When it comes to cars that continue to nail their core brief and stick to doing one job very well, few are as good as the Kia Carnival.
Whereas other models and segments are hamstrung by adapted platforms, or pulled in multiple directions of conflicting disciplines as they try to be good at many things, the Carnival is a masterly people mover. It’s not sporty, nor can it go off-road. But goddamn can it move people.
Along with the dilemma of specification to consider, those wanting or looking at a Carnival will also need to choose between petrol and diesel power.
Along with the 148kW/440Nm 2.2-litre turbo diesel, the Carnival can also be had with a 3.5-litre petrol V6 that’s good for 216kW at 6400rpm and 355Nm at 5000rpm.
We've got the top-specification petrol 2021 Kia Carnival Platinum here, which has a drive-away price of $67,990. That's nearly 18 gorillas more than a base S specification auto, and two grand less than an equivalent diesel.
|2021 Kia Carnival Platinum petrol|
|Engine||3.5-litre V6 petrol|
|Power and torque||216kW @ 6400rpm, 355Nm @ 5000rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed torque-converter automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel consumption (claimed)||9.6L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||9.9L/100km|
|Boot size, 8 seats (VDA)||627L|
|Boot size, 5 seats (VDA)||2785L|
|ANCAP safety rating (year)||Untested|
|Warranty (years/km)||Seven years/unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||Volkswagen T6.1 Multivan, Honda Odyssey, diesel Carnival|
|Price as tested (drive-away)||$67,990|
Like the diesel, this engine has had a slight refreshment with this new-generation Carnival. The exhaust gas recirculation system is now cooled for lower combustion temperatures, and more advanced thermal management allows the engine to gain up to 10 per cent efficiency, according to Kia.
In our usage, we averaged 9.9 litres per 100km in the petrol Carnival. It's worth noting that this was in mostly ideal cruising conditions, with plenty of freeway and highway miles.
It’s got the overall performance advantage over the diesel Carnival, and is a mite smoother and quieter at the same time. However, it’s not as efficient.
The diesel Carnival would likely better this by at least two litres per hundred kays, but the efficiency gains would extrapolate out higher in the city. While our test showed it to be quite efficient, we’d hazard a guess that it would use more than the claimed 13.2L/100km in the heavy stop-start traffic, especially when seats fill up inside.
There isn’t the same amount of mid-range pull like the diesel, which allows it to accelerate in gear adeptly. Instead, the V6 Carnival shifts down one or two ratios to bring the revs up, allowing the big bus to surge forward purposefully. When the foot is planted, acceleration is plenty brisk enough.
Another thing to consider for the Carnival is that unlike most large SUVs this car kind of competes with, you don’t have any option of all-wheel drive to consider. Often, some might be forced into a diesel powertrain if they want all-wheel drive. That’s not the case here.
And in many ways, it’s for the better. The Carnival’s body doesn’t have to worry about pesky tailshafts and differentials getting in the way, as other all-wheel drives do. Independent rear suspension allows a massive low-slung boot, which means plenty of luggage space when the third row is in use.
And when it isn’t, the third row cleverly folds into this floor space, making for a flat load space. The spare wheel is mounted underneath the driver’s sliding door instead of the more typical rearward location.
The middle seat in the second row can be easily removed (or installed backwards), which only helps in the versatility stakes. We found it worked really well. Pulled out and temporarily mothballed in the shed, removing this seat allowed us to keep child seats in the two outboard pews, and then have walk-through access to the third row with no seat-moving skullduggery.
And what’s more, I found the Carnival to have plenty of space in the third row. There is no shortage of leg room and head room, cupholders, USB points and air vents, and even small sun blinds for the windows.
In the second row, it’s a similar story. The windows are bigger and you’ve got roof-mounted air-conditioning controls here, and more space overall, but it’s another winning part of the Carnival formula. Being a people mover, the car isn’t constrained against a high ride height or sloping roof, which allows for maximum interior space.
Move into the front seats and the new Carnival continues to impress. Although the Carnival will have to wait for things like a digital instrument cluster later in the year, the new dashboard and infotainment display still bring the game forward noticeably.
The switchgear all feels quality and is smartly laid out, making for something of a high-end ambience. But it would want to be considering the high asking price. Heated and cooled front seats, electric adjustment, electric sliding doors and tailgate, heated second-row (outboard) seats, three-zone climate control, projector LED high- and low-beam lights, and more USB points and cupholders than you can shake a pram at complete the Platinum picture, and go a long way to justifying the high asking price.
Platinum also gets: 19-inch alloy wheels, a 12-speaker Bose-branded sound system, heated steering wheel, inductive smartphone charging, paddle shifters and a unique rotary gearshifter, twin sunroofs and electric memory seat function.
Safe to say, to get more bells and whistles than this, you’ll need to be spending a lot more on a high-specced rig from one of the luxury brands.
The new platform on which this Carnival is built, which adds 30mm more wheelbase, 40mm more length and 10mm more width than its predecessor, continues the marque's quality ride and handling characteristics.
Like other Kias, this new model has been fettled for Australian tastes with a local tuning program, and the end result is difficult to criticise. The program ran out of time before tuning the Carnival’s electric steering system because of pandemic-related complications. However, it’s not bad. Steering feel errs on lightness, but isn’t ponderously so.
And although Platinum specification gets the largest wheel diameter to deal with, bumps and rough surfaces are handled very well. And even though it’s a big bus, roadholding abilities are in plentiful supply for a people mover.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox, which is a torque-converter type, is a painless and easy operator that shifts smartly and smoothly without dramas.
The longer wheelbase hasn’t changed the Carnival’s turning circle on paper (11.7m), but the sheer size of the car means you notice the 5155mm length during tight corners and negotiating car parks. I quickly got used to wielding the big Carnival, however, thanks in large part to the top-quality 360-degree bird's-eye view camera system.
Kia has effectively brought a gun to the knife fight of people movers with this new Carnival. Key competitors are either old or fundamentally not as good overall, and none have the same fresh, purpose-built bones that allow high levels of comfort, space and versatility.
Throw in a seven-year and unlimited-kilometre warranty, as well as all of the latest and greatest safety equipment, and there’s nary a foot put wrong.
Should you choose the petrol Carnival or spend the extra $2000 on the more frugal diesel? It will mostly come down to personal preference. The diesel engine will give much better fuel economy and overall range between refills around town, especially for long-term ownership. However, some simply prefer petrol power. And extra fuel usage aside, this smooth and free-revving V6 is a peach.