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Car reviews - Kia - Carnival - CRDi people-mover

Our Opinion

We like
Cavernous and practical interior, useful remote side doors and tailgate
Room for improvement
Poor throttle response at low revs, tyre grip in the wet

24 Jul 2009

WHEN people-movers arrived in the mid-1980s, they were not much more than dressed up commercial vans. Now there are several dedicated people movers in the market, and most are sophisticated machines with high degrees of safety, features and storage solutions.

The latest in tribal carriages, the Grand Carnival CRDi, is a 2.9-litre turbo-diesel version of the long-wheelbase VQ Grand Carnival first seen here in 2006, fitted with a five-speed auto driving the front wheels.

Grand Carnival Platinum – aside from its faintly ridiculous name – is a bus that should be taken seriously in the segment, for it capitalises on the Kia’s known value-laden Carnival with commodious interior and thrifty engine.

At $53,990, however, the Grand Carnival Platinum CRDi is not exactly cheap.

Price is the only real dilemma with the latest and greatest of (Grand) Carnival rides. The price-tag is a long way from the base short-wheelbase Carnival V6 at just over $30,000, and a lot closer to premium models such as the Toyota Tarago and Volkswagen Multivan.

Yet if price is a consideration, there is a cheaper $41,990 entry-level EX CRDi.

What makes or breaks a people-mover is its versatility and spaciousness, and on that score the Grand Carnival makes it.

The driver’s seat is not the latest word in side support, but then, after a three-hour stint, there were no complaints. The driver’s view has no major impediments and the boxy shape a helps vehicle placement.

The controls are all easy to see and simple to use. While you won’t mistake the cabin for something handcrafted in Germany, it is a pretty good effort.

The middle row has three seatback childseat anchor points, and each of the individual seats fold forward and can be removed quite easily, although the great fore-aft sliding function has been deleted for MY2009 Carnival and Grand Carnival

The third row is a 60-40 and has a childseat anchor point in each of the outboard positions. The seats fold into a cavity in the floor.

The power door feature now becoming commonplace in upper spec people-movers is a great feature for the uninitiated. It is activated by either a button on the overhead console up front, a button next to the door (which can be deactivated to stop little fingers from playing with it) or by pulling the doorhandle. There are also dedicated buttons on the remote fob. Those parents who’ve struggled with arms full of wriggling toddlers and fists full of shopping bags will see this feature as the best invention ever created.

The rest of the interior smacks of practicality – plenty of storage bins and pockets spaces up front, ample leg and headroom all round, and child seats are easy to install.

If you only need five seats, the third row folds into a floor cavity, leaving an enormous load space. Even with the third-row seats up, the deep well is a generous load comportment, albeit one not covered from prying eyes.

As you marvel at how good the use of interior space is, you begin to wonder where Kia has put the spare wheel. Ah, there it is – a space-saver at mid-point underneath, on the driver’s side. It’s not the ideal place to be pulling out a spare from on the side of the road, and then there’s the question of where the flat full-size wheel goes?

The only minor complaint about the interior is that the walk-through centre aisle is a little awkward, due to lack of foot room next to the driver’s seat.

The new turbo-diesel engine is a big-bore four-cylinder turbo-diesel from a previous generation used in the Hyundai Terracan and in a detuned spec in the current Kia K2900 light truck.

Its fairly impressive torque output is countered by the Grand Carnival’s heavy two-tonne mass.

Combine this with the more than typical dose of turbo lag and the Grand can feel sluggish around town, made worse by old-school turbo-diesel performance that lurches from almost no power to lots of power, once the mid-range torque kicks in.

The standard Kumho Solus tyres don’t help. A press-on driving style in wet weather can be rewarded only by frustration. Accelerating from low speed, there is a delay while the turbo spools up and then, suddenly, the tyres simply can’t put down the power on wet roads, leading to wheelspin. This kicks off the traction control system and ensuing power loss, and so you’re jerking along like a new driver acquainted with a manual car’s clutch for the first time.

On the open road, or in the slow lane, the CRDi does a great job of keeping up speed. Although no fireball, it is quite responsive with smooth transmission shifts, and has the useful manual mode for self-shifting.

Even when fully loaded, hill climbing ability is acceptable and the engine is able to rely on its ample torque most of the time rather than downshifting to access the power band.

The only discordant note to the sweet highway experience is the cruise control system which tends to hunt.

Fully loaded on the highway fuel consumption averaged 8.8L/100km, and a combination of city and country driving saw 11.1L/100km.

These results are not too far off the mark of Kia’s official combined figure of 8.5L/100km, and better than the petrol Grand Carnival’s optimistic official figure of 12.8L/100km.

The Grand Carnival CRDi’s claimed combined fuel consumption figure is better than the four-cylinder petrol competitors such as the Toyota Tarago (9.5L/100km) and the Honda Odyssey (8.9L/100km) and even beats the diesels such as the Chrysler Grand Voyager CRDi turbo-diesel (9.1L/100km) and the Volkswagen Multivan (9.8L/100km).

The Kia’s ride is supple around town at low speeds, but on chopped up roads, the old Korean sensation of mismatched spring and damper rates is evident.

Nevertheless, the Grand Carnival feels stable and comfortable, even with the suspension sagging under the weight of a full load of passengers and luggage on a 300km highway trip.

It’s hard to decide how much handling ability is relevant to people-mover owners. Some might want to drive briskly when on twisting roads – without going fast enough to make the kids sick – but all would like the peace of mind of good, responsive handling in the event of an emergency avoidance manoeuvre.

While the Grand Carnival’s steering is suitably responsive to inputs at gentle speeds, road feel is negligible at any speed.

On dry surfaces, the Grand Carnival can be pushed along quickly through open corners, with progressive understeer. In tight turns on smooth bitumen, the tyres begin to signal their loss of traction with a squeal. As noted above, on wet roads it’s fair to say these tyres are not by any means the best for grip.

With a decent set of replacement tyres this would be a much more confidence-inspiring drive.

The addition of the diesel engine to the Grand Carnival range makes this a fuel-efficient family hauler that on a country run won’t be put to shame by its far thirstier petrol counterpart, but it’s a diesel that will require some anticipation when driving in the city, especially if you’re in a hurry.

At least the diesel’s fuel economy in the city will be much lower, and depending on the cost of fuel, will go some way to recoup the $3000 extra outlay for the CRDi engine.

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