Auto123 pits the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid and 2022 Kia Carnival against one another in a head-to-head comparison.
With these two minivans, we set out to answer the age-old question: Is it better to go with the experienced vet, or the spunky newcomer?
Kia is not new to the segment, of course. But its resident minivan was getting long in the tooth, and many even wondered if Kia wasn’t simply content to let the Sedona stumble on until it finally died, its people-moving responsibilities shifting over to the automaker’s many SUVs. But wouldn’t you know it, Kia had plans – an indication, perhaps, that minivans haven’t been as easily replaced by three-row SUVs as all that – and so we have the all-new and quite striking Carnival.
So load the suitcases (or hockey bags), strap in the child’s seats and hit the Tim Horton’s drive-thru. It’s minivan time!
2021 Chrysler Pacifica
The Pacifica has one obvious thing going for it the Carnival doesn’t: a hybrid option. In fact a plug-in hybrid, which provides up to 50 km of range. The Pacifica also has an AWD option while the Carnival is FWD only, although if you want AWD for your Pacifica, the Hybrid is not an option.
Pricing for the Pacifica Hybrid ranges from $49,192 to $55,648.
Wait…that’s a minivan?
The Pacifica is such a suave looking thing you’d believe it could have been designed by European minivan makers. The way the side windows taper forwards towards the back and the well-shaped snout all provide a profile that looks more “big station wagon” than “minivan”, just as European firms have always done.
It's in the details, too, for example the full taillight bar across the back and foglights up front, and the chrome detailing on the “Pinnacle” script behind the front wheels, and the stripping around the side windows and on the wing mirrors (a great callback to the super chromed American cars of old). It makes for a more compact look than the Carnival, even though the Pacifica is actually the wider of the two. Add the tinted windows and almost candied red paint on my tester, and this is one good-looking minivan.
The same goes for the interior, which makes great use of lighting and top-class materials to make its point. Not to mention the gingerbread house-like finish and diamond quilting on the seats, which is a very luxurious touch.
It also gets Chrysler’s massive 10-inch Uconnect display with great graphics and configurable shortcuts strung across the display for all your most used apps and features. The touchscreen is very responsive, and the buttons large enough that finding them while driving is easy.
It's also on this display that you’ll find one of my favourite features, appropriately (and affectionately) called “FamCam” (and unfortunately only available on the top-spec Pinnacle trim). The bird’s eye view it gives of the first and second rows means you will know it if your child picks their nose – even at night, as there is a nightvision-esque quality to it.
On my tester, the second row consisted of captain’s chairs – just like it is in the Carnival – which means there’s no Stow N’ Go seating there and the only way to remove the second row is to literally lift the seats out. At least the third row can be folded down Stow N’ Go-style, unlike in the Carnival. It also means that if the third row is in use, you have a deep bin behind them for your wares.
This thing is, that while the Pacifica looks big from the outside, it feels more car-like inside than the Carnival. I do like how all main controls – including the shift selector wheel – are stored on a ledge at the base of the centre stack, but I like less how the only storage you have there is a traditional bin in the armrest and fairly cramped bin at the base of the centre stack.
Of course, you can dress up an interior all you want, but the ride has to back it up. Luckily, that is not a problem with the Pacifica as it rides very much like the luxury vehicle it looks to be.
Everything but the harshest bumps are gamely absorbed by the chassis and well-tune dampers, to the point where it almost feels like the former are adaptive, which they are not. It’s a standard MacPherson strut front/trailing arm rear set-up, but if there’s one thing Chrysler knows, it’s how to make their cars ride well. Body roll through faster corners is kept nicely in-check as well, which is important when you have so many occupants and increased chance of motion sickness.
The Pacifica gets a 3.6L Pentastar V6 plus EV motor, but still the 260 hp and 235 lb-ft it don’t match up to the Carnival. Still, speed off the line is brisk and I never found myself wanting for power during situations like freeway passing. While the Pacifica is the heavier vehicle, I never got that over-stressed powertrain feeling that you do with larger hybrids even though the Pacifica has a CVT-style electronically variable transmission, not a format known for delivering great acceleration.
The steering is also very good, as you’d expect from a minivan required to work on cramped, clogged city streets and parkades. The wheel can be turned with little more than an outstretched digit, which both makes it easier to work with and has it feeling more luxurious.
The best I could to when it comes to EV driving was about 37 km, less than what Chrysler claims. Still, if you’re using the Pacifica mainly for a weekday school run commute or soccer practice, you could rely mainly on EV mode if you’re good about plugging it in at night.
2022 Kia Carnival
The Carnival is all-new for 2022, replacing the aging Sedona that had run its course. It is a drastic departure from that vehicle, adding striking new styling, a new platform, more power from its standard 3.5L V6 and more luxury and features, especially at top-spec SX level seen here.
Wait…that’s a minivan, too?
Ok, yes, the Carnival is boxier than the Pacifica, but it does sport some nice touches to separate it from the minivan flock. I’m a fan of the stamped aluminum-look panel on the c-pillar (that’s echoed throughout the cabin), though I do wonder how well it will age. The dark wheels on my tester are top notch, though they’re so dark it obscures the edgy spoke design.
The front fascia, meanwhile, is both futuristic and properly unique; the cubed aluminum grille inserts look like they belong on a concept vehicle, and the narrow headlamp lenses and the LED DRLs that stretch two-thirds of the way down each side of the grille are distinctive. There’s a slight nod to the “tiger nose” signature front end that the rest of the lineup adopts, but that’s overshadowed by the rest of the detailing.
While the rear fascia is of the typical road minivan variety (the Pacifica’s is a little more shapely), the full-length taillight and slight roof spoiler add a dash of modernity. The Carnival is handsome overall but it doesn’t quite seem as naturally finished as the Pacifica.
It’s a party in here!
The first thing you’ll notice inside the Carnival is that it’s true to its name - it provides a cornucopia of displays and lights to feast your eyes upon.
The dash comprises two digital displays -- one for gauge cluster, one for infotainment and connectivity needs – whilst the centre stack is a single-touch panel with climate controls. On it there are a grand total of four traditional “hard” buttons: two toggles for the driver and front passenger temperature level, and a button each for your front and rear defrost controls.
The rest is all touch-sensitive and while there is haptic feedback when you depress a “button”, I still prefer traditional buttons, which are easier to use when driving. It does make for a slick look to the cockpit, though, and that the digital gauge cluster doubles as a blind spot camera once you flick your turn indicator is a nice bonus. I’m also a fan of the “Sounds Of Nature” app that givers access to an array of ambient soundtracks that range from a rainy day to a lively forest and even a bustling coffee shop! Of course, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both present and accounted for.
I was disappointed with the Carnival’s sunroof setup; there are two of them, but they’re each standard size and the Pacifica’s nearly full-length panoramic moonroof ensures an airier ambiance.
Of course, you could argue that the Pacifica needs that more, because the Kia is the roomier of the two vehicles. Indeed, from the driver’s perspective, you get less the sense you’re ensconced in a cocoon than you do in the more car-like Pacifica. An intimate cockpit is fine for a sports car, but roominess and a good view out are what minivan buyers want, and if this head-to-head comparison came down to interior room alone, that’s a hands down win for the Kia newcomer.
My SX version tester comes with standard second-row captain’s chairs as opposed to the bench seat found in other models, meaning I can only fit seven as opposed to eight. The second-row thrones are mighty comfortable but they are a little difficult to manipulate. They can be moved fore and aft – that’s pretty standard – but they can also be moved further outboard or inboard, which is something I’ve never seen before in a minivan. It’s ostensibly done to make the third row easier to access, but I still found it tough to pass between the two even when each one was in its outboard position.
The third row, meanwhile, is comfortable enough but it’s a chore to stow compared to the Chrysler’s Stow N’ Go tech – but then again, the same can be said for pretty much all of the Pacifica’s competition. The luxurious captain’s chairs (that also feature kick-out leg rests) and the fact that accessing the third row is challenging makes me feel that this trim of the Carnival is more about shuttling VIPs than about stuffing the family in the back. Another clue is that you can reach the front passenger seat controls from the second row, allowing those VIPs sitting in the second row to push a button and send the front passenger seat sliding smoothly forward.
No AWD, but you love that V6
Power is rated at 290 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque, sent to the front wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission.
It’s a good, powerful engine that takes a surprisingly light amount of throttle to get going; I found myself actually chirping the front tires with a surprisingly small amount of throttle input. That’s a bit of a surprise when it happens and it goes to show that those tires have quite a lot of weight to haul around. Even thought the Pacifica Hybrid I tested is FWD as well, I never quite got the same response upon throttle tip-in.
Nice to have all that grunt once you get going, though, as it makes high(er) speed manoeuvres on the highway that much easier. With the Kia, you won’t be left wanting for power, that’s for sure.
The ride is a nicely composed affair as well – minivans tend to have low ride heights for easier occupant access, and the offshoot of that is a lower centre of gravity as well. That, plus some nicely tuned dampers means that the Carnival stays nice and planted through turns. Coupled with that V6 power, it feels more performance-oriented than the Chrysler. Now, you may say that’s not a big thing when it comes to minivans, but that quality makes for a more predictable and controlled overall ride as well. It isn’t quite as smooth as the Pacifica, though, so you are sacrificing a little bit for the sake of a more athletic attitude through the bends.
Advantage Chrysler Pacifica
Hybrid power, man. This is just a huge advantage for the Chrysler. Minivans are heavy and tend not to be the most frugal vehicles to run, so any advantage you can gain in that department is a big deal. Add the fact that not only is the Pacifica a hybrid, its’ a plug-in, and it holds all the cards in the driving efficiency department.
Advantage Kia Carnival
While the Pacifica has a somewhat classic look to it, the Carnival has positively striking exterior styling. That’s not something often said about minivans, and it could very well be the ticket that draws more people toward the Carnival. The unparalleled practicality of a minivan is great, but the less you look like one, the more chance you have to bring the fight to three-row SUVs.
While I’ll always count Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system as one of the best in the biz, what Kia’s done here and throughout their lineup has brought it right up there. You don’t get FamCam, but you do get the Sounds of Nature and while the former is a more practical feature, the latter is a nice amenity and when you’re moving large families around for extended periods of time, that matters. Oh, does it ever.
You could say that this is a battle between the wily vet from Chrysler and the newcomer from Kia, but that’s not entirely accurate, is it? After all, the Chrysler gets two newfangled options the Carnival doesn’t – AWD and a hybrid – which earn it many points in the modernity department.
The Kia looks a treat, though, has more room inside and a host of neat features – second row leg rests, more interior space, digital gauge cluster – that set it apart both from the Pacifica and the rest of the competition. Plus, it has more room inside.
Even with all that going for it, though, something about the Carnival left me cold. For some reason, even with all that glitz, fancy interior lighting and trick seating (not to mention its name), the Carnival is just a little too sterile and seems more a colour-by-numbers take on the minivan.
The Pacifica, by contrast, is more natural feeling (could it be the woodgrain inside? Perhaps) and more comfortable in its own skin, plus it has hybrid power, as well as the always-handy Stow N’ Go seating.
It’s a valiant effort for the Korean newcomer, but Chrysler knows minivans and even though it doesn’t look so traditional, the Pacifica has heaps of tradition on which to lean and it’s made great use of that know-how.
2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Gorgeous interior digs
Plug-in hybrid power
We like less
Could use more interior storage
No hybrid/AWD combo
2022 Kia Carnival
Awesome exterior styling
We like less
No hybrid option
No AWD option
Awkward third-row access
|..||Kia Carnival||Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid|
|Fuel Consumption (city)||12.0L/100 km||8.0L/100 km|
|Fuel Consumption (hwy)||8.9L/100 km||7.9L/100 km|
|Fuel Consumption (combined)||10.6L/100 km||8.0L/100 km|
|Output||290 hp||260 hp|
|Torque||262 lb-ft||235 lb-ft|
|Cargo space||1399 l / 4110 l||914.6 l / 3979 l|
|Fuel tank||72 l||62.5 l|
|Length||5155 mm||5189 mm|
|Width||1995 mm||2022 mm|
|Height||1775 mm||1777 mm|
|Wheelbase||3090 mm||3089 mm|
|Warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Price (as tested)||$48,595||$55,648|