What's hot: Genuine all-new people-mover with a stylish, functional interior.
What's not: Thirsty petrol engine, limited features in base model.
X-FACTOR: The new segment leader? Dollar for dollar, the new Carnival offers good value.
Vehicle style: People-Mover
Price: $41,490 - $59,990
Engine/trans: 206kW/336Nm 3.3 V6 petrol, 147kW/440Nm 2.2 diesel | 6spd auto
Fuel consumption l/100km listed: Petrol - 11.6, Diesel - 7.7 | tested: Petrol - 12.7, Diesel - 8.9
Kia's all-new Carnival people-mover has finally arrived in Australia.
In a segment representing less than one percent of new cars sold in Australia last month, you might expect to find just a handful of models battling it out. But, now more than ever, the new Carnival has a fight on its hands.
Mercedes-Benz's V-Class is scheduled to arrive later this year, but the Benz and the Kia will be a long way distant on price.
Fleet sales are expected to feature heavily in the Carnival's sales charts, and four variants are available for the 2015 model; S, Si, SLi and range-topping Platinum.
Kia now offers both petrol and diesel engines across the range. We drove both the entry-level petrol V6 ‘S' variant and the mid-range diesel SLi.
The entry-level S is aimed squarely at fleet buyers, and most of its interior features reflect the affordability-focused nature of that market.
All 2015 Kia Carnivals feature an eight-seat layout, but the middle seat in the centre row and both rear seats are fully removable if required.
The outward seats in the centre row ‘stand up', detaching from the floor almost completely with the pull of a lever to allow for easier access to the last row.
A longer wheelbase for the new models also allows for easier access and a roomier interior, and cargo space has grown 77 litres with all seats in place to 960 litres.
Remove the back seats and you've got 2220 litres to play with. Remove and stow the middle row of seats and a sizable 4022 litres becomes available.
There are three ISOFIX child restraint mounting points on each of the outward centre-row seats and on just one of the rear seats (there isn't space for two child seats here).
From the driver's seat, the S offers manual air-conditioning with separate controls for the rear vents, cruise control, a basic trip computer, Bluetooth, numerous bottle holders, storage compartments and stain-resistant cloth seats.
All of the seats are comfortable with a good driving position from the captain's chair, a large foot-rest and clear visibility. Only the centre seat in the middle row is likely to pose any challenge for larger adult passengers.
Some may disapprove of the foot-operated park brake, but the lever is well tucked-in and doesn't impede access to the driver's foot-rest.
There's also a ‘conversation mirror' for the driver, which in reality is a wide-angle mirror to keep an eye on children in the back seats.
Safety features for the ‘S' include six airbags and the usual stability, brake and traction control functions, along with a reversing camera and sensors in all models.
Additional interior features for the Si include leather for the steering wheel and automatic T-bar, tri-zone climate control, a DVD player and satellite navigation.
The SLi that we tested also scores leather seats, powered rear doors and tailgate, chilled glove box, a power-operated driver's seat and push-button start.
Features reserved for the top-spec Platinum include sunshade blinds, heated steering wheel, power-operated front passenger seat and several additional safety items; such as smart cruise control.
For all the details on the new model's interior features, see our companion Price & Features article.
ON THE ROAD
Kia says the all-new Carnival's platform is 74 percent stronger than its predecessor.
Overall height is now 55mm lower and length is 15mm shorter, while the wheelbase has grown 40mm and width remains roughly the same. So it's big outside, as well as roomy inside.
These new dimensions help in providing a stable ride and quite reasonable handling - certainly better than you might expect for a big ol' family van.
While a sports car's numbers will be all about 0-100km/h, kilowatts and lap times, a people-mover's key figures centre mainly around space, space and more space.
People-movers of old felt more like cab-over Kenworths from the driver's seat, but the new breed manage to combine a decent degree of driving finesse with the space that buyers expect.
And so it is with the new Carnival. It offers a driving experience much closer to a family station wagon than a family van.
Our ‘S' variant tester came with 17-inch steel wheels wearing dress rims, while the Si, SLi and Platinum get 17-, 18- and 19-inch alloys respectively.
The relatively low profile tyres aid grip during semi-enthusiastic driving, yet still manage to supress bumps surprisingly well.
The biggest bumps still found their way into the cabin, but while these big 'hits' were noticeable, the ride isn't upset by typical ratty country-road surfaces.
While this is no hot-hatch, mum or dad will still be able to enjoy a drive on a winding rural road, without throwing the children around too much in the back.
Kia has opted for hydraulic power-steering for an improved feel; keener drivers will appreciate the ‘traditionalist' approach here.
All Kia Carnivals are equipped with the same six-speed automatic transmission, which comes with an ‘Eco' mode and manual shifting using the T-bar.
We found the Eco mode in the V6 petrol-powered S did little more than make the car lethargic, with no noticeable improvement in economy.
The transmission is therefore best left to its own devices, allowing the V6 to use all of its available power.
The 3.3 litre unit replaces the previous model's 3.5 litre V6 while maintaining almost the same power and torque (206kW/336Nm).
Engine output is a good match for the Carnival's weight which tops the two-tonne mark, and the official fuel figure for the V6 is 11.6 l/100km.
We averaged 12.7 l/100km in the V6 throughout the test. Which is on the heavier side of things and may deter some family buyers.
For buyers looking for sub-10 l/100km fuel figures, consider the 2.2 litre four-cylinder diesel option.
Making 147kW/440Nm, the diesel engine returns 7.7 l/100km officially and averaged 8.9 l/100km on our test.
The diesel engine is a $2500 option regardless of which variant you may choose, and in our opinion, it's worth every cent.
Where the V6 is ‘good', the diesel is excellent - with a bag full of usable torque available from rest, you'll rarely be hunting for more.
It makes a distinguished diesel chatter on the outside, but it's barely noticeable on the inside at any speed.
Kia has improved interior noise suppression by around 2.5 decibels over the previous model, and the quiet ride offered by the 2015 model is certainly one of its highlights.
Braking is dealt with via 320mm ventilated discs up front and 324mm solid discs at the rear.
Having larger rear brakes aids a balanced feel from the brake pedal, and the stoppers are more than up to the job of hauling up the new Carnival.
ANCAP rating: The 2015 Kia Carnival is expected to score 4-stars when it faces ANCAP testing next month. Kia will soon lift the bar to 5-stars - which you can read about here.
Depending on the variant, the Carnival features six airbags, ABS, ESC, hill-start control, reversing camera, HID headlamps, high-beam assist, fog lamps, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision warning and more.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
For a large, budget-conscious family where every dollar counts, the Proton Exora will be your first stop with prices starting from $25,990.
Starting at around $30,000 is the SsangYong Stavic. It offers far more torque than the Exora thanks to its diesel engine, along with the rare option (for people-movers) of a six-speed manual (a five-speed automatic is the alternative).
The Hyundai iMax also offers a manual transmission and eight seats, but can't match the Carnival for performance.
The Carnival has its main rival in the petrol four-cylinder-only Honda Odyssey licked for power in all models and has more available seats than some, but can't match the more expensive Volkswagen Caravelle for bums on seats with that car's segment-leading nine-seat layout.
If seven seats is the most you'll need, there's also a host of SUV models to consider with the similarly-priced Mazda CX-9 being a good example with comparable on-road performance.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
It's entirely possible that the 2015 Kia Carnival is the new segment leader.
As an all-new model, Kia would be happy with nothing less, but the numbers don't lie when all things are considered.
Yes, there are cheaper models in this segment and engines that use less fuel than the Carnival's 3.3 litre V6, but few can stand eye-to-eye with the Carnival on performance.
The diesel engine in particular is a gem, and the Carnival's interior is simply a nice place to be.
Then there's the value-for-money equation in a segment where (large) family buyers, in particular, are likely to be shopping on value and at a firm budget.
The entry-level S V6 might be lacking a little, but its an affordable $2500 step-up to the diesel engine. All Carnival variants, we think, offer a decent amount of car for the money.
And when it comes to people-movers, isn't that what it's all about?
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
Carnival - 3.3 V6 petrol
S - $41,490
Si - $45,490
SLi - $49,990
Platinum - $57,490
Carnival - 2.2 4cyl diesel
S - $43,990
Si - $47,990
SLi - $52,490
Platinum - $59,990