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With an impressive field of seven-seat SUVs on offer in Australia at the moment, the question is – are people-movers, like the 2016 Kia Carnival, still a relevant option for large families? After spending some time with the top-spec Carnival Platinum, the answer is a resounding yes.
Not only does the Kia accommodate eight people comfortably, giving you a valuable extra seat over the vast majority of SUVs, there's certainly more space inside – particularly in the third row. And these days people-movers like the Carnival drive more like cars and less like buses – until you load them up with four or more fully grown adults, that is.
Our test car is the top-of-the-line petrol Carnival Platinum with a 3.3-litre V6 engine. It's also available with a 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine, and both the petrol and diesel options are teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The Platinum spec is loaded with safety kit as well as features for comfort and convenience, but at $58,490 before on-road costs for the petrol variant and $60,990 for the diesel, it's a stretch to call it a budget-friendly family car when you consider that the range starts at $41,490 for the S variant with a petrol engine.
The next step up in the petrol range is the Si at $45,490 then the SLi for $49,990 and all have the same 3.3-litre engine. You'd expect to want for nothing in the Platinum at an $8500 premium over the SLi.
One of the big questions for people that need to regularly move a lot of people is SUV or MPV? The water starts to get murky when you take seven-seat SUVs into consideration, with several stepping up their respective games recently – including the Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Kluger.
We recently published a comparison between the Sorento, Santa Fe, CX-9 and Pathfinder – read it here – and the Kia featured in that test was the Platinum trim-level but it's interesting to note that it's list price is $59,990 for the diesel which is only $1000 less than the brand's equivalently-specced eight-seat people-mover.
However, if you absolutely need eight seats, or require sixth and seventh seats for regular use that aren't what we call 'sometimes seats' – meaning they are small, cramped and not incredibly comfortable – your options are largely limited to the people-mover category and the Kia Carnival is by far the most popular choice for Aussie buyers. Year-to-date it has claimed just over 40 per cent of the sales volume, with 3297 sold.
Compare that to the Honda Odyssey (1816), Hyundai iMax (1016), Volkswagen Multivan (631) and Toyota Tarago (560), and it's safe to say Kia has the multi-purpose vehicle corner well covered. In fact the Kia came out on top in our recent luxury people-mover comparison featuring the Multivan, Carnival and the Mercedes-Benz V-Class.
The Carnival is a big rig, standing 1755mm tall with a width of 1985mm and a span of 5115mm – but it doesn't look like a traditional van. It has a bit of an SUV look to it and appears smaller than the dimensions indicate. But does the visual impression translate to feeling smaller on the road? I'll share my thoughts on that in a moment.
With its 19-inch alloy wheels, HID headlights, LED positioning and fog lights, chrome highlights and black gloss grille, it's arguable quite stylish and should shake a little of the 'daggy family hauler' dust off the people-mover segment.
If you want to move the family in comfort, there's not much to complain about when it comes to the Carnival Platinum. The driver's seat is high-set with cushy armrests, it also has eight-way power adjustment with four-way lumbar support adjustment and memory function. The seat will slide back out of the way when you open the door, making it easy to jump on in. It then returns to its former position when you start the car.
The front passenger seat also scores eight-way power adjustment and both are heated and ventilated. The Platinum has leather-trimmed seats across all three rows and they are plush, supportive and comfortable.
Storage is also a key factor for families and Kia has supplied plenty of it. Up front there are big door pockets with large bottle holders, two cupholders with a sliding cover beside the gear selector, a huge illuminated multi-level centre console bin that houses a 12V outlet and USB charging point (there's an AUX and USB in front of the gearshift too), a cooled glovebox and an extra storage bin located along the wide dash.
There's an 8.0-inch LCD colour touchscreen and almost every media format you can think of is catered for including DVD, MP3, USB, AUX and Bluetooth connectivity – but there's no extended smartphone connectivity by way of the Apple or Android platforms. It has satellite navigation, and the rear-view camera is crisp and clear. With 360-degree view, parking guidelines and front and rear sensors, it's easier to park in tight spots than it probably should be.
The camera view can be easily changed thanks to the inclusion of a button near the shifter, alongside of which you'll find controls for turning the parking sensors on or off, active eco mode and heated steering wheel. The steering wheel has a wood-look trim and features controls for adaptive cruise, the menus in the 7.0-inch colour TFT instrument cluster display plus phone, media source and volume.
When it comes to safety features the Platinum has everything Kia could throw at it including blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and forward collision warning. Safety is likely to be front of mind for anyone carting kids around, and the Carnival is equipped with driver and front passenger airbags as well as curtain airbags for the first, second and third rows. The Carnival suffered a minor setback when the new generation launched last year, originally scoring a four-star ANCAP safety rating. However, design changes were implemented and the Carnival was awarded a five-star rating earlier this year.
You can keep an eye on the kids in the back using the conversation mirror that's situated below the auto-dimming rear view mirror – nearby there there are also buttons to open the dual electric sliding doors and tailgate – and although there are buttons to open the sliding doors on both sides of the second row, childproof locks can be activated. Oh, and just in case you needed another way to open the back doors, there are also buttons on the key fob for both side doors and the tailgate.
Though the front passenger and driver can each adjust the climate control to suit themselves, there is a third zone that looks after those second and third rows with controls in the second row and air-vents up the back.
The second row features two cupholders positioned at a good height on the back of the centre console bin and under there are storage areas and a USB charging point. The centre seat folds down with the simple pull of a tab to reveal another two cupholders and another storage tray. There are mesh map pockets on the back of both front seats and a bag hook on the passenger side, too.
Headroom is plentiful and the amount of legroom is easily adjustable as all three seats slide and recline individually. The centre row is incredibly customisable, the middle seat can be removed if extra space is needed, the outboard seats have armrests, there are large pockets and bottle holders in the doors, the windows are electric and there are pulldown shade covers on each side. No harsh sunlight streaming through when the seat is reclined and a nap is in session.
When it comes to climbing through into the third row, an easy-to-use lever on either side folds the outside seat to a standing position creating a thoroughfare that is wide enough and tall enough to easily accommodate an adult.
The rear of the Carnival is narrower than the front, and when you take the wheel arch recesses into consideration, it comes as no surprise that the third row is narrower than the second. The seat base is shorter but it is still a functional space for two adults or three children – three adults if you absolutely had to. There's a good amount of headroom and legroom, provided second row passengers aren't too greedy.
There are two cupholders on each side as well as a little storage tray, as mentioned before there are air-vents, and just like the second row there are shades on the windows.
The third row is 60:40 split fold, and folds fairly flat. With seats six to eight in play there's a deep but narrow recess, however it wouldn't be an issue to take a full car of people, complete with luggage, off on a holiday. Cargo space is an impressive 960 litres with all seats in play, that expands to a massive 2022L with the third row folded.
It's the little extras that make this boot so practical and functional. You'll find a 12V outlet, cargo hooks, bag hooks, tools to change the tyre are hidden in a wall panel rather than under the floor, there's an LED torch that pops out of the wall and the electric tailgate features handsfree opening.
On the road when there's just a driver on board you could forget you're driving a people-mover. Despite checking in with a kerb weight of 2100 kilograms, the Carnival is surprisingly easy to swing around tight corners and it's nimble enough to weave through traffic. The hydraulic power steering is direct and responsive, contributing to it feeling like a much smaller car behind the wheel.
Being front-wheel drive it is often too eager to spin the wheels, particularly in the wet or when taking off up a hill – however it is far more settled when weighed down with more passengers. To compare the difference, I drove the Carnival on my own, then loaded with four adult males. The extra weight certainly dulled the spritely reactions and was a slower and heavier vehicle to drive – it felt far more like a people-mover. We'd love to see an AWD Carnival – that could go a long way towards sorting out some of its less-favourable on-road manners.
The 3.3-litre V6 produces 206kW at 6000rpm and 336Nm at 5200rpm so, as you would expect, compared to the diesel it is a little light on when it comes to low-down torque delivery. The six-speed automatic transmission tends to hold on to the gears, keeping the revs higher: it knows the sweet spot is higher in the rev range and it intuitively seeks to stay there. As a result it almost feels a little stressed or wound-up though, compared with the more relaxed diesel engine.
However, the petrol engine is relatively quiet and the gear changes are smooth, even when it's being asked to maintain a decent speed up a steep hill with the aforementioned passengers on-board. It shifts back and powers through when you put your foot down.
Even though it sits on 19-inch wheels, the ride is compliant and comfortable and the Carnival makes its way over large imperfections and smaller undulations with equal grace. The cabin is well insulated and engine, road or wind noise don't get in the way of conversations, even between those in the first and third rows.
Something to consider though is fuel economy and the difference between the petrol and diesel figures. We spent most of our time around town, and even though the claimed urban fuel consumption is 15.6 litres per 100 kilometres, we managed to rack up 17.8L/100km. Matt Campbell spent time in the 2016 Carnival Platinum diesel and recorded a combined 10L/100km, against a claimed combined figure of 7.7L/100km.
At a $2500 premium that's a budget consideration that needs to be taken into account if you're tossing up between the petrol and diesel. But as for ownership the Kia argues a strong case, petrol or diesel: it has an unrivalled seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with seven years roadside assist and seven years of capped-price servicing (averaging $537 per year or 15,000km, whichever occurs first).
As a family MPV, the Kia Carnival is hard to argue against. The Platinum offers functional space, eight seats designed for regular use, a long list of safety features and an excellent warranty and servicing package. We may prefer the diesel engine, but the petrol is cheaper upfront and still offers a pleasant driving experience.
Click on the photos tab for more images by Sam Venn.