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Car reviews - Kia - Carnival - range

Our Opinion

We like
attractive, excellent road manners, great cargo/people flexibility
Room for improvement
Honestly, not much! Omission of auto wipers is slightly odd, smart tailgate fiddly to use


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25 Feb 2015

THERE’S a great way to test a people-mover – and that’s to put people in it.

Spending two days in any vehicle gives a decent insight into its strengths and flaws, but add a long-suffering partner, a teenage boy and a ‘tweeny’ girl into the testing loop, and there are suddenly a lot more reference points to pay attention to!We tested two variants the top-end Platinum CRDI diesel-powered Carnival costs a not-inconsiderable $59,990, before on-road costs, but misses out on very little (except, oddly, for automatic wipers). Radar cruise, lane-departure warning and blind-spot detection, HID lights and more combine with leather trim, 19-inch alloys and bespoke external trim items to mark its place at the top of the pile.

We also tried the Si GDI petrol car at $45,490, before on-road costs, it offers a good blend of inclusions and value, with 17-inch alloys, sat-nav, LED DRLs and more.

The Carnival is a handsome rig – and not just for a people-mover. Designed in the United States with input from the man who brought the world the Audi TT, and who has single-handedly dragged Kia kicking and screaming into modern automotive relevance, Kia Motors president and design chief Peter Schreyer, the Carnival manages to eschew its one-box origins, thanks to a generously raked windscreen, a narrow glasshouse, a high waist and a hunkered-down stance.

With four grades on offer, from the fleet-spec S right through to the full-fruit Platinum, the overall impression remains the same – this is a good-looking vehicle.

Built on a new platform that also underpins the upcoming Sorento SUV, the overall height of the Carnival is 55mm lower than the outgoing model at 1755mm.

It is shorter in length by 15mm at 5115 mm, despite sitting on a longer wheelbase (up 40mm to 3060mm). A longer wheelbase has allowed Kia to completely redesign the interior packaging to maximise both passenger space and luggage capacity, too.

Behind the front pair of seats is a second row of three individual seats. The centre seat is narrower than the outer pair, but is still comfortable enough for a kid to use. Its best trick is not just its ability to convert into a padded armrest with cup-holders (the kids thought that was pretty cool), but its ability to be completely removed, opening up the centre of the row and giving the second-row passengers their own space. The outside seats are also fitted with stowable armrests, and can be slid forward and aft.

The third row is a bench seat that is large enough for adults to ride there in relative comfort. Access is made easy by wide-opening sliding doors on both sides of the Carnival, plus cleverly designed second-row seats that can be ‘stood up’ vertically to widen the aperture. It can be a little bit of a step-up and a stoop into the third row for little kids or older people, but it’s certainly far easier than getting into a typical SUV or 4WD’s third row.

Up front, the cabin is large, airy and modern, with comfortable seats – our pick was the Yes Essentials cloth upholstery of the Si, which allow for easy clean-ups of family-centric mistakes – a clean, well-organised set of controls and a nicely-sized steering wheel.

The driving position is reminiscent of a sedan or modern SUV, with a tilt/reach-adjustable wheel and decent leg extension to reach the pedals.

All grades have a central screen in the dash binnacle, as well as a reversing camera that’s displayed in a large colour screen on the centre console. There is a myriad of storage holes, cup- and bottle-holder and power points, while dual-control air-con on our Platinum diesel and Si petrol testers meant our second-row passengers could look after their own environment. Or, of course, start a fight about it being too cold or too hot…In motion, the Carnival is a revelation. Localised tuning of both steering feel and suspension behaviour has paid huge dividends a Kia insider confided to us that the original tune of the Carnival was a long way off the mark, but you’d never tell from the mature, controlled and sophisticated manner in which the Carnival behaves.

Body roll is kept to a minimum, the spring/damper combo is spot on for the intended usage, and the steering – based on a right-hand drive-specific hydraulic-assistance system – is terrific.

Brakes are high, firm and beautifully modulated, and bump strike into the cabin is impressively low. After 300km on a variety of surfaces and in a number of different weather conditions, none of our test team once asked the lead tester ‘are we there yet, Dad?’Engine performance from both the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-potter and the 3.3-litre V6 petrol engine is on the top end of the adequate scale. At over two tonnes in both guises, both motors need to put their heads down to get the Carnival up to speed along a freeway on-ramp, for example, but both will sit on the state limit comfortably.

The diesel is torquey and pleasantly refined, even under a bit of load, but the V6 petrol is smoother again, with a longer power delivery band. Driven carefully, Kia claims you’ll get 1000km from a tank in the diesel, too. Sounds like a challenge to us!Cargo capacity is genuinely impressive. In a world where a family vehicle can be pressed into many tasks, the Carnival is flexible enough to do a very good impression of a removalist van. Stow the second-row centre seat and stand the other two up hard against the front seats, and you have more than 4000 litres of capacity more than enough for the largest sporting items or sizable pieces of household furniture.

As a value proposition, there’s a grade of Carnival to suit most budgets. At $41,490 for the fleet-special S petrol variant, its entry point is higher than that of the outgoing Grand Carnival – but there’s simply no comparison between the two. The people-mover customer who was eyeing off a large SUV may well be tempted to stay with their first choice, particularly if it’s as handsome, accomplished and flexible as the Carnival is.

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