Last year, after reading and watching some reviews, I wanted to buy a Kia Stinger as ‘the nice car’ to accompany our 2010 Sorento in the garage. A personalised numberplate was even bought for this plan.
Unexpectedly, my wife suggested to upgrade the Sorento to a Carnival with very logical reasons. We regularly need seven seats and lack of luggage space is a known problem when all seats are taken. I suspect it is also the main reason to most private buyers who ended up in this segment, when an SUV is not quite right.
We organised a test drive in a diesel SLI. Apart from being a larger vehicle, it felt similar to driving a Sorento. Both have identical 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engines. The high commanding position is great. We can put an unfolded pram behind the third row and still have enough space for a week’s groceries. When the third row is folded down, an even larger space appears. It clearly became more difficult for me to keep the idea of buying a Stinger after this test drive. Practicality wins.
In the seven years of Sorento ownership, its AWD was rarely needed. Most of the places we went to were manageable in 2WD mode. With this type of travel, the Carnival ticks most of the boxes. Finally, we decided to sell our Sorento and upsize to a Carnival without even waiting until the Stinger was available for a test drive at the showroom.
We initially considered the top-range Platinum petrol for something more quiet and luxurious than the previous diesel Sorento Si. However, we could convince ourselves that the best pick is the base-model S diesel for nine reasons listed below:
1. It is cheaper to buy, cheaper to insure.
2. Sufficiently equipped for day-to-day duties.
3. Registration cost for a four-cylinder diesel is cheaper than a V6 petrol in Queensland.
4. Hubcaps means less disappointment when wheels scrape the kerb.
5. Closing the boot and sliding the door manually without electronic aid is a kind of exercise.
6. The clear windows can be tinted later at a local shop for a relatively small extra cost.
7. We can shoulder-check and assign our trustworthy passengers to shout when there is a car coming, in lieu of a blind-spot sensor and rear cross-traffic alert.
8. Hauling young kids with all their routines, any model can get messy anyway. We need to let them eat in the car between activities, tolerate grass from sport fields, expect sand from the beach, and so on.
9. Easier-to-clean leather seats versus cloth seats is probably the main benefit on the upper model, but the price difference could be spent on a holiday.
Those thoughts worked well as we ended up with the S.
We are happier with the extra space in the Carnival compared to the SUV-ness of the Sorento. The middle seat in the second row was removed to create an aisle for easy walking to the last row. Unfortunately, the window seats cannot be removed to make a two-seater van or few other configurations. We miss the morning complaints from whoever came last to the car and had to enter the third row through the boot, jumping over the backrest due to car seats in the middle row.
Our car looks very similar to many others, including one at school and rental cars. One of our kids had an experience of opening the door of the wrong Carnival during school pick-up time. Oops! To differentiate ours from others we added roof cross bars. Maybe one day we will put a kayak, roof pod, or bike on the roof. The personalised numberplate bought for a Stinger ended up there too. Well, now it looks a bit different from other silver Carnivals.
A faulty head unit was the only problem we had in the first year. It was replaced under warranty after a couple of attempts to fix it. The part was not readily available, so we waited two months until the new unit was fitted. Driving without a working head unit was inconvenient.
A reverse camera in a big car like this is essential. Even the small screen is very useful when reversing, as it comes with guiding lines and a proximity sensor. By the way, not long after this warranty claim, one of the sales team gave us a full tank of diesel as a nice gesture.
I also want to report that it did not take long until the plastic hubcaps scraped the kerb during parallel parking. We just accepted it without feeling too bad.
Now I will share a story from a recent school holiday. We went on a long road trip from North Queensland to the Great Ocean Road through the cities and snowfields. It was the longest family road trip we ever had. Fortunately, three of us could share the drive.
All seven of us and our luggage fit nicely inside the car. Unfortunately, later on, some of us had to sacrifice leg room as we kept loading up the car after visiting shopping centres.
The heavily loaded car went well throughout the trip. We did not have any problems, as expected, being fairly new. It does not feel too slow or underpowered when climbing. There is enough power to overtake road trains and other cars on the highway conveniently. I felt the Carnival’s headlight setting is better than the Sorento's for night-time driving on a dark highway.
The base-model S does not come with fog lights. I didn’t think it was important as it is rarely needed where we live. Everything was fine until we had to drive through the thick fog on a few occasions during this trip. Fog lights would certainly be nice things to have.
We had a small issue when going to the snowfields, as this was my first experience using snow chains. They were not needed on the first snowfield, but required on the second as we drove up when it was snowing. On the way back, I did not follow the correct chain-removal instruction, and only realised the mistake after the chain was unlatched and stuck behind the front wheel. Spending about 15 minutes releasing the chain in the cold and low light was not fun. Definitely learned a lesson that day. I wish the Carnival were an AWD so I'd not need to use the chains.
Bluetooth connectivity is reliable for making calls and streaming music. The absence of GPS was fixed by an old Android phone mounted on the dashboard. Google Maps navigation worked well most of the time, except in Sydney city when we got lost a few times. We are not used to driving between tall buildings on complicated multi-lane roads, tunnels, and all the things that disrupt GPS reception. I am not sure if built-in sat-nav, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto would perform better in this situation.
A good thing about the road trip was we could see more places than travelling by plane. Unlike the Sorento, the Carnival is only fitted with a space-saver spare tyre. Going through unsealed roads in a heavily loaded Carnival made me nervous sometimes. It would be more comforting to drive far on gravel with a full-size spare.
As a result of unplanned side trips, we ended up spending a few nights with campers and motorhomes at rest areas. Luckily for us, we could sleep in the car through the night after a tiring day. Might be something to do with the space and seat comfort.
Before sunrise, with kids still asleep in the car, we often moved from rest area to nearby beach parks. It is nice to see morning glory on our beautiful beaches. We brought along a basic cooking kit to prepare camper-style meals too, as there is room for that. I don’t have any Kombi experience, but I think this trip may be close enough.
The hardest time for one of our sons was on the Great Ocean Road. He sat in the third row. The combination of winding road and body roll gave him motion sickness. Moving him to the second row did not help much either. We had to stop several times to avoid unwanted spills inside the car. He made a comment that it would be better to do this route in a Toyota 86 instead (he watched Initial-D too many times). I think he is right, but seven of us will not fit there.
When unloading the car, we were surprised by how many items were travelling with us. I estimated the weight carried by the car to be around 700–750kg on this trip. Not to mention those little things jammed between seats, getting sticky in the cupholders, and hidden from untrained eyes. Cleaning a Carnival is not a quick procedure.
The odometer had increased by 8875km in two weeks. By collecting all fuel receipts during this trip, I know that exactly $1072 was spent on 701 litres of diesel. At 7.9L/100km fully loaded, nobody can complain about the fuel economy. So far our car has done 41,730km and burnt 3728L of diesel. That is an average of 8.9L/100km, mostly on regional city driving. I am glad we did not buy the petrol version.
If you are considering getting one but don’t want to spend too much, wait for an ex-rental in the used car market. They are cheaper to buy and might have part of the factory warranty left in them.
This review is getting too long now and I should stop here. Cheers to all Carnival owners out there. I believe you made a good decision, particularly if you are getting the 2018 model with the eight-speed transmission, AEB, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and larger screen, even in the base model.
Sigh… I should have waited one year.