KIA HAS STOLEN a march on the people-mover market in Australia by offering family transport solutions that its competitors may have forgotten.
Thanks to a compelling mix of value for money and impressive accommodation, Kia’s Carnival has held the number one spot in the MPV segment since 1999.
Now, to add to the already strong sales of its eight-seat offering, Kia has expanded the Carnival line-up with the addition of a diesel-powered variant of the long wheelbase Grand Carnival.
To test the mettle of Kia’s personnel hauler, we subjected it to a week of people-hauling (some gorillas, assorted lost souls and associated accoutrements) to find out how deserving of the ‘number one’ MPV title the Grand Carnival really is.
For value, the Grand Carnival takes an assertive stance starting from $41,990 (plus on road charges) for the entry level EXE CRDi, undercutting its competitors by a fair margin.
It also gains ground by offering eight seats and a diesel engine, where others of its competition offer only seven seats or petrol-only powerplants.
While the Carnival is no shrinking-violet out in the street – it’s big – the Grand Carnival adds an additional 130 millimetres to the wheelbase and overall length grows by 320 millimetres.
This makes the Grand Carnival an absolute behemoth and squares it off with larger four-wheel-drives in terms of on-street presence.
Kia’s stylists haven’t gone out of their way to hide the car’s bulk either. While it adheres to a relatively conformist two-box form, it is hardly likely to be confused with your average sedan-derived wagon.
In a very down-to-business way, the Grand Carnival eschews the overly decorative. Instead the body is mostly unadorned: chrome highlights are limited to the grille and above the rear number-plate.
It’s simple and robust-looking, honest and hardworking, and ready to tackle the challenges of Australia’s growing families.
One hallmark feature is the integrated Carnival-branded side-steps. With the high floor of the Grand Carnival, these are more than handy for any junior crewmembers piling in and out of the rear.
While the Grand Carnival won’t set any new visual benchmarks, it also won’t divide opinion: instead it blends quietly and unobtrusively into the background.
Once inside the Grand Carnival, its reason for being becomes infinitely more apparent. There’s plenty of distance between the front of the passenger compartment and the rear. The same can be said of the side-to-side spread.
Driver and front passenger are treated to wide bucket seats with fold down armrests.
A centre tray swings out of the way between the front seats to allow walk-though ability. The clear functional dash houses the gear lever and also allows for a massive glovebox plus two storage trays at floor level – large enough to store CDs, sunglasses, MP3 players in combination.
The interior colour scheme, in shades of light grey, while plain, adds to the spacious feel inside the Grand Carnival. We would question the long-term suitability of the pale trim though. After a few runs with a full crew in the rear, grubby marks made themselves apparent.
Passengers in the middle row get treated to three individual bucket seats, each with its own reclining seat-back.
Although the middle row doesn’t slide to tailor the passenger/cargo balance, each seat can be quickly and easily removed. One person can easily manoeuvre the seats in and out past the rear sliding doors, and the whole area aft of the front seats is easy to configure.
Flipping one of the outboard middle-row seats grants easy access to the rear three-person row, consisting of a 60:40 folding bench seat that can be stowed flat into the floor when not in use. Those relegated to the rear may find themselves a little shorter on shoulder room but still get to enjoy plenty of head and legroom and a full-sized seat.
One glaring black-mark against the Grand Carnival interior is that the centre-seat on both the middle and rear rows features a lap-only seatbelt: a worrying omission for those serious about passenger safety.
Equipment and Features
Though Kia has provided an honest hauler with a low entry price, the Carnival is not just a stripped-out box on wheels. If it isn’t in the Grand Carnival already, chances are you don’t need it and won’t miss it.
There are separate air-conditioning controls for rear occupants and power windows all-round, including the third row’s swing-out glass. Entertainment is provided care of a single-disc CD player with MP3 playback, which also features iPod connectivity.
Steering-wheel mounted cruise control comes standard too, plus there are additional front and rear 12-volt power outlets.
Dual front airbags and stability control are included and front-seat side-airbags and curtain-airbags come as optional equipment.
Engine choices are the 3.8 litre petrol V6 or the 2.9 litre turbo-diesel four cylinder tested here, which puts 136kW of power at 3800rpm and 343Nm of torque on tap from 1750rpm through to 3500rpm.
It took us a little by surprise that the Grand Carnival loves the open road. Loping stretches of country freeway feel like home behind the wheel of the Grand Carnival.
Wind noise is minimal, tyre noise subdued and the engine is barely perceptible. The size of the car disappears and the suspension (leaning to the ‘soft’) does an admirable job of blotting imperfections.
It is not sophisticated, nor is it ‘dynamic’ (it’s a bus after all), but it works very well for normal highway work.
Kia claims an excellent fuel consumption of 8.5l/100km on a mixed-cycle test, a figure that should be absolutely obtainable. TMR recorded 8.9l/100km on test, which covered roughly two-thirds urban work with the rest on undulating country roads.
If you live in rural Australia with big distances to cover and a big family to move about, then the Grand Carnival is the ideal versatile family transport. It’s such a shame that the same can’t be said for it in town.
In the urban sprawl the big Kia loses some of its composure. Engine noise becomes a noticeable companion as revs rise and fall. The engine’s lack of low-rev thrust can also make progress tiresome if loaded up.
The enormity of the Grand Carnival’s exterior dimensions becomes apparent too – finding a large enough parking space isn’t always easy. Of course, a reverse camera or parking sensors would make squeezing into spaces a whole lot easier, neither of which come standard.
It’s a big car and it is simply not ‘at home’ in tight streets, tight parking spaces and tight stop-start driving.
When it comes to value for money, the Grand Carnival is a very tough contender. Inside it offers plenty of seats, enormous space and a long features list.
Working strongly in the Grand Carnival’s favour is its open-road performance. The diesel engine, comfortable ride and very low fuel-consumption earn it some serious points here.
On the other hand, you will need to think hard about its intended purpose if it is going to spend its life on city streets.
In town you’ll always be aware of the size and weight of the car. And, not least, if you plan on filling every seat, the lack of proper seat belts for centre occupants will be a constant cause for concern.
Comparatively though, at a family-friendly $41,990 (plus on-road charges), the Kia Grand Carnival EXE CRDi makes a strong case for itself. There are very few competitors that offer nearly as much at that price point.
For seating for eight on a budget without having to turn to the second-hand market, in the Grand Carnival EXE CRDi, Kia provides a no-nonsense option worthy of consideration.
- More than enough space
- Plenty of decent-sized seats
- Open road comfort
- Low price
- Exceptional fuel consumption from diesel engine
- Lap-only belts on centre seats
- Engine noise and power delivery around town
- Trim colour (shows scuffing)