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Car reviews - Kia - Carnival - 5-dr people-mover

Our Opinion

We like
Price, spacious interior
Room for improvement
Auto gearbox hunts frustratingly

14 Feb 2001

THE Carnival has come to town and nobody is entering into the spirit more joyously than Kia. Justifiably so, because the Korean company's all-new people-mover is putting significant heat on the competition.

It would be easy to dismiss the new Kia as a temporary miracle because its first flush of success is due to little else than the fact it is ridiculously cheap.

In fact, Kia expects many Carnival sales will come from would-be buyers of used people-movers from other car-makers.

That might well be so, but the Carnival adds up to more than just inexpensive metal.

In reality, it is a legitimate contender in the people-mover category, bigger than anything else apart from the long-wheelbase Chrysler Voyager, very well fitted out, reasonably put together and not too bad on the road.

What the Carnival buyer gets for around $30,000 (when opting for the manual version) is not to be sneezed at: Dual-zone air-conditioning, power steering, electric front windows and (heated) rear view mirrors, central locking, driver's airbag and a six-speaker radio/cassette with single slot CD.

Spend an extra $2500 and you get a dual-mode four-speed automatic transmission.

In itself that wouldn't be too bad in a vehicle that already costs less than any other of its type on the market - but the Carnival's got a few other tricks as well.

For a start, it's a V6. The front-drive, 2.5-litre quad-camshaft Rover engine does pretty well in terms of power with 132kW at 6000rpm. As Kia is all too pleased to point out, that's more than anything else in the class, including the 2.5-litre 129kW V6 used in Mazda's new MPV and the 3.3-litre 116kW V6 seen in Chrysler's Voyager. (The bigger-engined Chrysler does have more torque though - 275Nm as compared to the Carnival's 220Nm - and the Kia has a general weight disadvantage simply because it's so big.) The interior fit-out is replete with good ideas, neatly executed. They include a versatile, sliding centre and rear seat layout offering full walk-through ability.

The Carnival holds up to seven people on big, comfortable seats placed in a two-two-three layout and with fold-down armrests for the first four passengers.

Two sliding side doors give easy access.

The generous size of the Kia means all passengers, from front row to back row, have plenty of stretching room on big seats. It also means the cargo area behind the rearmost seat is pretty accommodating too, even with the sliding seat taken to the extent of its rearward travel.

The driver is seated in the expected position of command, but the location of the shift lever on the console rather than the steering column is quite car-like, as is the near vertical, adjustable steering wheel placement.

The instrument panel is your generic, curved, hooded configuration, with well presented dials including a tachometer, and HVAC/radio controls within easy reach on the mini centre console.

Thankfully, there's no messing around with fiddly push-button radio controls, just large, easily manipulated knobs and simple, clearly marked rotary controls for the HVAC.

Under this, there's a large, hinged oddments bin, plus a twin fold-out cup holder. Above the windscreen, between the sun visors, there's also a little receptacle for containing sunglasses that looks suspiciously similar to the device fitted to Hyundai's new Grandeur.

The seating arrangement works well in terms of allowing movement in the cabin with the relatively clear space between first and second row seats. The middle seats also fold flat to make handy picnic tables complete with cup-holding receptacles.

Getting in and out is - relatively - easy for a people mover as the designers have tried to keep the hip point as low as possible so passengers don't have to climb too high to get aboard.

The two side doors are a little heavy as expected, but they slide open with relative ease. The back door hinges open (the catch was stiff on our test car) to provide a sheltered space for picnicking in rain storms.

Unlike Mazda, Kia hasn't figured a way of fitting sliding glass into the centre doors, so the only the front doors get fully-opening windows.

The rearmost side windows hinge open at the leading edge to allow some fresh air to enter, but overall the dual-zone air-conditioning will prove to be very welcome on hot days.

Australian Carnivals use floor rails that allow the rearmost and centre row seats to slide and lock into various positions for juggling seating/load carrying arrangements. Handy storage areas are proved under front seats, the rear seat folds then slides forward, into a choice of three positions, for extra space.

For the same reason, the centre seats also move forward one notch to minimise or maximise the 'boot' area at the expense of passenger space.

All this adds up to a very comfortable, spacious cabin, generally bigger than anything but a Voyager and ergonomically pleasing with nicely accommodating, generous seats.

An added bonus maybe not expected on a bargain-priced vehicle is the provision of fold-down armrests on all four bucket seats.

The dual air-conditioning sends arctic currents through roof vents at the rear, and regular face-level vents in the front. Heated air comes from floor-mounted vents.

The dual-zone description is accurate: Kia says that if the operator wishes, the vehicle can be run with full cold in the front and full heat in the rear.

From a driver's perspective, the Carnival bridges the gap between passenger sedans and commercial vans. The ride quality actually proves quite comfortable, thanks in part to a long wheelbase, while the handling is much as expected.

No, the Carnival doesn't respond to the wheel like an MX-5, but it's reasonably nimble for a 1756kg van, with no great tendency to understeer and an ability to hold a line faithfully through a bend.

The steering itself is nicely weighted if a little low-geared, and the turning circle at 13 metres is a constant reminder of just how much road space this vehicle takes up.

Braking requires a hefty shove, more than expected, but actual effectiveness brings no complaint.

The 2.5-litre engine's 132kW is sufficient to propel the Carnival at reasonable pace, cruising the highways in a high-geared sort of fashion.

But the engine does unfortunately require a decent serve of revs on board before producing useful torque. Under 4000rpm not a lot is happening, but at least the Rover V6 is smooth and reasonably pleasant to listen to.

The auto gearbox is a simple, no frills four-speeder but it does the job well enough and doesn't resort to any silly antics - other than hunting between ratios on hills where it cannot decide between third and fourth gears.

The mini centre console is a nice place to locate the shift lever too. It is far better to use than the column locations used by some competitors, yet never gets in the way.

The car seemed well put together too, with acceptable standards of fit and finish throughout, while the quality of materials looked okay. All controls have a solid feel to them, certainly well above what would normally be expected for the price.

The Carnival also feels solid on the road, able to cruise at highway speeds with relative silence. Wind and road noise levels are at class-competitive levels and engine noise is limited to a distant purr unless kickdown is actuated. Then the Rover V6 snarls a purposeful note that somehow seems out of place in a big seven seater.

So Kia has a very accomplished full-size people mover in its new Carnival. Only the Voyager matches it for size, but nothing comes anywhere near matching it for price.

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Did you know?

Carnival sales topped the market segment in October 1999, the month after its Australian launch

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