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The Kia Grand Carnival has been the best selling people mover in Australia for a number of years. In 2011 more than one in three buyers looking for a people mover picked a Carnival over all other alternatives, the story was pretty much the same in 2010. But after so many years on the market, is it still the king?
It’s rare to come across a vehicle that dominates its segment so casually. In fact, between the Kia Grand Carnival and Hyundai’s iMax, the South Koreans have unwavering control over the people mover segment. It’s a given that Kia must be doing something right if it can consistently outsell competitors of all kinds.
To find out what all the fuss is about, we picked up a top of the range Kia Grand Carnival Platinum powered by the highly acclaimed 2.2-litre R-diesel engine previously seen in the Kia Sorento (and Hyundai Santa Fe). The 2.2-litre diesel, which replaced the ageing 2.9-litre diesel unit from last year’s model, provides 143kW of power and 429Nm of torque (up 7kW and 86Nm). More than enough to get the eight-seater Grand Carnival moving yet efficient enough to use just 8.1L of diesel per 100km.
From the outside the Grand Carnival is the odd one out of Kia’s new family of modern European-styled vehicles. With very traditional and somewhat bland styling, it’s unlikely to beat the likes of Honda’s Odyssey in a looks competition.
Having originally been released in 2006 the current Grand Carnival hasn’t seen the pen of Kia’s new chief designer, Peter Schreyer. Some would call its styling unpleasant, we think it’s just a matter of function over form (but we certainly anticipate the next generation Grand Carnival to be class leading not just in sales, but also in style).
It’s pretty obvious the Kia Grand Carnival doesn’t sell on its looks, but on the enormous amount of space and unbeatable practicality that it offers. The Platinum models come with pretty much everything (although satellite navigation is a noticeable omission) you can think of and from $52,190 for the V6 petrol or $56,190 for the diesel; it’s also distinctively cheaper than its Japanese rivals.
Behind the wheel the Grand Carnival behaves like a big solid vehicle that requires a bit of care when piloted around tight spots. Steering feel is car like but the overall higher seating position gives you some of the advantages of an SUV. Measuring a massive 5130mm in length, it's also not the easiest car to park if you're not a confident parker, but the reversing camera (built into the rear-view mirror) and sensors are a big help.
The diesel’s acceleration falls short of the V6's instant pulling power but is still powerful enough to pull a full load without complaint. Coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission, the Grand Carnival’s new diesel powerplant is much smoother and quieter than before. Its long wheelbase and front-wheel drive configuration can often lead to momentary torquesteer but once you get comfortable behind the wheel it’s simple to drive, even though it can be a bit of a handful in the wet.
On the surface the $4,000 price hike from the 3.5-liter V6 petrol to the 2.2-litre diesel is hard to justify unless you plan on doing enough kilometres to gain the fuel economy benefits.
The V6 officially uses 10.9 litres of unleaded fuel per 100km but in reality that’s likely to get noticeably higher if you’re carrying a full load and that’s where the diesel steps in. Over the course of the week we did around 600km and managed a fuel economy of 8.9L/100km, which is not bad considering the load and driving style. But if you want to look at the math, using official fuel figures and working on the price of petrol being $1.40/L and diesel being $1.45 (based on current prices at time of writing), you save around $35 on fuel per 1,000km by buying a diesel, which means it will take you almost 115,000km to recoup the $4,000 price hike over the petrol.
If diesel prices hit parity with petrol, it would still take over 100,000km for the same outcome. That’s not necessarily a disadvantage if you’re doing high kilometres and expect to keep your Grand Carnival for the long term. To think of it another way, from 100,000 to 200,000km you actually save $4,000. So in the long term you come out on top.
Before you even think about engine choices, it’s the Grand Carnivals impressive interior that wins you over. The three rows of seats (2+3+3) can accommodate a family of eight and the flexibility of the third and second row seats to fold away or even be completely removed (2nd row) means the Grand Carnival can go from a people mover to a van in less than five minutes.
As a practical people mover the Kia Grand Carnival is hard to beat. There is genuinely ample amount of space for five adults and the third row can take three kids without a fuss (although the addition of toddler/infant seats tends to complicate things a little). The sheer size of the Kia means both leg and headroom is uncompromised. As for fitting everything in, there are storage boxes everywhere, not to mention more cup holders than you can find cups for.
The sliding doors are also a godsend, something every parent will surely appreciate. SLi and Platinum variants go one step further with electric sliding doors. From the remote you simply hold down the left or right hand door key button and the corresponding door automatically opens, sliding down the side of the car. Not only is this useful in car parks but it’s exceptionally handy when you’re walking towards your car and you’ve got your hands full. The same functionality applies from the buttons located on the roof, easily opening and closing the sliding doors. We tried this on steep hills and all the awkward angles we could find, it proved faultless.
Platinum variants get an electric operating tailgate (which can be automatically opened and closed via the remote or buttons inside the boot) that makes life easier, especially if you have big dogs. Overall, these are the sort of features we’d expect in luxury cars but are available here in an eight-seater Grand Carnival for around $50,000.
For us, perhaps the most impressive feature of the Grand Carnival was the tri-zone climate control that allows a different temperature and fan setting for the first, second and third row. Meaning the adults can stay cool and the kids won’t complain about the cold.
The biggest oversight from the Grand Carnival is indeed a proper multimedia system with satellite navigation. If the rear seats came with DVD players the folks at Kia would probably have trouble keeping up with demand. It can certainly do with two screens for the second row and one for the third. It would also help if the main audio system didn’t look like something out of Tron (the original, not the remake).
Sure it comes standard with a six-speaker audio system capable of Bluetooth telephone connectivity and audio streaming (you can stream music from your iPod/iPhone wirelessly to the system) plus the added benefit of USB input, but it lacks the modern sophistication of its competitors. Given Hyundai/Kia’s headquarters are literally kilometres away from some of the world’s best-known electronic giants (Samsung and LG), it’s an unfortunate omission.
On the safety front the Kia Grand Carnival is a four-star (out of five) ANCAP rated vehicle and comes with electronic stability control and traction control. It also comes standard with six-airbags including driver & front passenger, front side airbags (pelvis & thorax protection) and curtain airbags.
With a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, it’s hard to criticise the best selling people mover in Australia on value for money, practicality or spaciousness. If the styling doesn’t bother you then the Kia Grand Carnival should be an absolute must on your test drive list.