Minivans and MPVs: What’s the Difference?

Minivans are cooler than ever these days, with the Kia Carnival redefining what a van really is, literally. Rather than calling it a minivan, Kia is calling the Carnival an MPV, or multi-purpose vehicle. But what exactly is an MPV, and how do they compare to minivans?

2022 Kia Carnival MPV and 2022 Toyota Sienna Minivan
2022 Kia Carnival MPV (top) and 2022 Toyota Sienna Minivan (bottom)| Kia/Toyota

What’s the difference between a minivan and an MPV?

Minivans and MPVs don’t differ much on the outside, tall cabin spaces with a small front end. In fact, fundamentally, MPVs and minivans both pride themselves on being able to take three rows of people wherever they need to go. So why the name change?

The definition of an MPV all revolves around how luxurious it is. It has nothing to do with the styling really, though MPVs are usually larger and more SUV-like, whereas a minivan would be more like a budget crossover. In fact, Kia themselves say the Carnival is “staking claim on the unoccupied space between SUV and family hauler.”

The best comparison I can come up with would be a Dodge Grand Caravan versus a Chrysler Town and Country. Both can carry seven people and many things, but the Dodge was the budget option, starting at $21,000 when new, whereas the Chrysler started at $29,000.

Though even that’s not a great comparison, as they were basically the same car, one was just comfier. So if the Kia Carnival claims to be an MPV, what features does it have to deserve that title?

Why does the Kia Carnival classify as an MPV?

2022 Kia Carnival MPV
2022 Kia Carnival MPV | Kia

Boxy and big exterior aside, the Kia Carnival is certainly packing a lot of luxury inside the cabin. Starting from the front, the driver has control of an 8-inch touch screen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, wireless smartphone charging, and Bluetooth connectivity. Scattered around the cabin are 9 different USB ports, plenty for the eight passengers you can carry.

That’s right, despite the photos, the Kia Carnival has room for eight thanks to one hidden seat between the chairs in the second row. And while they may not be captain’s chairs, the second-row occupants can comfortably recline. The whole middle interior is flexible, allowing the two seats to move forward, back, left, and right to accommodate passengers or belongings. In other words, it’s highly multi-purpose.

But nowadays, a lot of minivans are coming out with similar features. The Toyota Sienna, while only able to seat seven, has reclining captain’s chairs with built-in footrests as well. It’s riddled with USBs, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, safety features up the wazoo, and even a virtual assistant rather than an owner’s manual. In short, most vans are luxurious, why aren’t they MPVs too?

Interiors and prices differentiate MPVs from Minivans

2022 Toyota Sienna vs 2022 Kia Carnival Interiors
2022 Toyota Sienna (top) vs 2022 Kia Carnival Interiors (bottom) | Toyota/Kia

This is diving into speculation, as there isn’t a definitive answer to why the Toyota Sienna is more minivan than MPV. But here is my educated guess: it all has to do with the fact that the Toyota Sienna starts at $34,460, whereas the Kia Carnival starts at just $32,100. But wait, that’s cheaper, aren’t MPVs supposed to be more luxurious? You’re right, they are, but they’re also supposed to be a better bang for your buck.

Even the top-trim Kia Carnival SX Prestige is cheaper than a top-trim Toyota Sienna Platinum, costing $46,100 rather than $49,000 (before adding optional features/packages). So at the end of the day, it all has to do with luxury features wrapped up in affordability. You could get the Sienna for $49,000, but why do that when the Carnival can do that for $3,000 less. Though, if you want eight passengers, something the Sienna can’t do at all, then you’ll have to settle for the SX (one trim level lower than the SX Prestige)

So if you’re looking to carry as many people as possible, you’re better off with the MPV. If you’re looking to pay less, you’d still want the MPV. If you’d like luxury features, both the Sienna and the Carnival have them, but why would you want to spend more for the same thing?

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