2019 Kia Carnival review

Kia has added more tech and more safety to its already segment-leading people mover. But is the 2019 Kia Carnival proof an MPV can be sexy?

People movers aren’t sexy, which is ironic considering plenty of sexy time was had by those with the actual need of one. But, there’s no question that when the time comes and you need to haul a family of six, seven, or eight, there are alternatives to the plethora of SUVs flooding our roads.

Enter the Kia Carnival, the eight-seat people mover – or, as Kia’s marketing department calls it, a CUV (crossover utility vehicle). The third generation was first launched in 2015 and now, in 2018, Kia has given its segment-leading people mover a mid-life makeover, or, as Kia’s marketing department calls it, a Product Enhancement.

The Kia Carnival leads the – very – niche people mover segment, enjoying around 43 per cent market share with 1962 units sold to end of April. Its main rival, the Honda Odyssey has found 653 new (large) homes in the same period.

The people mover segment is small, but still accounts for around 12,000 sales annually, with the Carnival consistently snaffling close to half of those sales. Kia has a winner on its hands, and it knows it, hence the enhancement to keep the Carnival fresh and on the consideration list of those with the need.

For the 2019 model year (this update's official designation), the Kia Carnival brings a new eight-speed automatic transmission and a range of additional equipment, as well as some minor styling changes.

Additional standard kit across the line-up includes autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and an electronic park brake. That last inclusion might seem minor, but it replaces the somewhat clunky and annoying foot-operated park brake found in previous models. It’s the little things sometimes, that make a big difference.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both voice activated, are also now standard in all Carnivals.

The line-up of the eight-vehicle range hasn’t changed over its predecessor with four grades – S, Si, SLi and Platinum – available in both diesel and petrol variants.

The 2019 Kia Carnival parade kicks off with the base model S, starting at $42,490 before on road costs, and tops out with the Platinum diesel which can be had for $62,790 plus on-roads. That places the Kia somewhere in the middle of the segment on price, where people-movers can be had from as little as $29,990 (Ssangyong Stavic) or as much as $88,800 (Mercedes V250d Avantgarde). The Carnival’s only real rival however – at least on the sales charts – is the Honda Odyssey. That offering asks for $37,990 in VTi trim and $47,590 in VTi-L form.

There’s no question the Carnival cuts a striking form. It is, subjectively, a good looker in a segment where good looks aren’t necessarily the norm. There’s a presence to the Carnival, part people mover, part SUV, that belies what could arguably be considered an unexciting segment. It’s not sexy, exactly, but neither is it dowdy.

This model update brings some further refinements to that presence with a fresh take on Kia’s ‘tiger nose’ grille which leads into a sleeker-looking headlight cluster. The integrated ‘ice cube’ design LED fog lights add another stylish element.

Fitting eight people and their accoutrements into a Carnival requires a car with majestic dimensions. It’s long, like 5155mm long – on a wheelbase of 3060mm – and it’s quite wide at 1985mm. But, while those proportions may seem a tad on the large side, it’s the Carnival’s relatively short stature (1755mm) that lends it a less frumpy appearance.

Inside, the Carnival continues to impress. The cabin is both spacious and well laid out with some clever touches that not only lend it an air of premium, but also make for a practical user experience.

The seats, all eight of them, are comfortable and spacious – even the second and third rows, which is probably why the Carnival is popular with rental and hire car companies. There’s easily enough room for three adults in the second row with ample head, leg and toe room. The third row too, can accommodate adults easily, although you might want to line your passengers up by height and relegate the shortest three to the back row. Kids? Not a problem. There are four top tether and three ISOFIX anchor points to ensure the little ones can be driven around safely. Airbags abound too, with all three rows covered.

There’s plenty of stowage too, with 10 cupholders, and a veritable assortment of cubbies, pockets and two gloveboxes as well as a large central storage bin.

And, crucially for this segment, boot space is massive, thanks largely to the Carnival’s front-wheel drive underpinnings. This has freed up a cavernous area behind the third row. With all three rows in use, the Carnival still provides a whopping 960 litres of storage space. We tested it out briefly at launch with an array of luggage, which was swallowed whole by the Carnival with still plenty more space available.

Leave three of your brood home alone and fold the third-row seats away and the Carnival’s cargo area expands to a gargantuan 2220 litres with the third row folded away while the run to IKEA with just the two of you on board for some Billy bookcases will nett you 4022 litres. Impressive stuff.

Kia has also beefed up infotainment in the 2018 Carnival, replacing the rather dated and small 4.3-inch screen with a 7.0-inch touchscreen in the S grade, bumped up to 8.0-inches in SL, SLi and Platinum trim which also score a JBL premium eight-speaker sound system over the base model’s standard four-speaker unit. It’s not earth-shattering by any means, but it does offer a reasonable sound quality. The base model misses out on sat-nav, which is reserved for the top three grades. But the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto across the entire range mitigates that omission in the Carnival S.

The Carnival already makes sense when considering the ample space on offer, as well as the flexibility it affords for those needing to transport more than the nuclear family. But, where the Carnival really starts to make sense is on the road.

Kia chose a route from Sydney to NSW’s Hunter Valley to launch the 2019 Kia Carnival this week, providing what can only be considered a typical use scenario for its popular people mover, a blend of urban peak hour traffic, followed by an easy run down the freeway and culminating in some reasonably sketchy and narrow back country roads.

Starting out in the base Carnival S diesel, provided the perfect platform to assess what an entry-level people mover is capable of. Powered by Kia’s 2.2-litre in-line four-cylinder diesel with outputs of 147kW (peak at 3800rpm) and 440Nm (1750-2750). Transmitting that power to the front wheels is a new eight-speed transmission, replacing the incumbent model’s six-speed unit.

Those power outputs are by no means asthmatic, although with peak torque running out of steam quite low in the rev band at just 2750rpm, the Carnival can feel little underdone when overtaking on the freeway. It’s a small gripe, true.

Overall, the diesel hums along, thanks largely to the new eight-speed transmission which provides effortless, smooth and barely perceptible cog changes. It really is a smooth transition from low-speed traffic snarls to 110km/h on the motorway.

On the road, the Kia benefits from the South Korean giant’s carefully considered and clever local suspension tune. Kia makes no bones about admitting the Carnival is aimed squarely at the US market (where it is sold as the Kia Sedona), a market that values softness and comfort at levels not suitable for our Aussie roads.

Instead, Kia Motors Australia fettles the MacPherson struts out front and multi-link rear suspension with optimised shock absorbers and spring rates to offer a firm, yet comfortable ride, both around town and out in the wild.

Bumps and rough patches of road are barely felt inside and NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels are acceptable. There is a bit of road noise, especially on coarse-chip surfaces, but that’s par for the course. Cabin noise is certainly not at uncomfortable levels.

Dynamically, the Carnival is surprisingly planted. It certainly doesn’t feel its dimensions, surprisingly stable when cornering, while also shrinking around you. Mind you, that was with two-up in the front and no passengers. Add a brood of snotty kids or noisy teenagers in the back two rows and the serenity might be shattered like a mirror faced by Medusa.

Swapping into the top-spec-but-one Carnival SLi petrol proved Kia’s consistency across the range. The 3.3-litre V6 petrol engine enjoys a higher power output (206kW at 6000rpm) but a lower torque number (336Nm at 5200rpm). Surprisingly, it’s 49kg lighter than its smaller-engined diesel sibling, 2146kg against 2195kg (kerb weight).

It feels it, too. Power delivery is punchier and it doesn’t feel as stressed when cruising at freeway speeds. So too, there is a nice little surge when required for passing manoeuvres. It is, naturally, quieter than its diesel counterpart.

Ride and handling remains as consistent as it does in the lower spec, despite the presence of 18-inch alloys over the S’s 17-inch steelies. The automatic transmission remains just as refined as it does in the lower variant, transmitting barely a ripple of gear change into the cabin.

Fuel consumption remains an important equation for buyers in this segment, especially if there are several hungry mouths to feed. Kia is claiming 10.8 litres per 100km on the combined cycle for petrol variants – an improvement, the company claims, of 0.8L/100km over the outgoing model.

Similarly, Kia is quoting 7.6L/100km for diesel variants on the combined cycle, a more modest 0.1L improvement. All variants come with an 80-litre tank.

Buyer surety is covered by Kia’s industry-leading seven-year/unlimited-km warranty with seven years’ roadside assistance. And the Kia Carnival collected itself a five-star ANCAP rating back in 2016.

It really isn’t hard to see why the Carnival continues to sell in the numbers it does. Sure, the segment it plays in might not be sexy – after all, there’s nothing sexy about having to regularly haul a family of six, seven or eight around town and on road trips – but what Kia has done is prove that needing a people mover for your motoring requirements need not be punished by compromise.

The Carnival is a well thought-out, comfortable, spacious and versatile package that delivers practicality in spades while also ensuring mum and dad, or mum and mum, or dad and dad, or whatever combination of ’rents you care to come up with sitting up front won’t feel bummed out at being caught behind the wheel of a people mover.

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