Car reviews - Kia - Carnival - Si CRDi
Design, packaging, warranty, economy, versatility, equipment, cabin quality
Room for improvement
Dull and lifeless steering feel, noisy diesel, road noise, four-star ANCAP crash result
17 Aug 2015
Price and equipment
KIA’S popular people-mover has evolved – and how!The 1999 KV Carnival original only had keen pricing and lots of space on its side. Then its 2006 VQ successor added solidity, reliability, and the long-wheelbase Grand to the mix, but little else. And after that, the South Koreans threw out the recipe and started afresh.
Released to wide acclaim at last year’s New York motor show, the third-generation, YP Carnival is a visual, packaging, and ownership knockout, extolling great proportions, an alluring cabin, and a seven-year warranty – and all without losing sight of the earlier versions’ core strengths. The work of ex-Audi designer Peter Schreyer, we love the styling.
But what is Kia’s longest-running nameplate really like? To find out, we’re testing the $47,990 Si CRDi – expected to be a favourite among private buyers, as it sits above the fleet-focused S from $41,490 but below the salubrious SLi and Platinum – offering a decent array of standard kit.
Included is an automatic transmission, eight seats, six airbags, auto headlights, electronic stability and traction control, hill-start assist, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, cruise control, remote central locking, heated and powered mirrors, power windows, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, front fog-lights, privacy glass, satellite navigation with an eight-inch colour touchscreen, CD player with MP3/USB/AUX, DVD player, tri-zone air-conditioning, three 12V sockets, a rear USB charging socket, cargo tie-downs, roof rails, 17-inch alloys, and a temporary spare tyre.
Choosing the 206kW/336Nm 3.3-litre V6 GDi petrol engine saves $2500.
Lower and shorter but just as wide as its Grand Carnival predecessor, the Mk3 Kia people-mover nevertheless is a formidable 5110mm long. Upshot? With a 40mm longer wheelbase at 3060mm, there is true space for eight adults – though it helps if there is at least two thin/small people in that mix.
Entry and egress is easy, thanks to a pair of sliding rear doors on both sides, with near-SUV levels of lofty seating and acres of glass for non-claustrophobic transportation that the whole family can enjoy – or at least, endure. SUVs have nothing on the Carnival.
Working from the back, the third row tumbles and folds into a very deep recess that – even with all chairs in situ – provides an outstanding 960 litres of cargo capacity. Folding the third row boosts that to 2220L, or a cavernous 4022L with everything aft of the front pair stowed.
As far as comfort and space are concerned, the third row – which is accessed via the wide aperture created by the very cleverly designed mid-row chairs that fold forward and up on themselves individually concertina-style – can accommodate 180cm-plus sized people with enough clearance for legs, knees, and heads, although squeeze three in and shoulders will rub.
While cushions are a bit flat for long distances back there, reclinable backrests, inertia-reel seatbelts, head restraints, face-level airvents, cupholders, lighting, and storage areas are present for all eight occupants, on cloth that is said to be dirt and stain repellent. Great for messy families.
The second-row centre seat is removable completely, or folds flat to form a table with cupholders and elbow rests for the outboard chairs, which also have armrests on the other side too. Each of these individual seats slide as far forward as possible, and have child-tether hooks behind as well as ISOFIX latches for child-seat use. Along with windows that go almost all the way down, map pockets, and a curry hook, a USB phone charger is likely to rate highly among the occupants perched there in ample space and comfort.
Finally, there is the front row – featuring a dashboard that is a triumph in classy design, functionality, layout, and quality execution. Could we really be talking about a Carnival? Even in this low-ish Si spec, Kia has ensured that the dials are ludicrously simple to decipher (helped out by an auxiliary digital speedo readout), the leather-lined wheel is where it should be, ventilation is excellent, and the huge central touchscreen operates with total logic. Employing nicely tactile rotary controllers for the climate control and audio/multimedia system – with clearly marked buttons for the secondary functions – is a real high point here.
Though lacking lumbar adjustment, the front buckets are invitingly enveloping with plenty of adjustability, there’s storage galore (especially in the huge central bin area between the driver and passenger), and the trim and finish are of an appealing quality, lifting the ambience of what is – after all – one of the least-expensive people movers of this size and capacity on the market. We’d love to see the foot-operated park brake consigned to history where it belongs, however.
Nevertheless, despite being a handsome thing from the outside, it is more than abundantly clear that the Carnival has been designed from the inside out too.
Engine and transmission
Punching above its weight for a 2150kg bus, the Carnival’s 147kW 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel is surprisingly eager from standstill, and keeps pulling hard (courtesy of 440Nm of torque from a low 1750rpm to 2750rpm).
Smooth gear changes from the automatic transmission facilitate progress, though a bit more mid-range reaction from the gearbox and response from the engine would not go astray, especially when there are more than a few bums on seats.
It’s when cruising at freeway speeds that the CRDi engine really comes on song, bounding along confidently and with little hesitation if you need to overtake.
Thankfully, the diesel’s a lot quieter when ambling along.
Kia says sound-deadening for the timing chain and engine block act to dull diesel rattle, but it’s not enough there’s still too much roughness and racket for a modern common-rail unit at start-up and idling, undermining the Carnival’s refinement.
While fuel consumption is rated at 7.7 litres per 100 kilometres, we averaged an indicated 9.2L/100km in mostly built-up inner-urban driving. Expect that to drop in lighter traffic situations.
Ride and handling
The good news is that the Carnival possesses an extraordinarily tight turning circle for its size, and is backed up by absolutely effortless steering combined with the commanding forward views, deep side windows, reversing camera, rear sensors, and Dumbo-sized exterior mirrors, this is pretty easy to park.
Add speed and corners, however, and the Kia’s (hydraulic rather than electric) steering feels completely remote, divorcing the driver from any sensory info.
The only feedback that does come through the helm is when the rack rattles when carving through bumpier turns. Enthusiasts will hate it, particularly when the related new Sorento is so much better, but buyers in the segment are unlikely to care.
Another steering-related downside is nervousness when fast lane-changes happen (there’s too much lateral body movement), for an unpleasant bounciness – and inevitable queasiness if you unlucky enough to be sitting in the second or third row with a Fangio at the wheel.
Of course, dynamic enjoyment and interaction are hardly priorities in the people-mover space, but the smaller, seven-seater Citroen Grand C4 Picasso proves that families can have their cake and eat it too.
That said, the brakes seem to stop the car without fade or complaint the MacPherson strut-front and multi-link rear-end suspension set-up keeps the whole two-tonne-plus bus planted, aided by a bluntly aggressive traction/stability control system that ensures safety and security above all else and the ride (on Kuhmo 7 Crugen 235/65R17 alloys) is sufficiently pliable, improving with more on board.
Kia says Australian-specific shock absorbers, stiffer anti-roll bars and a unique hydraulically actuated rebound spring on the front axle are fitted to locally-bound Carnivals.
Safety and servicing
Disappointingly, the YP Carnival only has a four (out of five) star ANCAP crash-safety rating. Kia says it is investigating the results at its South Korean research and development facility to help improve the outcome. The absence of second row seatbelt reminders at the time of testing did not help – though they will be fitted from mid-year production.
All Kia passenger cars come under a seven-year warranty, seven-year capped servicing, and seven-year roadside assistance – the most comprehensive ever offered in Australia. Service scheduling falls every 12 months or 15,000km – whichever comes first.
There is no doubt that, like its predecessors, the Kia Carnival is designed and built for big American families. And though that means that passengers’ needs are prioritised, there is still a great deal to commend the Si CRDi as tested – including excellent design, a superb dashboard layout, a strong diesel drivetrain, and unmatched aftersales care.
Which makes the lifeless steering all the more bitter for keen drivers – it’s as if Kia got that close to building a class world-beater, and then just gave up. That the closely related new-gen Sorento SUV has a far greater dynamic capability just underscores our disappointment in this important area of dynamics.
Still, as we said, the Carnival is all about hauling eight people around. And in its intended role, the latest version shines. Don’t buy a full-sized SUV before trying one of these first.
Citroen Grand C4 Picasso Exclusive HDI from $44,990, plus on-road costs
SPACIOUS, space-age, and sexy to boot, the latest C4 Grand Picasso is the best seven-seater on the market, offering loads of equipment, safety, refinement, and style, in a sporty, dynamic package that just gets better with familiarity.
Honda Odyssey VTi-L from $46,040, plus on-road costs
Slick, quiet, but a lot more van like than the previous wagonoid versions, the fifth-gen Odyssey is a quality bet with renowned resale and undeniable quality, but the looks are challenging. Avoid the compromised VTi and go for the opulent VTi-L instead.
Toyota Tarago GLX 2.4 CVT from $49,490, plus on-road costs
Based on the generation-before-last Camry, the Tarago is the most bus-like (and so workmanlike) of the car-derived people-movers, and is outclassed both dynamically and in performance, but resale, reliability, and accommodation are strong points.
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