Whatever you do, don’t call these “minivans”. It seems like that word is off-limits in the world of automotive marketing because you won’t find it on Toyota Canada’s website in describing the 2021 Sienna Hybrid. On Kia Canada’s website, they went so far as to call the 2022 Carnival a “Life Utility Vehicle”; LUV. But marketing speak aside, which one is the better family hauler?
Engine – Toyota did something a bit controversial for this new generation of the Sienna. They completely did away with the V6 engine. Instead, it has a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine with hybrid assist for a total system output of 245 hp (183 kW). It is far cry from the previous generation’s V6 engine with almost 300 hp output. This new one takes around 8 seconds to reach 100 km/h from a standstill. The hybrid system is a traditional setup with the 1.9 kWh nickel-metal-hydride battery being recharged by regen braking and the engine. The Toyota Sienna can be driven on electricity alone for very brief periods and mainly while maintaining a certain speed. You can accelerate on electricity alone but you have to be very, very gentle on the throttle pedal while you have a lot of angry tailgaters behind you. There is an EV-mode button but it only operates up to 40 km/h and under light throttle applications.
The all-new 2022 Kia Carnival is only offered with a 3.5L V6 that produces 290 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque (216 kW & 355 Nm). The engine can accelerate the Kia Carnival to 100 km/h a second faster than the Sienna at around 7 seconds. The engine is smooth and responsive to your right foot. This is the only engine option for the 2022 Kia Carnival. Both vehicles can tow up to 3,500 lbs.
But when it comes to fuel economy, the 2021 Sienna is king. It is rated for 6.8 L/100km (34.6 MPG) in a city and 6.6 L/100km (35.6 MPG) on a highway. In reality, I’ve been averaging around 6.2 L/100km (37.9 MPG) and this is what Toyota is banking on with customers. They’ll probably want better fuel economy rather than outright power. By comparison, the 2022 Kia Carnival is rated for 12.0 L/100km (19.6 MPG) in a city and 8.9 L/100km (26.4 MPG) on a highway. Not too bad numbers for a V6 and they are achievable as I’ve been averaging around 10 L/100km (23.5 MPG).
Transmission – The 2021 Toyota Sienna Hybrid uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to transfer the power to the road. It doesn’t try to hide the fact that it’s a CVT by generating virtual gears. Just put it into Drive and go. The 2022 Kia Carnival utilizes an 8-speed automatic. The shifts are smooth and feel very refined. It’s not the quickest transmission to react to stabs of the throttle pedal but it’s quick enough for a miniva… people hauler.
Braking – There isn’t that noticeable of a difference between the stopping power of both people movers. Both have long pedal travels so that they don’t feel overly sensitive.
Handling – The Kia Carnival is a tiny bit more engaging to drive on winding roads than the Toyota Sienna Hybrid. The steering of the Kia progressively gets stiffer the faster you go so that you don’t have to consistently provide small inputs to stay in a straight line on a highway. But around town, it’s nice and easy to maneuver.
The Sienna’s steering does the same thing although it doesn’t quite have the same feel as that of the Carnival. However, the biggest difference between the two is the fact that the Sienna is available with AWD. Technically, it’s not a traditional AWD system but rather an eAWD system. There is no physical drive shaft from the front of the car to the rear. Instead there is an electric motor in the back which provides power to the rear wheels when it’s needed. The Kia Carnival is not available with any form of AWD.
Ride Comfort – Between the two, the 2022 Kia Carnival feels a bit more supple over bumps and road imperfections. The shunts of the tires hitting a pothole don’t seem as intense as they do in the Sienna. On the flip side, however, I found that the 2021 Toyota Sienna’s seats are a bit more comfortable for my body type. They may feel different for you but for me, I’d much rather be in the Sienna for a long road trip than the Carnival.
Interior Space – This is where it all matters with people movers. The front seats are very spacious in both vehicles. The Sienna does have a bit more headroom – across all 3 rows of seats – than the Carnival but I didn’t struggle to find a comfortable position.
Both cars have power sliding doors along with hands-free functions. The Toyota has a kick-to-open feature where you just kick your foot under a “Wi-Fi” looking logo on the side skirts. The Carnival has Kia’s stand-to-open feature where you stand in front of the door (or trunk) with the key in your pocket for about 5 seconds and then the door (or trunk) will open. Personally, I prefer the Sienna’s hands-free feature more because if it’s raining and I have my hands full, those 5 seconds will feel like an eternity.
Both of these demo vehicles have 2nd row captain’s chairs but they are both available with bench seats. The Kia has VIP lounge seats which are powered and can recline like the first class seats in an airplane. These seats are also heated & ventilated. The Sienna’s captain’s chairs are not powered but they are heated. For a family with kids, the Sienna’s implementation is better. The 2nd row seats can quickly move forward & backwards and can provide a huge amount of legroom in their most rearward position. They can also spring forward to allow very easy access to the 3rd row. The Carnival’s VIP seats can’t spring forward and you have to go in between them to access the 3rd row. The bench seats on lower trim levels of the Kia Carnival have more traditional seats with easier access to the 3rd row.
The 3rd row in the Sienna is spacious. Headroom for an adult like myself at 6’4” is more than that in the Kia Carnival. Legroom is dependent on who sits in the 2nd row but with the 2nd row seats in their most forward position, the Sienna has more legroom. At least, with these demo vehicles. The 3rd row seats can be folded into the trunk in both vehicles and both cars have the same mechanism for stowing the seats away.
In terms of cargo space, the 2022 Kia Carnival has more than the 2021 Toyota Sienna. Behind the 3rd row, the Carnival has 1,139 L vs the Sienna’s 949 L (40.2 vs 33.5 cu-ft). Behind the 2nd row, the Kia has 2,460 L vs 2,129 L for the Toyota (86.8 vs 75.2 cu-ft). And finally behind the 1st row, the Kia tops out at 4,110 L vs the Sienna’s 2,860 L (145.1 vs. 101 cu-ft). Though I suspect that the 4,000+ L number is with the 2nd row seats removed. The 2nd row seats can only be removed in Carnival models that have the bench seating option and not the VIP lounge seats. In the Toyota Sienna, the 2nd row seats cannot be removed… unless you want to break out your tool kit.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – When the 2021 Toyota Sienna is driving on electricity, it is as quiet as a church on the inside. However, once the engine turns on – which is a seamless transition by the way – it is a noisy little bugger. Road and wind noise is fairly well subdued but those noises are better insulated in the Kia Carnival. The V6 engine is also a bit quieter than the 4-cylinder in the Sienna. As for squeaks and trim piece rattles, neither had any that I could hear when driving over rough roads.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – Between the two people carriers, the 2022 Kia Carnival is less expensive than the 2021 Toyota Sienna when it comes to the starting price. $34,795 CAD ($32,100 USD) vs $39,990 CAD ($34,460 USD). But while the Carnival is less expensive, it’s also not as well equipped in base form. The Sienna has a full suite of advanced safety & driver aids as part of the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, it is equipped with heated front seats & steering wheel, power sliding doors, 9” touchscreen, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto integration, & LED headlights. The 2022 Carnival has the same advanced safety & driver aids (but without adaptive cruise control) as well as LED headlights, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto integration. But it doesn’t get all the other stuff that the Toyota has unless you move up a trim level or two.
At the other end of the spectrum, a fully loaded 2022 Kia Carnival will cost you $48,595 CAD ($46,100 USD) and a fully loaded 2021 Toyota Sienna will be $58,190 CAD ($52,450 USD). In the United States, the Sienna is available in the Platinum trim which adds a head-up display, a vacuum, and a small fridge. In Canada we do not get this trim. But even so, I find it a bit strange that the Sienna costs more than the Carnival because it’s the Kia that is better equipped. It has a larger infotainment screen, a full digital driver display, TWO sunroofs that can both be opened, the aforementioned VIP lounge seats with heating & ventilation, and a camera that lets you keep an eye on passengers in the 2nd & 3rd rows. Of course both vehicles come equipped with leather upholstery, heated 1st & 2nd row seats, ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging, power liftgate, hands-free power sliding doors (though the Sienna’s are better as it just requires a kick whereas the Kia requires you to stand in front of the door with the vehicle locked & the key in your pocket for 5 seconds before the door opens), satellite navigation, and surround view cameras (the Kia’s are much better resolution than the Toyota’s). The only worthwhile features that the Sienna has over the Carnival is the rear entertainment system and the rear camera mirror which are not available in the Kia.
Interior Design – Visually, the 2022 Carnival has a much nicer looking interior than the 2021 Sienna. The materials have a premium look & feel and there is less use of cheap feeling plastics. In reality, the Sienna has a much more family friendly interior. All of the controls are buttons or knobs whereas the Kia has some physical knobs & toggles but some of the “buttons” are haptic touch. However, the worst design choice in the Kia is the gloss black trim pieces. Within 5 nanoseconds of a child stepping in the Carnival, those gloss black trim pieces will be covered in scratches, fingerprints, boogers, dust, etc and it will not look good. Worse still is that the black trim pieces are also on the door handles which are very high use areas. So after a few months, nevermind a few years, I can’t see the gloss black pieces looking too good.
Outward visibility is good in both vehicles but the Sienna has a slight advantage when it comes to rear visibility. It can be equipped with a rear camera mirror just like in many GM vehicles. This gives you an unobstructed view out the back without headrests getting in your way.
Exterior Design – On the outside, it’s a bit harder to pick a clear winner on their designs because they are both quite bold to look at. The Kia has intricate daytime running lights and headlights that are integrated into the grille. The Toyota has more traditional headlights and DRLs but the front fascia looks much more sporty. It’s the same story in the back. The Kia has a light bar that spans the rear but the Sienna has some pretty cool looking tail lights. So between the two, I can’t decide which is better looking.
Warranty – In Canada, the 2022 Kia Carnival has a 5 year / 100,000 km comprehensive & powertrain warranty. In the United States, the comprehensive portion of the warranty is 5 years / 60,000 miles and the powertrain is 10 years / 100,000 miles. For more information on Kia Canada warranty, click here. For Kia USA warranty information, click here.
The 2021 Toyota Sienna has a 3 year / 60,000 km basic, 5 year / 100,000 km powertrain, 8 year / 160,000 km hybrid component, and 10 year / 240,000 km hybrid battery warranty in Canada. In the United States, the warranty period is the same for each but the mileage is 36,000, 60,000, 100,000, & 150,000 miles respectively. For more information on Toyota Canada warranty, click here. For Toyota USA warranty information, click here. (Scroll to bottom of page)
So which of these two people movers is better? Between these two top trims, the 2021 Toyota Sienna feels like the better family vehicle. It’s much easier to get in and out of, it has more passenger space and it doesn’t have the scratch & dust prone interior materials. The 2022 Kia Carnival on the other hand feels like your adult friends would enjoy it more. I’m sure that kids would like to play around in those VIP lounge seats but it’s difficult to get in the back with them and there could be arguments as to who gets to sit in those VIP chairs. Plus as I said earlier, that interior doesn’t feel very family focused with the choice of materials. However, the lower trims of the Kia Carnival may be different with the bench seats. But I haven’t had the opportunity to try them out. Regardless of which one you choose, the modern minivan is not like how you remember it when growing up. They are much better at moving people & cargo around than SUVs without sacrificing the tall driving position and safety. They may still have that stereotype of being boring but these two are much more interesting to look at than 99% of crossovers & SUVs out there and just as capable. So if you are looking at a 3-row crossover SUV, seriously consider one of these minivans. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Thank you to Kia Canada for providing the 2022 Carnival. www.Kia.ca
Thank you to Toyota Canada for providing the 2021 Sienna. www.Toyota.ca