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Car reviews - Kia - Carnival - SLi GDI

Our Opinion

We like
Feels like Kia thought of everything, interior space and comfort, great safety and connectivity tech, resolved ride and handling, creamy new eight-speed auto cuts long-haul fuel use
Room for improvement
Touchscreen a bit of a reach, vocal V6 petrol lacks low-end grunt and is thirsty round town, premature upholstery wear

Segment domination not enough as Kia refuses to rest on laurels with Carnival update

6 May 2019



A QUICK survey of traffic around Australia’s tourist hot-spots – such as the Gold Coast for example – and it’s clear that Kia has hit pay dirt with the Carnival people-mover. Families wanting guaranteed space for three generations of people and their possessions, groups of friends splitting the rental car bill, airport transfers, tour operators – they’re usually in a Carnival.


Sales figures back this up. At the time of writing, the Carnival comfortably dominated Australia’s sub-$60,000 people-mover segment with a whopping 56.1 per cent share, followed distantly by the Honda Odyssey on 13.7 per cent.


With no sign of its popularity waning three years into its lifecycle, the third-generation Carnival has nevertheless received an update.


And after a week put through the GoAuto grinder, it’s clear to see why these things sell like fairy floss at the fair.


Price and equipment


From an equipment standpoint, the updated Carnival gains an updated media system with a minimum touchscreen size of 7.0 inches in the base S ($42,590 plus on-road costs for the V6 petrol) and an 8.0-inch unit in all others – including the $52,490 second-from-top SLi petrol tested here (the Si in between is $47,990 for the petrol).


To this new set-up, Kia has added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, along with enhanced satellite navigation, with audio piped through a new eight-speaker JBL sound system.


Importantly to many Carnival buyers is the range-wide standard inclusion of high- and low-speed autonomous emergency braking, switchable lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control.

The flagship Platinum ($60,290 for the petrol) adds blind-spot monitoring, lane change assist that alerts the driver to vehicles in adjacent lanes approaching from the rear, auto high beam and rear cross-traffic alert.


Other standard SLi equipment includes two-tone leather with eight-way electric driver’s seat adjustment, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera with animated guidance lines, keyless entry and start with remote-controlled electric sliding door and tailgate operation, three-zone climate control with air purification, a self-dimming interior mirror, dusk-sensing headlights, front fog lights, a multi-function trip computer, three USB ports and three 12V power outlets.


Four of the rear passenger seats have child-seat top tether connectors, three of which also have Isofix. There are ‘child proof’ rear door locks and, speed-sensitive auto door locking and a door open warning. There is also a pop-down conversation mirror in the front ceiling for keeping an eye on rear passengers.


All seats in the Carnival have three-point seatbelts and curtain airbags protect all three seating rows, supplementing the driver and front passenger airbags and front side airbags.


Alloy wheels are 18-inch items with a space-saver spare.


On all grades, a diesel engine is $2500 extra and premium paint is $695. Ours had a Snow White Pearl finish, one of the five paid-for hues, with Clear White being the only no-cost colour option.




Happily, Kia has taken this update as an opportunity to rid the Carnival of its foot-operated parking brake, in favour of an electronic unit that has resulted in a revised centre console and storage bin. While they were at it, dashboard materials and seat trims have also been refreshed.


It’s a pleasant and comfortable place to be, light and airy with excellent visibility plus a great SUV-like driving position that helps the Carnival shrink around the driver to make its 5115mm length and 1985mm width feel remarkably unintimidating on the move.


Surprisingly for a box on wheels, there is little reverberation from road noise, even with only the driver aboard, and even on coarse-chip surfaces.

All the seats are comfortable, all recline, the outboard positions of the middle row have captain’s chair-type armrests, and because each position in the central row individually slides and the middle seat in the middle row is removable to provide walk-through access to the back – a Carnival full of different-sized adults will be a mostly happy place.


While the broad-shouldered among us are forced to bunch up a little across the two rear rows and headroom in the rearmost row is only just adequate for six-footers, the Carnival’s design makes so many combinations possible that harmony will almost always be achieved.


It’s a similar story for those carrying small children, although we were a little perplexed by the position of top tethers in the rearmost row that would force parents to squash two child seats together on the driver’s side and centre, rather than spacing them across the two outboard seats.


Everyone has access to great storage, though. Two big gloveboxes, a huge central bin with an upper tier for sunglasses and flanked by two generous oddment and smartphone trays, 10 cup-holders, four bottle holders, capacious door bins, map pockets and bag- or coat-hanging hooks galore.


With both rear rows of seats deployed the Carnival provides a deep trough-like boot space that is far more usable than initial impressions might suggest. Kia claims 960 litres of storage in this configuration, while folding the rear bench down into the trough makes a huge van-like space providing 2200L (although the floor is bumpy due to all the seat fixing points).


A massive 4022L is liberated by removing the centre seat from the middle row and sliding the outboard chairs all the way forward, creating a T-shaped space.


On rougher roads, there was a bit of shimmying and rattling coming from around the Carnival cabin, but we put that down to the complexities of all the different seating configurations rather than any quality issues.


It may not feel as bank-vault solid as say, Kia’s Sorento SUV, but the Carnival’s fit, finish and material quality is pretty hard to fault and in another league to a Honda Odyssey or van-based alternatives such as the Hyundai iMax.


Our only concerns were visible wear to the driver’s seat bolster that was out of place in a car that had done just 4500km and the fact there is no optional alternative to the pale grey upholstery that looks prone to premature aging at the hands of careless kids.


If we’re being really picky, it was a bit of a reach to use the centrally mounted touchscreen. Moving it closer to the driver would make a lot of sense, although Kia’s symmetrical design probably saves them a heap of money when making dashboards for both left- and right-hand drive markets.


Engine and transmission


In terms of drivetrain, the big news for this Carnival update is the new eight-speed transmission and we’re pleased to report that it’s great.


We even found we could happily leave it to its own devices during our twisty-road dynamic test, where it only stumbled once by selecting a too-tall ratio while exiting a corner, and it rectified that in a split second. Impressive. It just works, and we loved it for that.


Surprisingly, our petrol Carnival – powered by a 3.3-litre V6 – slurped just 7.5 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres on the motorway, which is far better than the 8.7L/100km quoted by Kia for the extra-urban cycle.


But our average of 12.7L/100km during this week-long test indicated that suburban and urban driving really gets the Carnival guzzling and probably exceeded the official urban cycle figure of 14.5L/100km (the official combined-cycle figure is 10.8L/100km).


And while its peak power output of 206kW at 6000rpm and 336Nm of torque at 5200rpm are healthy numbers, to haul the two-tonne Carnival – that’s before passengers and luggage – at respectable pace does need revs. In addition to being the enemy of efficiency, frequently revving the Carnival to get it moving gets a bit exhausting to the vocal V6 making some pretty unpleasant noises.


We’re glad a V6 petrol option exists for the Carnival, but there is a strong case for selecting Kia’s excellent 2.2-litre diesel option. Although fuel savings might be offset by $2500 price premium for the diesel engine and marginally higher servicing costs, it’s likely to be a better bet come resale.


Ride and handling


It might look like a van, but the Carnival surprisingly does not drive like one. We really enjoyed its fuss-free, composed and intuitive nature.


Kia has tweaked suspension settings for this update, which seems to have removed some of the floaty vagueness that we were more than happy to put up with previously given this vehicle’s genre and purpose.


It now steers and handles way, way better than a big, boxy people-mover has any right to. You still need to be more mindful of passenger comfort when tackling bends compared to a well-sorted SUV like the Sorento also from Kia’s stable, but that’s to be expected.


We thrashed it along a twisty country road like we do all test cars, where apart from some steering kick-back on bumpy bends it was generally safe and predictable when pushed and didn’t roll excessively in corners.


Ride comfort is supple and controlled on most surfaces, but the deterioration is quite pronounced when the Carnival encounters really poor surfaces, particularly below 80km/h. It’s as though the suspension can cope up to a point, then gives up.


This is most likely due to the balancing act of tuning the ride for laden and unladen driving and it wasn’t a deal breaker for us, nor did it make us want to deliberately avoid certain poorly surfaced roads like some vehicles do.


Safety and servicing


In addition to the usual electronic safety aids and six airbags including curtains protecting all three rows, this Kia Carnival update brought with it the range-wide standard inclusion of high- and low-speed autonomous emergency braking, switchable lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control.


After the Carnival stumbled under ANCAP testing when it launched in early 2014 and got just four stars, Kia quickly worked on updates and it attained a five-star rating when tested from late December 2015 production.


It scored 14.29 out of 16 in the frontal offset test, a full 16 points in the side impact test and a perfect 2 out of 2 in the pole test. Whiplash protection was deemed ‘good’ and pedestrian protection ‘acceptable’. Overall, it scored 34.62 out of a maximum 37 points.


All Kia passenger cars have a seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty, with roadside assistance and capped-price servicing for the duration.


Service scheduling falls every 12 months or 15,000km – whichever comes first. For the petrol we drove, the cost of each interval ranges from $356 to $689, averaging at just under $505 per visit across the first 105,000km or seven years. For the diesel, the price range is $374-$701, so it costs a little more to keep on the road, but the intervals are the same. These costs were correct at the time of writing.




Kia probably could have continued smashing the competition with its Carnival but hasn’t rested on its laurels and has wrought some several meaningful updates to Australia’s best-selling people mover.


It did very little to annoy or disappoint us during our week-long test. Which for an ostensibly functional vehicle like the Carnival, is a sincere compliment.


Beyond that, the Carnival delighted us in many ways too. For example, rarely did we feel aware of its size and bulk.


The cabin layout is intuitive, it cruises about quietly and comfortably, driver aids and safety are great, the multimedia system has great connectivity and is easy to use and generally, it slotted seamlessly into everyday life, even if we rarely required its full seating or cargo capacity.


We found the Carnival to be a great ‘brain off’ car. It just works. Which gave our minds time to ponder and ponder whether we’d stump up an extra $2500 for the diesel engine.


And we reckon we probably would.



Honda Odyssey VTi-L (from $47,590 plus on-road costs)
A very different take on the people-mover than either the Kia. Its Gold Class cinema style second-row seats might make your teenage children (or Uber passengers) love you, but these are at the expense of overall practicality. The entry-level VTi has a more conventional three-seat bench, though. The chintzy interior lacks the Carnival’s cohesiveness and quality feel, while the media system and drivetrain are seriously underdone.

Toyota Tarago GLX V6 (from $55,990, plus on-road costs)
The last major Tarago update was in 2009, so it is outclassed by all its more modern competition. It’s still a well-thought-out design for interior accommodation, though, and reliability should be bulletproof as a minimum.


Hyundai iMAX Elite (from $48,490 plus on-road costs)

This one really is a van, based on the still-respectable iLoad. Recently updated with cosmetic and specification changes, there is still a lot to like about this honest and spacious vehicle.

Model release date: 1 May 2018

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