The Kia Carnival continues its run as the gold standard in people movers, driving more like a car than a bus and offering incredible cabin flexibility and comfort.
Rob Margeit’s opening line in his MY19 Kia Carnival launch review is my favourite from any review of 2018 so far – one of those ‘damn, why didn’t I think of that’ moments. “People movers aren’t sexy, which is ironic considering plenty of sexy time was had by those with the actual need of one.” Poetry…
His wrap-up is bang on the money (no pun intended) too, in that the Kia Carnival, while not entirely faultless, is the best transportation for any family that needs and regularly uses three rows of seating. That is, seating for five, six or up to eight occupants in total.
In fact, if you need three rows of seating – seats for more than five people regularly – and you purchased an SUV, you’re out of your mind. And a sheep. And keeping up with the Joneses. It’s that simple. If you’re big enough to admit that you bought an SUV because of the image ramifications, fine. If you actually assess the numbers – namely price – look at the flexibility, and factor in elements like access to the third row and luggage space, the Carnival leaves every single three-row SUV in the dust.
Why? The answer is broad, but employ the third row in any SUV, even something as big as a 200 Series LandCruiser, and you have no room for luggage, bags or sports gear. Secondly, aside from torturing someone, have you ever tried to climb into the third row of an SUV? It’s not pretty unless you’re a budding gymnast. Thirdly, the Carnival is properly catered for in all three rows in terms of air vents, seat comfort, and visibility. You never feel like you’re trapped in a cave in the third row, as you invariably are in an SUV.
Why don’t more people buy them then? “I don’t want to look like I’m driving a bus…” That’s the common refrain. Well, the Carnival doesn’t look like a bus, and it’s more car-like to drive than most SUVs too. Avoiders are starting to run out of excuses aren’t they? And still the rush to SUVs continues.
You can read our 2018 Kia Carnival pricing and specification guide here. As tested, the Kia Carnival SLi petrol starts from a hard to believe $49,990 before on-road costs. I challenge anyone to take a seat inside the Kia’s vast cabin and not be impressed by what you get for the money. Kia is really nailing the premium feel without the premium price tag angle, and family buyers will love the well-equipped cabin.
Standard equipment highlights include: front parking sensors, reverse parking sensors, rear-view camera, auto headlights, autonomous AEB, lane-departure warning, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED DRLs, fog lights, auto-folding mirrors, solar glass for the front windows, rear privacy glass, 8.0-inch touchscreen, premium eight-speaker JBL audio system, clean air module, auto defrost function, electrochromatic rear-view mirror, push-button start, leather trim, eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and 18-inch alloy wheels.
As you can see from that list above, the Carnival is once again another example of Kia product that doesn’t require lengthy or expensive options lists to be considered. There’s so much standard kit, you don’t need to add anything once you work out which specification grade suits you.
You can, of course, step up to the range-topping Platinum, which starts from $60,290 for the petrol before on-road costs. That adds kit like LED headlights and high-beam assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, a surround-view camera, eight-way powered front passenger seat and ventilated front seats. Platinum Carnivals also get 19-inch alloy wheels.
Against that pricing for the petrol engine, the diesel SLi starts from $54,990 and the Platinum diesel starts from $62,790, both before on-road costs. The diesel argument plays out well if you do a lot of driving, but I was genuinely surprised by the efficiency of the 3.3-litre petrol, which returned a week's average of 11.9L/100km against an ADR claim of 10.8L/100km. Following a 200km highway run, that number had dropped into the high nines. It will be thirstier exclusively around town, but it’s a smooth engine, there’s no doubt about it.
There’s an argument for that added safety kit you unlock on the higher model grade, but to my mind, the SLi is a real sweet spot in the Carnival range – either petrol or diesel – with a strong mix of value, inclusions, and quality. Kia lists its full 'build and price' details here, and the full brochure here (links open in new tabs).
The exterior styling is more large wagon than ugly minibus, regardless of which angle you’re looking at the Carnival from, so we’ll take a look at the interior in more detail. Remember, though, this is no weird converted van like the bad old days of people movers, so get that prejudice right out of your head before you look at one.
In my opinion, Kia cabins are just about getting to the point where they are ready for a generational freshen up to again lead the way. There’s something clean and classy about the way both Kia and Hyundai deliver infotainment and screens, though, but they’ve both been rolling down the same road for a while now.
However, the Carnival still feels and looks like a quality interior. And it’s important to remember too, most buyers are moving up out of a much older vehicle, not driving the latest and greatest of everything like we do at CarAdvice.
Open the door and the light-grey trim of our tester looks classy and presents beautifully. There’s a light and airy feel throughout all three rows, but especially up front. The leather seats are comfortable and supportive. I launched straight into a 2.5-hour drive south of Sydney on the highway, and there was zero fatigue or aches after that period of time behind the wheel.
Visibility is excellent too, as you’d expect with the expansive glasshouse, and parking is a cinch even without the excellent camera and sensors. Use them, and it’s even easier. Yes, the Carnival is big – long especially – but it’s not a behemoth from behind the wheel by any means. There’s a commanding seating position, and the electric adjustment for the driver makes getting into your preferred position as easy as it gets.
There’s a genuine simplicity to the controls, switchgear and layout that makes it really easy to familiarise yourself with the cabin. Mum and/or dad are going to spend plenty of time in the Carnival’s cabin running the kids around, so they will get used to the controls anyway, but it’s easy even for first-timers.
The cabin is well-insulated too, even at constant highway speeds with no-one in the back. There’s no drumming or booming like you get from some vans, and while you do get some tyre noise on coarse-chip country roads, that’s pretty much to be expected. Around town, the cabin is near-perfect for me.
The Carnival is comfortable across all three rows too, which is crucial for a family conveyance of this nature. And when we say comfortable, we mean comfortable for adults, even in the third row. The other great benefit of a well-designed people mover like this is the amount of luggage space you still have access to, even with the third row in play. There’s plenty of room for even large suitcases with all three rows in use, something SUVs can’t boast.
Getting in and out of the second row is exceptionally easy thanks to the broad sliding doors on both sides, electric in our test SLi. Then, the way the second-row seats fold up and out of the way makes accessing the third row almost as easy too. There’s no ungraceful climbing or folding required.
The 3.3-litre petrol engine errs on the side of ‘engines that are more powerful than they need to be’ given the vehicle it powers. The V6 churns out 206kW and 336Nm, and does an easy job of propelling the 2146kg Carnival. The real-world efficiency impressed, as we noted above, and the punchy power delivery means it gets the Carnival up and moving rapidly too.
Like all other Kia product, the Carnival benefits from a local suspension tune, which to my mind irons out the ‘floatiness’ that would be inherent in any vehicle aimed at the US market. It’s firm, but not too firm, and while the front end isn’t perfect, I reckon it’s pretty damn good for this segment.
There's no doubt the Kia Carnival (link opens in new tab) is the people mover you should be choosing if it falls within your budget. The unbeatable warranty and inherent quality mixed with practicality and styling make it the clear winner in this previously boring segment. Kia's warranty is detailed here (opens in new tab).