Is the third-generation Kia Carnival the best people mover in the segment?
Feb 2015 Update: Read our local 2015 Kia Carnival Review.
The 2015 Kia Carnival brings everything that was good about the best-selling previous generation, but adds European styling, more stringent safety and a substantially improved interior.
The third-generation Kia Carnival goes on sale in Australia in February next year, completing the new-look Kia line-up spearheaded by chief designer Peter Schreyer. But to find out if it’s going to reclaim the title of the best-selling people mover here, which for 2014 is resting with the new Honda Odyssey, we came to Seoul in South Korea for a quick test drive.
Although photos are never a good indication, it’s evident that the new Carnival is a significantly better-looking vehicle than its predecessor. It’s based on the new Kia Sorento platform, but it also takes significant design ideas from its SUV sibling.
High-spec models get a 7-inch infotainment system as well as a full digital instrument cluster. Some of the safety features include blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure and forward collision warning, high beam assist and smart cruise control.
That makes it the most advanced people-mover in Australia in terms of active safety features. It’s also all but certain to get a five-star ANCAP rating (which compares very favourably with the four-star model it replaces) when it gets tested.
Safety was one of the reasons many ruled out the previous-generation Carnival, but the new car is not just about getting a five-star rating, with its entire construction process changed to include substantially higher use of high-tensile steel.
The question though, is why buy a Carnival instead of the very competent seven-seater Sorento? Firstly, the new Kia Carnival can seat eight (in other markets there’s even the option for an 11 seat version), which is handy if you need the capacity, but the most important factor is the interior practicality, which blows away any SUV this tester is yet to set foot in.
There are 14 cup holders, storage bins large enough to fit a 13-inch laptop, and a reasonable boot even with the third-row seats up.
Essentially, the Kia Carnival is a people mover that wants to be an SUV. Kia calls it a crossover utility vehicle (CUV), but whatever that means is irrelevant, as the Carnival does indeed offer similar characteristics to a front-wheel drive SUV but with loads more room.
The driving position is up high and the actual driving dynamics are no worse than a current front-wheel drive Sorento, which is saying a lot for a people mover.
There will be one diesel and one petrol engine heading to Australia. The 2.2-litre turbodiesel or 3.3-litre GDi V6 petrol are both shared with the Sorento. All Carnivals are driven via the front-wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.
The Carnival diesel will have around 147kW of power and 441Nm of torque while the petrol models gets a hefty 205kW of power and 336Nm of torque. Fuel consumption figures are yet to be confirmed for our market but we averaged around 9L/100km in the diesel.
For our test we jumped behind the wheel of a top-spec diesel and headed out of central Seoul. With four well-fed blokes on board, our first impressions were how well the diesel engine managed to pull the car and its occupant’s weight.
There’s considerable torque when you need it, so doing an overtaking manoeuvre on the highway is not an issue. There are also no signs of torque steer (where there’s too much power going to the front-wheels, resulting in the car changing direction), which was an issue with the previous model. We easily cruised at speeds above 140km/h in the wet without any stability control kicking in.
Kia has modified the Australian-bound Carnivals with localised tuning for the suspension and steering systems, but we will reserve judgement for local conditions until we drive it in Australia early next year.
Driving wise, the new Carnival feels no different than a large SUV. There is minimal body roll and its responsive steering (for a car its size) allows for easy maneuvering around town. As far as people movers go, you can’t really expect more.
It’s a big car, measuring 5115mm in length (15mm less than before), though it doesn’t always feel its size when on the go. Parking it can be a bit problematic just because of the laws of physics.
Kia offers a round-view monitor system that uses four cameras to show you a bird’s-eye view of the car, which makes parking super easy, but Kia Australia is not expected to take the system at launch, with the aim to keep costs down.
Its advanced active safety features (available on the top-spec) are a nice addition and if you do a lot of highway driving, features such as smart cruise control (which follows the speed of the car in front at a set distance) are immeasurably helpful.
However, our Korean-specification Carnival did seem overly cautious in warning us of vehicles sitting in our blindspot. A feature that can get very annoying, very quickly. But we suspect the Australian models will have their system tuned differently.
We spent a few hours in both the second and third row seats and can report the Carnival will be able to carry a family of six or seven without too much issue. When it comes to eight, you better hope there are small kids involved.
If the capacity isn’t needed, you can remove the middle second row seat to create a nice separation between the seats (less nagging from the kids) and a feeling of more space.
Large adults sitting in the third row would perhaps struggle a little with legroom (though the car does offer more legroom in all three rows than before) but for kids, there will be no issue.
Compared to the previous model, there’s less shoulder room for the second and third row, but there’s more room in every direction of the driver and front passenger.
Kia Australia is expected to keep it S, Si, SLi and Platinum grades, and while it's yet to be confirmed, we anticipate that pricing will start in the mid-30s and finish just below the luxury car tax threshold of around $60,000. This would make the Kia Carnival Platinum the priciest Kia on sale.
Comparing the previous model Carnival to the new car is hard to imagine, the new Carnival's interior refinement is two-generations ahead of the previous car and easily outclasses that of the quirky Honda Odyssey.
In fact, it’s fair to say that the new Kia Carnival does everything the Honda Odyssey does but just that little bit better. There’s better infotainment, active safety, interior packing and it’s also a far better looking machine. Most importantly though, considering Kia now offers an enormous seven-year warranty, February is worth the wait.