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The 2015 Kia Carnival is the most practical and technologically-advanced people mover for the money, but do its paper credentials justify its purchase?
As far as people movers go, it’s a segment that has been eroded by the popularity of SUVs, which provide similar levels of practicality without van-like characteristics and that general feeling that the buyer is choosing a van with lots of seats out of necessity rather than choice.
But here is where this changes, because the new Kia Carnival is the best of an SUV with the practicality of a people mover. It helps that it looks good, too, penned under the watchful eye of former-Audi designer Peter Schreyer. As a result, the new Carnival is a giant step up from its predecessor both inside and out.
The exterior carries the Kia family look at the front, while portraying a strong horizontal stance at the rear. The interior is excellent, and a massive improvement compared to the previous generation model, which was called Grand Carnival.
The eight fabric (or leather) seats are comfortable and are coated in stain resistance material, meaning any accidental spills or melted chocolate will not be as big of an issue.
They are eight actual seats, too, so normal people can fit in each. The third row’s three seats are perhaps best left for people shorter than 180 centimetres, but that will hardly be an issue for the car’s buyer group. The fact of the matter is, if you need to carry five or more people with plenty of space to go with it, there’s no better choice for the price.
Seldom does one need eight seats, though. In fact, Kia’s own market research says the majority of private buyers are those with three kids that want the extra space a regular five-seat (or 5+2) SUV can’t really offer.
As someone with three kids, we got loaded up and headed into cyclone Marcia coming out of the Gold Coast to find out if the new Kia Carnival made sense as a family car.
We tested the top-spec Platinum petrol (from $57,490 plus on-road costs) and SLi diesel ($52,490 plus on-roads), though you can find yourself in a base model Kia Carnival from $41,490 for the S ($2000 more than before), even if the Si remains the sweet spot for families ($45,490 in petrol and $47,990 in diesel - $4000 and $2500 more than before, respectively). You can read our Kia Carnival specification and pricing story to find out what you get in each grade.
First impressions are that the interior quality and fit and finish is the best Kia has ever done. The fabrics and trims are a cut above what we expected and the materials used throughout the cabin - and even the creative use of colours to highlight features - is a case in point of why this people mover is going to set the benchmark for its class. We will soon compare it to the slightly cheaper Honda Odyssey (from $38,990), which is currently the country's best-selling people mover.
In all grades above S, there’s an 8.0-inch satellite navigation system that doubles as a media player (USB or DVD) and brings a nice ambience to the cabin. In fact, keen enthusiasts would notice that it’s basically identical to the system found in the Hyundai Sonata sedan.
The satellite navigation works well and isn’t too hard to use, though it could take a while to get used to the strange structuring of the menus. In the top-spec Platinum models there’s also a 7.0-inch TFT supervision digital cluster which will replace the standard speedometer and 3.5 inch OLED display in the SLi and Si (base model gets a basic display in the instrument panel).
The second row constitutes three seats, which can be moved around substantially, sitting up when required to allow not only significant storage space (4022 litres in maximum mode with third row seats folded flat), but much easier entry into the third row than any people mover we’ve tested. The thing can swallow a canoe if it needs to.
The middle seat in the second row can be entirely removed, which is fantastic if you have three kids and wish to seat the family 2+2+1, allowing a nice walkway into the rearmost row but also providing that much needed space between the kids to keep the peace. In terms of configuration, the second-row seats are on rails and move around a fair bit (folding 40:20:40) while the third row goes flat to the floor or folds 60:40.
There are four child seat anchor points, but only three of them are ISOFIX compatible, which is unbeaten as far as we can tell and allows the super-safe seats to be installed.
It’s hard to complain about room inside the new Kia Carnival. There are 10-cup holders and four bottle holders for example, or a storage space large enough to fit a few iPads and then some. In fact, there’s so much storage space you may struggle to fill it (emphasis on ‘may’, as kids are creative). It’s a vehicle designed with kids in mind, and that makes it an ideal place for big families that take trips together.
In that regard, there is tri-zone air conditioning covering all rows (in Si and above) as well as four USB ports to keep the gadgets juiced up.
Kia offers two engine choices, a 3.3-litre petrol V6 (206kW of power and 336Nm of torque) or a 2.2-litre turbodiesel (147kW and 440Nm), both using a six speed automatic transmission. Either choice is good enough for hauling a large family around, the petrol more grunty from the get go but the diesel’s extra torque helpful when the load gets heavy.
The petrol will sip a claimed 11.6 litres per 100 kilometres (of 91-octane unleaded) while the diesel is said to use an average of 7.7L/100km.
Taking the current average price of diesel and petrol into account, as well as the extra $2,500 you’ll pay for the diesel, close to 70,000km must be covered by the diesel to pay for itself, though you’re also likely to get a higher value on resale. They are both good choices, but considering the low (current) price of petrol our advice is that you’d be better off spending money upgrading to a better variant than going to a diesel.
The concern with the Kia Carnival on the road is not the engines, it’s its road manners.
While it’s a comfortable place to be (thanks to localised tuning), absorbing the bumps and poorly surfaced roads that cover most of Australia, Kia has gone for hydraulic steering, which is usually a good thing compared to the lifeless electronic steering systems used in most cars, but the South Koreans have tuned the ‘feel’ out of it, making the steering slightly vague on centre and somewhat unnatural in turns when the Carnival is riding on 18- or 19-inch wheels.
The issue is far less obvious on the S and Si’s 17-inch wheels and we suspect changing the Korean-made tyres will help, too. It’s not something worth worrying about considering it’s a people mover, but given how good Kia has been with its dynamics of late, it’s slightly disappointing.
It’s another reason why the sweet spot in the range is, by and large, the Si model. It gets the nice entertainment system, 17-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, LED lights, reverse-view camera and sensors (also in S) as well as privacy glass for the second and third row.
The SLi’s main benefits are the front parking sensors (which you can fit aftermarket if you must), leather seats, power driver seat, cooled glove box and 18-inch wheels. Perhaps it’s enough to justify its $4500 price hike, but for most it’s not necessary.
The Platinum is where the party tricks come out. In a first for a Kia, the top-spec model comes with more active safety features than fitted standard to some luxury European models.
There’s blind-spot detection which will warn the driver if a vehicle is sitting in a blind spot; lane departure and forward collision warning systems, which are life saving technologies for distracted parents, and adaptive cruise control, which can follow the speed of the car in front and automatically brake and accelerate to adjust to traffic conditions. Ideal for long highway drives.
At $57,490 for the petrol ($2500 extra for diesel across the range), the Platinum might be pushing the budget of most families but it does present a showcase of active safety technologies available.
Speaking of safety, this is where the elephant remains in the room. The Kia Carnival has six-airbags including full-length curtain protection, and all the electronic traction and nanny controls you can think of, yet it gains a four-star safety rating (out of five). The issue is not that the Carnival is not safe (it’s constructed from significantly higher-strength steel than its predecessor), it’s a technicality that would have seen it get a five-star safety rating if the test was conducted before 31st of December 2014.
Unfortunately for Kia the New Year brings new safety regulations, one of which dictates that second-row seats must have seat belt reminders (which the Carnival doesn’t), on that basis alone the new Carnival misses out on the five-star rating on a technicality. Kia is working to fix this and cars arriving from the third quarter (2015) will have that feature standard. This is what happens when cars are designed to meet safety regulations, rather than just be safe for their occupants.
Interestingly, Kia’s main competitors are absolutely no different, with none providing seat belt reminders for the second row, however as they were tested before the new regulations, they have five-star safety ratings.
As far as other negatives go, parking is also a bit of an issue as the Carnival measures 5115mm long and 1985mm wide. It’s the sort of car you really want with all the sensors you can get. It’s important to note that the sliding doors (powered from SLi up) are hugely helpful in tight car parks but even so, it’s more about getting the thing parked in the first place.
When all is said and done, there’s no better people mover in the market than the 2015 Kia Carnival in terms of value, practicality and technology. It sets the benchmark in a class that it will shortly dominate.