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First Drive Review: 2022 Kia Carnival is the best minivan/MPV on the market

The Carnival is three-row vehicle excellence you didn't see coming.

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Wait, wait, wait. If you were under the impression that the Kia Carnival isn't a minivan, well that's just means that the automaker's marketing department has done their job well. Look, it doesn't matter if you think it's a minivan (it is) or if you're buying the whole multi-purpose vehicle speak. The point is, the 2022 Kia Carnival is very, very good.

The exterior Carnival was crafted at Kia's design studio in California by artists that clearly understood what Americans want out of their minivan - they want the outside to not look like one. For the cabin design, the design team in South Korea took over and managed to tall all the things the general buying public loves about the functionality of a three-row minivan and pack it into the package created in SoCal.

2022 Kia Carnival From the side, it's hard to tell if the Carnival is a three-row SUV or a minivan.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

With its large but lowered SUV looks, the Carnival looks more like a Chevy Traverse than the Kia Sedona it replaces. When parked, it caught more than a few eyes, which honestly isn't surprising. It doesn't quite look like what people have see before (similar to how the Kia Telluride appeared when new) but it also isn't easy to figure out whether it's a van or a SUV.

Kia sells the Carnival in four trim levels: LX, EX, SX, and SX-Prestige. They provided an SX and SX-Prestige for simultaneous review. Those two models have a starting price of $41,100 and $46,100, respectively. The base model Carnival LX starts just over $32,000.

Every grade comes standard with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that delivers 290 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. That's plenty of power though in the heavier SX-Prestige grade the Carnival feels heavier to drive and seems slower off the line. It is heavier than the LX base model by around 400 pounds and 126 pounds heavier than the Carnival SX.

Like a good-driving SUV, the Carnival delivers a proper amount of steering feedback and turning is precise. It's just as easy to cruise at high speed in the Carnival as it is to maneuver around a parking lot. You can't say that about any full-size SUV on the market today. The Kia has good outward visibility and is easy to get into and out of a parking space.

2022 Kia Carnival The Carnival's setup is more like an SUV than the typical minivan.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Like other minivans, the center console of the Carnival divides front row occupant seating, but this is more in the style of an SUV than, say the Toyota Sienna, where you feel like you're sequestered to your own cabin. There's plenty of small item storage but there isn't the nifty under-stack place for handbags or shopping bags like what can be found in the Chrysler Pacifica.

Having the car's instrument cluster and infotainment screen under one housing is just as attractive in the Carnival as it is in Mercedes-Benz models. The base model gets an 8.0-inch infotainment touch screen and a mostly analog cluster with a driver information display. Any grade above the SX gets a 12-inch infotainment touch screen but you have to opt for the fully loaded SX-Prestige to get a matching 12-inch fully-digital instrument cluster. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and multiple USB ports are standard.

As in other Kia products, the infotainment system is easy to operate and clear to read. The all-digital instrument cluster isn't anything worth upgrading to on its own. Sure, it's a high-tech addition that works as advertised, but you're not really missing anything by not getting it.

2022 Kia Carnival The all-digital instrument cluster is only available on Carnival SX-Prestige models.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

There are other reasons to get the SX-Prestige though. It comes standard with a 12-speaker Bose sound system (other models have six or eight speakers), a rear seat entertainment system and rear seat voice recognition (both also on SX), a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated second- and third-row seats, second-row VIP lounge seats, and pure leather seat trim.

The Carnival seats seven or eight, depending on trim level. When opting for the VIP lounge seats, owners lose the ability to have removable seats, which are standard on every other trim level.

If your kids are in car seats, the second-row amenities (aside from the entertainment system) probably aren't a deal breaker. For you, a Carnival SX is likely loaded with more than enough comfort and convenience features to please. Parents with teens who are prone to complain on road trips will want the SX-Prestige version.

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The Kia Carnival and the Kia K5 are the best Kias out there right now. The Carnival is the brand's best full vehicle effort in years. It ticks nearly every box, including the "don't make it look like I'm driving a minivan" one. If you're in the market for a people mover, like the looks of an SUV, don't like climbing in and out of an SUV, and don't require off-roading capability, you could do much, much worse than the Carnival, for much, much more money.

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The Tahoe has three available powertrains.

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

When I write car reviews, I don't typically say very much about the engine and drivetrain unless there's something particularly interesting or unique about it.

I believe most car buyers don't really care about things like zero to 60 mph times or how many gears a transmission has. Those are features and statistics, and they're an imperfect measurement of an automobile.

I'm a fan of the Good-Better-Best school of cars, and it looks a bit like a bell curve. There aren't any genuinely terrible new cars sold today, so at worst, you're getting something that's Good. I'll call that the bottom 20 percent of the market. Sometimes these cars have engines that really are too weak and should probably be avoided, and I'll mention that in my review.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel-powered versions of the Tahoe look just like gasoline-powered Tahoes.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Then there's the class of Better, or the middle 60 percent. When I review these cars, I'll include a throwaway line about the engine or drivetrain as it's not worth mentioning in depth. They get the job done, but there's nothing to get excited about.

Then there's that top twenty percent where the magic happens. Whether it's the perfect majesty of a Rolls-Royce V12, the throaty bark of a Lamborghini V10, or even the brilliance of a Toyota Corolla Hybrid's effortless 52 miles per gallon — these are engines worth discussing.

And so it is again with my test car this week: the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe. We've already reviewed two of the Tahoe's sister vehicles, the GMC Yukon and the Cadillac Escalade. Despite being from the same family, they're definitively different branches.

But under the hood of the Tahoe is an engine that is so firmly lodged in the Best category that I can't help but write hundreds of words about it. It's the 3.0-liter six-cylinder "baby" Duramax turbodiesel that was in the works at GM for more than a decade.

It gives terrific fuel economy (for a giant truck, anyway) and fantastic torque in everyday driving. I find it far preferable to the extraordinarily thirsty 6.2-liter V8 that I had in the Yukon and the Escalade and heartily recommend it to anyone buying a GM full-size SUV or half-ton pickup. That's even more impressive because the 6.2-liter V8 is already an upgrade over the smaller 5.3-liter V8 that comes standard in most Tahoe trims.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel The engine is a mighty six-cylinder.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

It sports 277 horsepower, which doesn't sound like a lot, but horsepower is a poor quantifier of engine performance. Because it's a diesel and because it has a turbocharger, the baby Duramax has gobs of torque with which to pull away from stoplights or accelerate on a hill, or when you're trying to pass someone and you need to accelerate from 55 to 75 mph as quickly as possible.

The Tahoe's diesel engine excels in all these scenarios while delivering an EPA-estimated 21 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined in the RWD trim that I drove. That's a healthy improvement over the 16 mpg combined from the 6.2L and four-wheel drive-equipped Yukon. It's worth noting that the four-wheel drive diesel fares a little worse, getting 22 mpg combined, but that's still far better than the traditional gasoline engine.

It does all this, and it can even tow up to 8,200 pounds when properly equipped, but most people will never tow anything heavier than a small horse trailer or a boat with their full-size SUV. If you're hauling that much weight on the regular, you've likely opted for a heavy-duty pickup.

The irony of the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal is twofold. For one, some were pulling similar testing shenanigans that Volkswagen was — it's just that VW was the first to get caught. And second, those VW diesel engines were fantastic. They were torquey and excelled in everyday driving, pesky pollution aside.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel Tahoes are branded with the Duramax name.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

There's a dirty secret to the horsepower numbers that most carmakers cite: they peak at very high RPMs that average drivers will never reach. But torquey turbocharged engines like this baby Duramax? It generates 95% of its 460 pound-feet of torque at just 1,250 RPM, and then peak torque runs all the way from 1,500 to 3,000 RPM. That means you're in the prime torque band nearly continuously.

In plain English, that means it's way better to drive. It's more fun, it's more efficient, and thanks to all manner of fancy technology, diesel engines aren't weird and finicky anymore.

Yes, you should probably plug it in if you park it outside in frigid weather. But other than that one minor caveat, this diesel is nonpareil.

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The 2021 BMW 4 Series has the drive dynamics BMW enthusiasts will love.

Photo courtesy of BMW

A lot has been said about the looks of the 2021 BMW 4 Series. At its absolute worst, the car is a sleek-bodied rabbit. At its best, it's a dynamic driver that doesn't look as bad if you choose colors and packages that make the grille blend in with the body a bit. Either way, the 2021 BMW M440i is a good drive.

With a starting price of $58,500, the all-wheel drive version of the M440i is solidly in the luxury category. It has more generous proportions than its predecessor but as a coupe, the parts that truly matter are the cargo space and the head- and legroom for front seat passengers. Both are excellent.

The M440i is the upgraded version of the 4 Series that slots between the traditional 430i and 430i xDrive. As such, it has BMW's twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder under the hood that's capable of reaching 382 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. The car can get from zero to 60 is a zippy 4.3 seconds in a smooth fashion, which handy when you're working your way between highway lanes trying to get around snowbirds that don't use turn signals on Florida's highways.

2021 BMW 4 Series The car delivers pointed handling on highways, back roads, and city streets.Photo courtesy of BMW

The car has mild-hybrid technology, an engineering achievement that puts connects a 48-volt battery with the rest of the powertrain to give drivers immediate access to power off the line while saving on fuel. BMW traditionally does a great job seamlessly implementing this tech and the M440i is no exception.

BMW loaded up the model used for the test run with nearly $13,000 in extras - the paint job alone was near an additional $2,000. That numbers includes a few packages. The Drivers Assistance Professional Package ($1,700) gets a buyer traffic jam assist and Driving Assistant Pro technology. The $3,700 Executive Package adds a lot of the things you'd think would already come standard on a $50,000+ vehicle like heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, ambient lighting, a head-up display, and upgraded headlights.

The M Adaptive Suspension ($700) nicely balanced the car's on-road prowess, agility, and bump absorption. The upgraded disc brakes worked steadily without feeling grabby allowing the accelerator to be put close to the floor with confidence. Steering was, as BMW so often executes in its sedans, pointed and connected, a formula that aids in the enjoyment of time behind the wheel.

2021 BMW 4 Series This model features BMW's signature cognac leather interior.Photo courtesy of BMW

BMW is really good at designing one-size-fits-all solutions for the cabins of their vehicles and the M440i is no exception. While it creates an annoying feeling of sameness, it does allow the car's buttons, dials, switches, and knobs to nearly always be found in the same place. It's a little like coming home from vacation and standing in your own kitchen and knowing where all the dishes are without having to open multiple cabinets.

At the center of the dash is a 10.25-inch touch screen while a fully digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster sits in front of the driver. The BMW infotainment system is pretty responsive. Whether or not you like the rotary controller is a personal preference thing, but putting biases aside, it's hard to complain about how much easier it is to use than the Lexus touch pad. There is a downside, however. The font and layout choices on the instrument panel look like they were chosen by elementary school children. Huge numbers and sweeping black space take some getting used to. After about 300 miles, I still wasn't used to it.

The sameness factor carries over to the M440i's safety systems where the adaptive cruise control tech's insistence that a passing road sign is the correct speed you should be going is enough to cause frustration at best, and at the worst, a rapid slow down that could endanger those around you and yourself.

2021 BMW 4 Series The 2021 BMW 4 Series carries over typical BMW design into the cabin.Photo courtesy of BMW

The 2021 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe is a good car, with plenty of caveats that keep it from being great car. It's a vehicle for people who really want to drive it and don't mind the way it looks because they don't see that angle on a regular basis.

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