Soccer moms. Carpool dads. At the crux of any family-oriented vehicle is a utilitarian purpose. The family vehicle is used to carpool, run errands and take family vacations. That begs the question — why has the minivan become such a maligned vehicle? And why is it a shrinking segment in the auto industry?
I was recently loaned the 2022 Kia Carnival to take on a family vacation, road-tripping from Ohio to Florida. The nearly 2000-mile journey was made quite enjoyable and comfortable thanks to the 8-passenger minivan. For the record, Kia skates around calling the Carnival a “minivan” labeling it, instead, as an MPV (multi-purpose vehicle). But perhaps it’s time to call a spade a spade and a minivan a minivan. As there should be no shame in it anyway.
Why No Love For Minivans?
Currently, only four automotive manufacturers are engaged in the minivan segment. Meanwhile, the full-size SUV segment couldn’t be more competitive. This shows where the consumer mindset — and their dollars — are headed. But why? What is wrong with a minivan?
The 2022 Kia Carnival replaces the underperforming Kia Sedona. The Sedona, along with the Nissan Quest and Dodge Grand Caravan, have all gone by the wayside in the continually shrinking minivan segment. Left standing is the aforementioned Carnival, along with the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, and Chrysler’s two iterations — the Pacifica and Voyager.
In years past, on similar family vacations, I’ve driven the Sienna, Odyssey, and Pacifica, along with a few full-size SUVs including a Honda Pilot, Ford Flex, and Kia Telluride. As I pondered each of those vehicles and their merits and the memories created in them, I couldn’t help but come back to the stigma of a minivan. They aren’t chic. They aren’t sexy. When someone asked if I was driving anything fun to the beach, they seemed disappointed when I’d respond with a minivan. But is a full-size SUV really that much better?
A Tale of Two Kias: Minivan vs SUV
For comparison, I looked at the last two vehicles I took on long family trips — the 2022 Kia Carnival and the 2021 Kia Telluride. Both vehicles have 8-passenger configurations; although to be fair, we pulled the middle seat of the second row out of the Carnival to allow for more legroom and access for our other passengers, which included 3-dogs.
In its 7-passenger configuration, the Carnival was ideal, while the 8-passenger configuration of the Telluride was more cramped, especially in the hip and shoulder room. A quick glance at the dimensional comparisons shows a tale of the tape that favors the Carnival.
Seating Capacity and Legroom
The 2022 Kia Carnival has 63.2 inches of shoulder room in the second row compared to 59.9 inches for the 2021 Kia Telluride. But in the world of annoying siblings who are “breathing on me” that 3 inches make a big difference. The second-row legroom title, however, goes to the Telluride which bests the Carnival by almost 2 inches. The bench seat of the Telluride was conducive for my daughter and her boyfriend to snuggle up, while in the Carnival, they were separated in their individual bucket seats since we removed the middle seat.
The third-row title goes to the Carnival in shoulder room, hip room, and legroom when compared to the Telluride. It’s that oh-so-important third row that pushes minivans to the front for me. Far too many “full size” SUVs won’t comfortably fit adults in the third row (or “way back” as we used to call it).
The Carnival has more than 4 inches of extra legroom in the third row and almost 7 more inches of hip room than the Telluride. For the poor sap who gets stuck in the third row, that decision makes a huge difference and may turn them into a fan of minivans.
Another factor that can’t be overlooked is cargo room. When you’re packing suitcases, coolers, and other miscellaneous vacation items, cargo room is at a premium. And for that, nothing beats a minivan.
Behind the third-row seat of the Carnival, we stacked our various items all the way to the roof. Yes, we piled things so high we couldn’t see out of the rearview mirror, but, hey, that’s why you have side mirrors and blind-spot detection systems, right?
The 2022 Carnival boasts 40.2 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third-row seat. Compared to the 21 cubic feet of the Telluride, there’s no contest.
All things being equal when it comes to technology and entertainment systems, interior space is what matters most on family vehicles — or at least it should. That being said, some minivans were known for their awesome rear-seat entertainment systems. Remember the days of the rear DVD system? You thought you were hot stuff if you could watch movies while your parents drove.
However, with smartphones and Tik Tok, that’s less of a draw for today’s passengers. Just make sure you have unlimited data, and your passengers will be pacified. Thankfully, the Carnival had 6 USB charging outlets, including 2 in the third row, plus an additional wireless charging pad, showing that Kia really knows what’s important. Note to all auto manufacturers: everyone wants wireless charging pads. Everyone.
The infotainment system in both the Telluride and Carnival have everything you could want or need. During our long road trip, we seamlessly ran Waze through Apple CarPlay, while the phone was connected and charging. It was flawless. For both the Telluride and the Carnival, Kia’s infotainment system offers everything you could want, including a Wifi hotspot. When it comes to tech, both vehicles stand up well.
When it came to ride quality, the Telluride was significantly better than the Carnival, which was loud and bouncy. The third-row passengers reported that the minivan felt like a school bus.
There was also a lot of road noise in the Carnival when compared to the Telluride which is quieter and has a more sophisticated feel. While the gain in legroom and shoulder room is a positive for the Carnival, the louder minivan and the firmer and bouncier ride detract from the overall minivan experience when compared to the Telluride.
Other minivans, such as the Sienna and Odyssey, are quiet and smooth so Kia should focus on improving the ride quality of the Carnival in its next iteration. Simply adding some more noise reduction would put it on par with other segment leaders or rival some of the SUVs out there.
The Telluride we drove on last year’s road trip was the SX trim with an MSRP of $46,860, which I found to be fairly competitively priced for how nice it was and how much we enjoyed it. The 2022 Carnival for this year’s road trip was the EX trim with an as-tested price of $38,775. With a nearly $10,000 difference in price, the edge once again seems to go to the minivan. More cargo room, more space for passengers, equal tech, and a smaller price tag, all tip the scales in favor of the Carnival.
Perhaps It’s Time to Change Your Minivan Perception
The appeal or lack of appeal for the minivan segment often comes down to perception. Like wearing socks with Crocs — what might be comfortable and enjoyable for you, might not be hip or cool. Well, neither are minivans, but they are comfortable, much more so than most full-size SUVs.
So, do you want to be hip and cool or do you want to be comfortable and happy? Me, as a middle-aged parent, I’d opt for comfort over chic. I’ll take the minivan.
To price out your own 2022 Kia Carnival and schedule a test drive check out Kia.com.