’s seat to the tailgate, and the option of an in-car camera system for keeping an eye on suspiciously quiet children in the back.

By the time you reach SX Prestige models, standard equipment includes heated and cooled second-row leather seats plus a 12-speaker Bose audio system. However, by this point, prices are north of $47,000. We’d stick with EX and add the camera system, especially since Prestige’s captain’s chairs reduce available legroom.

Keeping everyone safe. Minivan buyers are usually parents, with safety a top priority. The Carnival has excellent forward visibility, though rear views are impeded by the sheer number of headrests. Again, it’s worth moving up from the base model to benefit from safety aids like adaptive cruise, parking sensors, and a surround-view camera system.

Whichever model you choose, you’ll benefit from automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, a driver attention warning system, and active lane control. The Carnival is an IIHS Top Safety Pick (when equipped with SX Prestige’s LED projector lighting), and the fact the NHTSA hasn’t crash-tested it yet doesn’t concern us.

Final thoughts. The Carnival is a thoroughly likable and unpretentious vehicle. It offers an appealing blend of space, comfort, and practicality – all key attributes in any minivan. We rate the ride quality and standard equipment levels especially highly, while competitive prices are allied to a five-year or 60,000-mile warranty that extends to ten years and 100,000 miles for the powertrain. There are over 145 cubic feet of capacity with all the seats dropped, but 40.2 remains even with a full load of passengers.

What’s not to love? Well, base models don’t have the same aura of quality as better-equipped trims, and their cloth seating is a particular disappointment. The handling is wallowy and uncommunicative, though the Carnival was never designed to tempt BMW drivers out of their sedans. The lack of AWD or hybrid powertrains is a bigger concern, while fairly dismal fuel economy is something you’ll have to weigh up before emptying your wallet at the pumps on a regular basis. Even so, the Carnival is arguably the best minivan on today’s market, and it’s an easy vehicle to live with.

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