Car reviews - Kia - Carnival - range
New handling package, new eight-speed transmission is a winner, additional safety tech is worth it
Room for improvement
Silly things like lock functions can frustrate, diesel engine can be a little rough, petrol engine can be thirsty
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3 May 2018
By TIM ROBSON
WHEN it comes to segment dominance, there are a few cars in the Australian market quite like the Kia Carnival.
The third-generation PE-series eight seat people-mover – launched in 2015 and after an initially rocky start with ANCAP compliance issues – has sailed on to crush all opposition in its category. In 2018, it’s outsold its main rival, the Honda Odyssey, by a factor of almost three to one.
Kia has decided to give the Carnival a mid-life spruce up and has included a few vital pieces of future-proof tech, but hasn't played with its externals too much. Has it done enough to continue to convince buyers to favour it over all others in the people-mover category?
It's been a case of nip and tuck with the 2018 update to the successful Kia Carnival. Exterior changes, for example, are what you would call minor, with a redesigned lower front bumper along with a reshaped grille that’s reminiscent of the previous model.
Likewise, small elements like daytime running light surrounds on the front end, redone tail-light clusters and the addition of small pieces of brightwork for the rear complete a very minor makeover for an already handsome people-mover that’s already been judged well by its customer base.
There are also three new alloy wheel designs that you would be hard-pressed to pick from the existing rims.
Inside, there are subtle but important changes, including the welcome dilution of the archaic foot-activated park brake that has been replaced by an electronic unit, which nestles in a new centre console arrangement.
The new electronic switch has allowed for a larger centre console bin with a wider lid, while Kia has also tweaked seat fabrics and interior trim, but only at a very minor level.
The other big change is the upgrade of the multimedia system across all four Carnival variants. The base Carnival S scores a larger 7.0-inch screen that is complemented by a small 3.0-inch digital screen between the two gauges and it scores Apple CarPlay and Android Audio as standard.
The three other variants – Si, SLi and Platinum – get 8.0-inch screens with sat-nav, and a larger screen between the dials as standard. The top grade platinum gets a larger 7.0-inch screen for the driver, as well.
Kia has also enhanced the safety set on the Carnival, adding high and low speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning across all grades at no extra cost. The top grade platinum also comes with additional features including high speed blind spot warning and read cross-traffic alert.
Finally, on the mechanical side, Kia has updated the Carnival’s six-speed automatic transmission for an eight-speed version that gains extra fuel economy savings for both 3.3-litre V6 petrol and 2.2-litre turbo-diesel powerplants.
As well, Kia Motors Australia has requested, and scored, another couple of handling changes, namely a stiffer set of front springs to give the car more steering feel. The shocks, too, have all been re-valved, and for two reasons.
The original launch set in 2015 varied very slightly from the original specs arrived at by Kia Motors Australia tuners, which changed the character of the car slightly. They have also been re-alved to suit the different front springs and to match the overall ride more carefully.
None of the tweaks have changed the character of the Carnival too much, but what it has done is improved its general demeanour. A people-mover can be seen as a viable alternative to a large SUV, given its flexibility of seating arrangement and ability to carry a fair bit of cargo. The Carnival, in fact, can carry up to 1000kg of gear onboard (including people, of course), as well as two 2000kg of braked trailer.
From behind the wheel, the Carnival is impressively quiet and composed even on rough tarmac, and its ride over lumpy back roads is very good, with a suppleness that only comes from multi-link suspension on coil springs. The ride can be a bit lumpy for people in the very third row who are sitting over the back wheels, but for other passengers, it’s a calm, quiet, and collected experience.
Steering is hydraulic thanks to an incompatibility with Kia’s electric steering system and switch from left- to right-hand-drive production, but that’s no bad thing, especially on highway stints where the Carnival is steady at the helm and very easy to drive even over longer distances. It can be a little abrupt off-centre if your inputs aren’t subtle enough, but it’s an easy trait to get used to.
It actually doesn’t feel like a people carrier at all. It’s very comfortable on a longer journey and it’s incredibly easy to access for short runs as well. The eight-speed transmission is seamless and works equally well with both the V6 petrol and four-cylinder turbo-diesel powertrains, and the additional safety features are always welcome, particularly in the entry model S which now has AEB and adaptive cruise control as standard.
As you would expect for a largish people-mover, the Carnival is incredibly practical, with multiple methods of folding seats and arranging people and goods to best serve your purposes. Not unexpectedly, the base variant does miss out on a bit of kit including second-row chargers, but as you step up through the grades, there are more and more features that come into play.
The majority of Carnivals find their way onto fleets and government fleets and rental car parks as well, but for private buyers, the Carnival makes a sensible, logical alternative to a larger SUV. It sits closer to the ground so it handles better. It's incredibly quiet and refined and not just for a people-mover and its interior flexibility is hard to find anywhere else on the market.
The PE Carnival should have no trouble in continuing its dominance in the people-mover class, and really should be the target for larger families looking for a vehicle with genuine flexibility, a high level of safety fitted as standard, and a pleasant, quiet, comfortable ride.
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