PHOTOS BY TIM PLOUFF

On the Road Review: Kia Carnival SX



Another visit from Kia’s impressive new Carnival family hauler, a notable improvement over the departing Sedona, is a bright reminder of the major strides forward by this brand. Kia has been quietly winning consumer confidence awards, while the offerings across the lineup reflect consistent levels of refinement, quality and performance. Same goes for Hyundai and its luxury brand Genesis, as this Korean automaker redefines the value quotient.

The sampled Carnival, a top SX model in Ceramic Silver paint, a $495 option, lists for $42,770 with two-tone leather interior, heated and cooled seating front and rear, plus a host of interior amenities and driving aids. Base LX models start at $10,000 less and offer an extensive list of standard features so buyers who like the look, the space and the general design against the aging Odyssey, or the more expensive Pacifica and Sienna, now have a real minivan option.

Power comes from a 290-hp 3.5-liter V-6 backed by an eight-speed automatic. Acceleration is ample, smoothly delivered and hushed. EPA estimates are 19/26/22 mpg with a 3,500-pound towing limit. Dynamically, the front-drive Carnival is a clone of the Honda — excellent ride and handling, yet with neither the hybrid nor the AWD options found on the Sienna and Pacifica.

Sliding into the Carnival’s interior raises consumer’s expectations — the presentation of materials, switchgear and controls is ahead of the pack. It would be easy to assume that our SX sample was a Mercedes or Lexus product — that’s the level of luxury evident visually and to the touch. Big screen for controls and entertainment, knobs and buttons for managing functions, multi-way power seats with memory and big visibility out — it’s all here.

With more standard advanced driving assists than any other rival, plus a fresh face in a design that undercuts the segment on price, the Carnival is poised to make significant inroads into the minivan segment.

Recently, this household decided it was prudent to replace one of our daily drivers for a newer vehicle, one with more fuel economy, some desirable features, plus the convenience of items like a power liftgate. After extensively sampling the Hyundai Tucson Hybrid that appeared here, the “navigator” elected to pursue the mid-level SEL trim version of this hot-selling new model.

The 2022 Tucson is the same size as her current Chevy Equinox, with very similar driving dynamics due to the longer wheelbase of the new design. The spacing inside works well, while the Tucson hybrid’s powertrain provided 10-12 more mpg over the Chevy’s regular fuel economy — a not so insignificant 33 percent improvement in fuel mileage since gasoline pricing has increased 40 percent in the last year.

Like many families, winnowing the capable assortment of new vehicles down to one that you like, fits the expected budget and promises 10 to 12 years of reasonable service (the average age of America’s driving fleet) is a complicated challenge. In the compact crossover category, buyers have the top-selling Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V, the Ford Escape, plus the Tucson as hybrid-powered options.

The first dealer visit had one Tucson in inventory — and it was not a hybrid. When would more arrive? Two more were coming in two weeks, neither of which were the desired model or color. When would more come? The dealership could not tell us when, as they were on “allocation.”

We pursued a second dealer, which at least presented the ability to order one to our (assumed) reasonable specs — the mid-level trim in dark blue. Yes, with a $1,000 nonrefundable deposit, we could order a new Tucson hybrid. When would it come? They had no idea. Before the end of the year? No idea. Really, no commitment to get a vehicle in 95 days?

A third dealer experience, all in Maine, reinforced the second dealer’s answers, but they moved the needle slightly with “only” a $500 nonrefundable deposit. And “we are selling at list price, while some have marked up the price.” How reassuring since only 14 months ago you were banging heads with each other with discounts and incentives to move the metal.

At this point, we opted to pull out of this race to the bottom. We wanted a newer car, but we can make do with what is here in the driveway — no need to feed a beast that seemingly has an insatiable appetite.

The coronavirus pandemic has created more havoc in the marketplace than anyone could have predicted. Computer chip shortages are only partially at fault here, as parts shortages from many vendors, shipping issues, fluctuating consumer demand, plus the race to electrify everything ahead of any real demand, are taking a toll on consumers’ wallets (the average new vehicle transaction price has risen an incredible 17 percent over the past year) as well as their patience and willingness to engage. Yes, there are fewer new (and used) vehicles in the marketplace, but there are also signs that this issue will persist far longer than most pundits have predicted.

Today’s new cars are impressive. Buying one, especially one that moves the needle forward like the latest Tucson, could prove to be an aggravating experience.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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