To date, we have only reviewed the fanciest-pants 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige with the seven-passenger configuration that includes second-row "VIP Lounge" seats with deployable footrests and a deep recline option. It's swank. However, it's probably a better choice for families with older kids who don't have to sit in car seats and can therefore take advantage of those extra features.
If that's not you, I recommend the eight-passenger configuration. Every minivan has some sort of second-row trick up its sleeve. The Honda Odyssey has the lateral-sliding Magic Slide seats. The non-hybrid Chrysler Pacifica has Stow 'n Go. The Toyota Sienna has the Super-Long Slide captain's chairs. The 2022 Kia Carnival not only offers the VIP Lounge seats, it offers the "Captain Kirk chair." Let me explain.
The second-row middle seat in the Carnival is more than just a quasi jump seat placed in between captain's chairs, as in the eight-passenger Sienna (above left) and Pacifica. Like the Odyssey's (above right), the seat is wider and therefore more comfortable, though still flatter and narrower than the outboard seats.
That's where the Odyssey and Carnival diverge.
While the Carnival's can't be so easily removed as those in the Odyssey or others, it's capable of sliding a truly absurd degree back and forth. Bringing it all the way forward lets mom or dad more easily tend to their precious cargo in a front-facing car seat. Doing so also provides those in the outboard seats more shoulder room and/or an easier view of junior in a rear-facing car seat.
Then it gets crazy.
You can slide it back to the third row. This can also free up shoulder space with three people across, or make it easier/possible to install three car seats. You'd also still have legroom in the outboard third-row seats. This versatility is exceptional.
But it literally doesn't stop there.
You can move the middle seat all the way back to where the third-row folds into the floor. This creates an unusual five-person seating arrangement. If there's another minivan that can do this, please let me know.
Doing this allows all three people to have unlimited shoulder room, and the person in the middle gets immense, sprawl-out legroom. You also preserve more cargo space than if you raised the 40-portion of the third-row to sit that extra person (which you'd have to do with just two second-row captain's chairs).
Sitting back there is unusual. There's either nothing on either side of you or you're surrounded by luggage. There's also no armrests (nor are there inner armrests for the captain's chairs, which is a definite down side). And, admittedly, the seat is harder and flatter than the third row.
This position would be why I dubbed the Carnival's middle seat the "Captain Kirk chair." Not actually because of the Enterprise bridge, but because the same name was once used to describe another unusual solo chair. You see, on KLM's 747 airplanes, there are two Business Class areas. One is upstairs, and the other is in the nose. Down there, pairs of seats fan out along the fuselage, leaving a large space in between each side -- just enough for a single lie-flat business class seat. I once heard it dubbed the "Captain Kirk chair," ironically, by the head of Kia corporate PR. It's a perfect descriptor, in both the 747 and the Carnival.
So, with Sulu and Chekov ahead with their respective computer terminals, let's take a look at some other features of the Carnival's second row.
This is the space provided for climbing into the third row. Obviously, with the Captain Kirk chair, you can't exactly climb through the captain's chairs. Hmm, that means there are captain's chairs and the Captain Kirk chair. I guess that's confusing. Admiral Kirk chair? Maybe, but only if you pronounce "Admiral" like Ricardo Montalbán.
Anyway, this space isn't that great. Also, the door juts out a great deal. My wife reported that it was difficult to maneuver around the door while securing our son in his rear-facing car seat when the outboard captain's chair was pushed all the way back.
By the way, this is as far back as the outboard captain's chairs go. The VIP Lounge chairs go much farther, as do the Sienna's Super-Long Slide seats. This is about the same as the Honda Odyssey.
Third-row comfort seems similar to other minivans, but a closer back-to-back sit could reveal differences. I would say it seems comfier than the Sienna's, while also having a less cave-like view thanks to bigger rear quarter windows.
One feature I like is the ability to motor forward the front passenger seat using these controls. They came in handy when ensuring there was enough space for the rear-facing car seat.
This trim level, the SX (no Prestige), included touchscreens mounted to the front seats. Among its features are the Sounds of Nature feature (see video at the bottom of this page) found in many Kias, Hyundais and Genesiseses. If your kid will wear headphones, this could serve as a white noise machine for naps without making everyone else in the car listen to rain falling.
The downside with those screens is that it slightly reduces the amount the second row can slide for third-row access. Worse, it significantly reduces the space between the front seat and a rear-facing child seat. You have to slide the front passenger seat further forward than you would without those screens — if you would at all.
In total, I'm a big fan of this configuration. I still think that the Sienna's Super-Long seat travel would be more beneficial for my family, but I really dig the Captain Kirk versatility, especially compared to the eight-passenger Sienna, which does not Super-Long slide. Really, all the various second-row designs are the main differentiator of the four competing minivans (well, besides the Sienna's game-changing fuel economy). Each offers something different, but none are necessarily better. They just satisfy different needs and preferences.