What’s Hot: Cavernous interior, generous storage options, quality interior.
What’s Not: Narrow torque band, average infotainment system, roof-mounted centre seatbelts.
X-FACTOR: When it comes to family buses, Kia's new Carnival rules the pack - but is also one for SUV buyers to consider.
Vehicle Style: People mover
Price: $59,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 147kW/440Nm 2.2 turbo diesel 4cyl | 6sp auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.7 l/100km | tested: 8.1 l/100km
Kia may have dropped the “Grand” from the Carnival’s name, but don’t assume this thing has gotten any smaller.
Its vastness is virtually without peer.
The wheelbase is longer, the cabin more spacious, the boot more commodious and the equipment list more generous.
In the top-spec Carnival Platinum tested here, there’s simply more of everything.
Quality: Gone are the rental-spec cabin plastics of the old Grand Carnival, and good riddance to ‘em.
In their place is a thoroughly modern, aesthetically-pleasing interior that boasts a level of quality that’s hard to beat.
Everything fits together nicely, the plastics are nicely textured and rattle-free, and the design is more than a little premium.
The lower centre-stack apes BMW somewhat (a good thing to our eyes).
The Premium’s leather upholstery isn’t the most supple, yet it’s certainly durable enough for family duty.
Comfort: From the well-padded driver’s seat you get a commanding view of the road ahead and, thankfully, a good sense of where each corner of this beast lies.
Both front seats are power adjustable, heated and ventilated in the Platinum, and the captain’s chair has two memory settings to make it easier for mum and dad to swap driving duties.
A retractable wide-angle mirror in the roof makes it easier to keep an eye on your rugrats without having to turn your head, too.
The Carnival’s wide cabin gives plenty of space for three adults to sit across the second row, and the outer seats also score seat heaters of their own.
With the ability to slide and recline, it’s easy for passengers of all sizes to get comfortable here.
The centre seat is quite firm and the backrest very narrow though, thanks to the fold-down centre armrest.
The Carnival also benefits from one of the most generously-proportioned third rows in the segment. It’s wide enough to seat three kids, and there’s legroom aplenty for two adults to be comfortable.
Headroom is abundant too, and the back of your passenger’s heads aren’t right up against the rear glass either.
Accessing the third row isn’t hard either.
The second row seats fold up hard against the front seats to give as much access to the third row as possible, and the sliding rear doors (powered, by the way), open nice and wide.
The seatbelts for the centre seats are anchored to the roof though, and that can interfere with rear seat access from the passenger side on occasion.
A seat-mounted belt would be a more elegant installation, Kia.
Equipment: The Platinum is a burger with the lot, and positively dripping with mod-cons designed make it easier to drive, easier to live with and a better family vehicle in general.
There’s three USB charging points, to keep your brood’s devices on during long journeys, active cruise control to minimise fatigue on roadtrips, a reversing camera for driveway safety, HID headlamps for superb night vision, high-beam assist, fog lamps, power windows… the list goes on.
The infotainment suite is controlled through an 8-inch colour touchscreen display which perhaps isn’t the best system around, but it does the trick and its graphics are clear and easy to read - if not overly sophisticated.
Storage: With all seats up, there’s a colossal 900 litres of luggage room behind the third row. That’s massive, and well over two-and-a-half times the seats-up boot space of the average hatchback.
There’s also a portable LED torch in the boot area of the Platinum, shopping bag hooks on the back of the front passenger as well as the boot, a double-decker glovebox and what is possibly the largest centre console box we’ve ever seen.
Fold the third row into the floor and you've got 2220 litres of cargo space.
Remove the second row and a sizable 4022 litres becomes available. If you need to move house, the Carnival could easily moonlight as a removalist van.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The standard 3.3 litre petrol V6 is a grunty motor in its own right, but it’s the 147kW/440Nm 2.2 litre four-cylinder turbodiesel that’s the star motor in the lineup.
Though boasting much less power than the 206kW petrol V6, the diesel is all about torque.
Besides, the six-speed automatic that’s standard-issue on the Carnival does a good job of staying in high gears and maximising that bottom-end pull.
And with an empty weight of just over two tonnes, the Carnival benefits greatly from the higher torque of the diesel. It’s not fast, but it certainly doesn’t struggle to gather speed.
Refinement: There’s a hint of diesel clatter at idle from the inside, but get moving and it all but disappears. Vibration is wonderfully suppressed too, and Kia’s 2.2 litre diesel outdoes many German oil-burners for refinement.
Ride and Handling: Against commercial vehicle-based rivals like the Volkswagen Multivan, the Carnival has far better ride comfort and handling.
It’s a soft, plush suspension but not one that’s restless and poorly controlled.
Body movements are kept in check quite well, which should help passengers in the third row hold onto their lunches.
It’s also fairly car-like, despite its bulk. An 11.2 metre turning circle helps the Carnival get in and out of carparks easily, and the hydrualic power steering is nice and light.
Braking: Braking hardware comprises 320mm ventilated discs up front and 324mm solid discs at the rear, with a foot-operated parking brake.
ANCAP rating: 4-Stars - this model scored 30.48 out of 37 possible points. (Kia had expected 5-Stars. See the full report here.)
Safety features: In addition to stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD and brake assist, the Carnival features six airbags, lane departure warning, hill-start control, rear cross traffic alert and forward collision warning.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: The Carnival’s warranty is the most competitive in the business, covering the car for any manufacturing defects for seven years and unlimited kilometres.
Service costs: Kia’s capped-price servicing scheme covers the Carnival’s scheduled maintenance costs for the first seven years of ownership. Service intervals are set for every 15,000km or 12 months.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Volkswagen Multivan Highline 71,990 TDI400 ($73,990) - VW’s van-based people mover is certainly spacious and easy to drive, but doesn’t quite have the on-road composure of the purpose-built Carnival
It’s also a costlier option, and to be honest its interior is lacking for features and comfort compared to the Carnival. Save your money. (see Multivan reviews)
Honda Odyssey VTi-L ($47,620) - A much cheaper rival, but one that’s only available with a 2.4 litre petrol engine.
The interior is spacious and well-appointed, however it can’t quite equal the Carnival for outright cabin volume. Still good value nevertheless. (see Odyssey reviews)
Mercedes-Benz Valente ($54,490) - Another people-carrier based on a commercial vehicle, the Valente looks and feels more premium than the Mulitvan.
Kia wins the power and torque contest though, and in high-grade Platinum trim the Carnival is the car we’d rather be in. (see Valente reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If you ignore off-road capability, the Carnival provides all of the advantages of an SUV (commanding driving position, size, cargo capacity) in a far more space-efficient package. It’s big, but it feels so much bigger.
In the top-grade Platinum’s case, it’s the cost that works against it. It’s a nice car, no doubt about that, but will many people shell out $60k for a people mover - let alone a Korean one?
Well, if the alternatives are a Toyota Tarago (grossly overpriced for what it is, and not availble with a diesel) or a Volkswagen Multivan (interior fit and finish not up to par), then yes, there is a strong case they should.
Kia has demonstrated that a people mover need not be frumpy and fat, and that it’s possible to transport a family of eight with great style and comfort.
If you’re open-minded enough to look at something other than an SUV for your next family bus, definitely take a look at the Carnival.
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