The Skinny: If it’s space for people that you’re after, you won’t do better than the Kia Carnival. In dollars per cubic-metre, it’s possibly the best-value vehicle currently on sale.
Though it’s not the easiest thing to park, and it’ll never handle like a sports car, for comfort and build quality (not to mention the best warranty out there) this diesel family bus is a walk-up start for anyone needing to carry a crowd.
Big, it is, but it’s also reasonably frugal – thanks to a very nice diesel engine – and quite a bit better to drive than you might expect.
Vehicle Style: People Mover
Price: $47,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 147kW/440Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four cyl | 6spd auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.7 l/100km | tested: 9.9 l/100km
Buying a people-mover is both a blessing and a curse. It’s nice because you’re surrounding yourself with friends and/or family, the people you care for, and who care about you most.
But the downside is that this can be a lot of people.
Kia’s angle with the Carnival is if you’re going to be shifting bodies, you may as well do it comfortably. And comfortable you will certainly be. In fact, the Carnival has some of the best seats and the best ride in the segment.
While there’s a petrol version on offer, it also likes a drink, which is why we chose the diesel Carnival. It does cost $2500 more, but with more torque and better fuel economy, it’s the more pragmatic choice.
Quality: Like all Kias of late, the Carnival has benefitted from the company’s push toward high-end aesthetics. Remembering it is a people mover will keep things in perspective, but at this price level, the fit and finish is excellent.
The dashtop plastic is soft to touch, the piano black surrounding the instruments and vents doesn’t look tacky, and the buttons and controls stalks all feel solid. The presentation is clear and neat too – this is a good looking interior.
There’s no creaking or clicking from the cabin, even when coming off a kerb – a good test of the car’s rigidity and build quality.
Comfort: Hop into the plush (stain resistant) cloth and the seats’ softness is a welcome relief from the ubiquitous hard buckets of lesser brethren.
Every seat position in the Carnival has brilliant padding, and, even after many kilometres behind the wheel, there’s enough support to prevent sore backs. Which is appropriate, given the circumstances.
(This writer had to be taken to hospital with severe back spasms following a sports injury and with two test cars in the garage, the Carnival and a Jaguar F-Type; no surprises it was the Carnival which saved the day.)
However, the plushness isn’t the only bonus. The seats are also quite large, so even those with bigger frames can fit comfortably.
Despite the tag of “people mover”, the real test of comfort comes when you try to get into the back row. On this account, the Carnival passes with flying colours.
The second row’s outboard seats fold up toward the ceiling (and also slide fore and aft), making a clear passage for climbing in and through. Once seated, even adults will be comfortable enough, though there’s not as much vision when sitting back there.
For comfort and quality, the Carnival is excellent.
Equipment: On test we had the mid-specced Si model, which brings three-zone climate control, auto headlights, parking sensors with reversing camera, sat-nav, heated and folding electric mirrors, and privacy glass.
Also included are Bluetooth audio and telephony, DVD player, iPod connectivity, multifunction steering wheel, a drop-down convex mirror to check on passengers, three USB ports and three 12V outlets.
For those with young children, it’s worth noting that both the second and third row have top tether anchor points.
Storage: The sliding drawer in the centre console reveals a huge, deep compartment which reaches so far forward, those with short arms may struggle to retrieve anything lost down there.
There are two gloveboxes, massive door pockets and ten (count ‘em, ten) cupholders - two of which can only be accessed by folding down the centre seat in the second row – plus four bottle holders, so there’s little risk of anyone going thirsty.
With all the seats up, there’s a decent 960 litres of space available. Put the back-row down and that grows to 2220 litres.
Fold up the second-row’s outboard seats, remove the centre seat and you end up with a massive 4022 litres. It’ll move people, but it’ll move furniture, too.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: With a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder lifted straight from the Sorento, there’s a good amount of power and torque – 147kW and 440Nm, in fact.
Though it won’t set the world on fire with a 0-100kmh time of around nine seconds (a snappy enough time, but with just one person on board), its healthy peak torque is enough to propel it along well enough once on the move.
When loaded up it takes a little more patience to get off the line, but again, once rolling, it’s brisk enough to keep ahead of traffic. While the petrol version may be quieter and smoother, when loaded, the diesel’s torque edges it ahead easily.
Rather impressive is the smooth-shifting auto, which works away unobtrusively in the background. It chooses its ratios so well that you’re never aware of it doing its thing, you just get on with the job of driving.
Refinement: The engine isn’t the quietest donk around, but its gravelly rattle is muted just enough.
Road noise is well subdued too, and the engine fades into the background when on the roll, only being heard lightly during acceleration.
This means that on the highway, conversations between front and back row can be had without needing to shout. Apart from under acceleration, the Carnival is impressively hushed.
Ride and Handling: Locally tuned by Kia Australia, the Carnival’s suspension is its trump card.
With most cars (and indeed people movers) relying more on styling flair, larger wheels seem to be standard issue. However the reduced sidewall height of the tyres can destroy the ride.
The Carnival Si, by contrast, has 17-inch wheels and as a result has the best ride in its segment (better even than the more expensive Platinum with its larger, 18-inch wheels).
If you appreciate your back, this is the people mover you’ll want to park in your garage.
Of course, you can’t expect that a brilliant ride and corner hugging handling will go together, but the grip it has is actually very good.
It has a bit of body roll though, so throwing it around a set of bends may have your passengers reaching for the ‘barf’ bags, so it’s probably wise to dial back the enthusiasm.
Thankfully, those who appreciate driving won’t be left cold. The electric steering has good weighting and though feedback is a little lacking, it feels natural enough. Dynamically, then, the Carnival is quite good for a people mover.
Braking: Unusually, the Carnival has larger diameter rear discs than fronts. Up front are 320mm vented discs, while the solid rears are 324mm. The pedal doesn’t feel too soft or grabby, striking a nice balance of feedback and performance.
ANCAP rating: 4-Stars - this model scored 30.48 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Dual front, side and side head airbags (full length curtains) are standard. ABS, traction and stability control, EBD and brake assist are fitted along with seatbelt pretensioners and load limiters. Seat belt reminders for front and outboard second-row seats feature, along with side-door impact beams.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: With the best warranty in the Australian market, Kia’s 7 year/unlimited kilometre support will take some beating.
Service costs: Kia is doing capped price servicing for the Carnival, however your local dealer will have more information as to its inclusions and intervals.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Toyota Prius V i-Tech ($44,490) – Lauded as the “green” way to cart the family, the Prius V is a niche product and is more suited to taxi life than ferrying family. It has all the tech and whiz-bang visuals, but is a fairly sterile experience compared to the Carnival. (see Prius V reviews)
Honda Odyssey VTi-L ($47,620) – With Jetsons styling and very cool captain’s chairs, the Odyssey won’t carry as much as the Carnival, but it’s a stylish way to get around. It handles well and drives nicely, however when fully loaded it can struggle a little. (see Odyssey reviews)
Citroen C4 Grand Picasso ($47,490) – Loaded with features and styled to win, the C4 Grand Picasso is a brilliant machine and is a close-run competitor to the Carnival. Also with a knockout warranty and diesel engine, it’s only let down by its much firmer ride and less storage capacity. (see C4 Grand Picasso reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There is a bit of a stigma attached to people movers; some people see them as a signal to the world that you’ve given up any fun in your life
But look at it objectively, and the Carnival’s drive experience will win you over… and that’s even before you get to the practicality.
Its looks, space, comfort and ride are a winning combo, and there’s even a sense of connection to the road, which is rare in this category.
Its competitors rely on design flair to keep them interesting, but the Carnival’s honest approach and solid torque makes it the easiest people mover to recommend.
It may be named Carnival, but you won’t look like a clown driving one.