If you’re in the market for a family hauler with 3-row seating, the Kia Carnival and Toyota Highlander are both excellent choices. These practical vehicles have their own respective strengths, from the roomy interior of the Carnival minivan to the available hybrid version of the Highlander SUV.
Let’s take a closer look at these family-friendly options and see which choice fits your lifestyle.
2022 Kia Carnival
The Kia Carnival is an all-new minivan replacing the outgoing Kia Sedona. The Carnival delivers sharp styling without sacrificing minivan practicality. It has a starting MSRP of $32,300 and goes up to around $47,000 at top trim.
Every Carnival is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. This engine is rated at 290 horsepower, and it returns 19 city/26 highway mpg. These performance and fuel economy numbers are about average for a minivan and comparable to the Toyota Highlander.
It’s worth noting that the Kia Carnival comes exclusively with front-wheel drive. If you like the idea of a minivan with all-wheel drive, it’s optional on the Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Pacifica.
Kia Carnival Highlights
Roomy Seating: The 3-row seating in the Carnival is more spacious and family-friendly than any midsize SUV, including the Highlander. It also has plenty of cargo space, and the sliding doors make the roomy interior easier for kids to get in and out of. The third row in the Highlander isn’t nearly as roomy as the way-back of the Carnival.
Desirable Features: The Carnival has an impressive list of standard and available features for the money. Standard features include power sliding rear doors, second-row captain’s chairs, and wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. In addition, it has driver assistance tech features such as automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, and more. You can get premium features like a rear entertainment system, a digital gauge cluster, and second-row VIP lounge seats in the upper trims.
Value Pricing: The Carnival has the lowest starting price of any new minivan on the market. Even the top SX Prestige trim is reasonably affordable compared to the top trims of its rivals, which can cross the $50,000 mark. On the other hand, the Highlander is on the pricier side of midsize 3-row SUVs.
2022 Toyota Highlander
The Toyota Highlander is one of the most trusted names in family SUVs for good reason. This midsize 3-row SUV is safe, practical, and family-friendly. The pricing starts at $35,855, while a top trim model goes up to almost $50,000.
Like the Carnival, the Highlander comes standard with a 3.5-liter V6 and an 8-speed automatic transmission. This engine makes 295 horsepower and returns up to 21 city/29 highway mpg. There’s also a Highlander Hybrid powered by an efficient gas-electric powertrain that returns up to an impressive 36 city/35 highway mpg. This version starts at $39,555.
Front-wheel drive (FWD) is standard, but the Highlander has the advantage of available all-wheel drive (AWD). AWD is a big advantage for families in snowy climates who can benefit from the extra traction in winter.
Toyota Highlander Highlights
Upscale Interior: The Highlander has one of the finest interiors in its class. The interior design is pleasant, the seats are comfortable, and the materials are nicer than you might expect. Available interior features include a panoramic moonroof, a 12.3-inch infotainment system, heated and ventilated leather seats, and a wireless charging pad in the center console.
Hybrid Option: Unlike the Carnival, the Toyota Highlander has a hybrid option. The Highlander Hybrid is just as good as the standard Highlander, but with the bonus of improved fuel economy. It’s rated at up to 36 city/35 highway mpg, and even with AWD, it gets up to 35 city/35 highway mpg.
Stellar Safety Scores: The Highlander earns the coveted IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award for its excellent crash test scores and standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ system. The standard safety tech suite includes a pre-collision system with low-light pedestrian detection, full-speed range dynamic radar cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist, lane tracing assist, road sign assist, and automatic high beams. By comparison, the Carnival is an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
For some families, the Kia Carnival minivan will make more sense than any SUV. With sliding doors, a roomier interior, and more affordable pricing, the Carnival is great for shoppers looking for a sharp-looking, family-focused hauler.
But not all families need the room of a minivan. With an efficient hybrid option, available all-wheel drive, and outstanding resale values, the Toyota Highlander SUV is a solid choice.