2022 Kia Carnival Versus 2021 Toyota Sienna

Crossovers and SUVs have steamrolled over sedans and coupes to become the predominant mode of transport for many new shoppers…

By Isaac Bouchard 

But some still need the extra interior volume of a minivan; simply put, there is not a single other class of vehicle that packs as much room into such a footprint. Since the sales volume of these vehicles remains small, car companies limit the number of variants they offer—for instance, the Kia Carnival tested here and the Honda Odyssey are not available with AWD. And Toyota chose to make all Siennas hybrids, whether driven by two or four wheels.

Styling is another area where the approach taken diverges; the Sienna is unapologetic in looking like something from the future; it is a daring approach that works quite well, though the smaller wheel size most models run on undermines its proportions. That issue doesn’t plague the Carnival, whose exaggerated hood and window forms mimic a crossover as much as possible. Inside, the Kia is also more conventional in dash layout; in most ways the dash and center console echo the company’s Sorento and Telluride models. Behind the first row there are the requisite sliding doors and lower, flatter floor that are hallmarks of the breed; the third row in each tumbles into the floor. The Sienna’s styling is something the Jetsons would feel more at home with; sweeping forms and exaggerated angles are true to Toyota’s current styling language but even more outrageous than one will find in most of their SUVs and crossovers. The giant, angled center console; textured brown accent trim is unlike anything else offered across the market and is a welcome change from faux wood. The Carnival is much more conventional, and the test vehicle’s “Tuscan Umber” faux leather seemed warmer and richer, if not as avant-garde. Neither has a center row (or captains’ chairs) that fold into the floor, unlike the Chrysler Pacific. Both the Kia and Toyota have non-removable second row bucket seats that can slide forward and back. The Kia has more passenger and cargo volume, however. The Sienna has a prominent, 9-inch touch screen, Wifi hotspot, Apple and Android phone integration, and (on the test vehicle) upgraded 12-speaker JBL sound system and 11.6in entertainment screen. The Kia had two 12.3in displays for the driver with better looking graphics and twin screens for the passengers and an upgraded, Bose sound system. Both have a large number of USB ports, and tri-zone HVAC. Driver aids like adaptive cruise, emergency braking and lane assist are standard on both.

The Kia and Toyota are actually very enjoyable to drive; the slightly different seating position and windshield shape make piloting minivans unique. Both handle curves adequately and both ride well over broken pavement. And, aside from the noises the Sienna makes under duress, both are refined and quiet. The Kia is faster—and feels much less strained. The Toyota is quick off the line because of its hybrid system’s electric motors assisting the smaller 4-cylinder engine to get going, meaning it isn’t bad in town. But above 20-30mph or in the mountains the lack of grunt, and the machinations of the CVT-type transmission become fatiguing. With 245hp, the Sienna is down on power compared to the Carnival, whose 3.5-liter V6 cranks 290 ponies. The Kia’s extra two cylinders and conventional, 8-speed auto also sound much better. The Toyota, which returned close to 30mpg in mixed use (it is rated by the EPA at 35/36/35mpg) is substantially more frugal than the Kia, whose numbers are 19/26/22mpg. And, there is no AWD option available for it. That said, heavy, front-drive machines like the Carnival, when equipped with winter tires, are nigh on unstoppable on snowy roads. The Kia has the much longer warranty of course, but Toyota is still top of the heap for rated reliability and resale value. Which suits better probably comes down to subjectives such as styling or the perceived or real need for AWD.

                                    Kia Carnvial SX           Toyota Sienna XSE

EPA Ratings:                19/26/22mpg              25/26/25mpg

0-60mph:                    7.0-sec                        7.7-sec

Price as tested:           $42,770                       $47,215

Rating:                         4.5 Stars                      4.5 Stars

Here’s what they say: KIA                               TOYOTA

Contact Isaac Bouchard for help saving time, money and hassle when buying or leasing one at [email protected]

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