Kia Carnival car review

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Open boot and rear view of the Kia Carnival

One in, all in

When there’s a small crowd and/or their associated stuff to move, the versatile Kia Carnival starts to make sense, even if some of its seating set-ups don’t.

The Carnival is probably Kia’s signature model, the vehicle most synonymous with the brand and the much-loved denizen of the school pick-up. The arrival of the latest generation onto this scene will no doubt cause great interest to current Carnival owners who seem, by and large, to be satisfied with their purchase.

Carnival has dropped the Grand prefix from its name and comes with a choice of 2.2L 4cyl diesel and a 3.3L V6 petrol. The 147kW diesel performs perfectly adequately even if it is a bit laggy at times, and we got around 9.3L/100km during our time with the car. The diesel was also admirably refined, having first-rate noise suppression.

The revelation was the petrol version. It is no exaggeration to describe this thing as a rocketship, even though it weighs more than two tonnes – its 206kW sees to that. The old 3.5L petrol Carnival was a bit of a handful with its surfeit of power; the new model is much smoother and more importantly has a much better chassis that actually steers, handles and does all those other things motor cars are meant to do these days. We returned 12.2L/100km, which is not too far off the claimed 11.6L/100km.

All up, Carnival drives competently, favouring a softer, more relaxing nature in both its steering and ride.

Of course, people movers are all about accommodation, and every version in Carnival’s eight-model line-up (four well-appointed trim levels in either diesel or petrol) has eight seats. With each price point – S, Si, SLi and Platinum – comes an additional suite of goodies, with leather seats and power sliding doors starting at the SLi while the top-of-the-wozza Platinum gets a host of additional features including blind spot, lane departure and forward collision warning systems. Yet it’s extremely disappointing that a full-blown autonomous emergency braking system is not on the option list. Fortunately, reversing cameras are standard across the range.

Like most cars with power doors and tailgates, the ones on Carnival are ponderously slow. Yet they work very well, and what’s particularly nifty is the remote operation of the tailgate that, provided you have the key on you, merely requires a wave of the foot for it to spring into life. Nevertheless, with the doors there’s been a major oversight. The placement of the control button is within easy reach of an otherwise restrained toddler’s foot.

The vehicle has well-thought-out instruments and controls, and the most important stuff is easily controlled from the steering wheel. The parking brake is foot-operated and annoying; most other manufacturers get the picture that this is not a great location for this control.

The infotainment system is high quality and the vehicle’s Bluetooth system is easy to pair and logical to use, although it did have an annoying habit of dropping out for no apparent reason. Carnival has three USB ports, two for charging and one for connecting to the vehicle’s infotainment system.

The only problem is the one in the centre console isn’t the infotainment port; that’s is in the dashboard, which means your iPod or phone is left free-range on the centre console.

Carnival seats eight adults in relative comfort and, unlike its predecessor, it has a lap-sash seatbelt for every seating position. Taking seven colleagues to lunch raised nary a mutter among them concerning personal-space intrusion. Unlike many SUV-based seven seaters, when fully loaded with passengers the sheer size of the Carnival means there is still a stack of luggage space, making it ideal for anything that involves carrying a load of people and their chattels.

Strangely, it is when you start loading the car full of kids that things start to get a bit cramped. The second row has two ISOFIX-compatible seating positions but there is no anchor in its middle position, a fact that annoyed me because feeding a child restraint through to the third row isn’t easy in this car – it’s like playing a giant game of real-life Tetris.

At this point you discover the weird placement of the anchors in the third row, in the centre and off-side seating position. While they fitted together snugly, their adjacent position made it really awkward to buckle them up. The middle position buckle contrivance was even more fiddly when used with a child restraint, and the limited access to the rear row made it difficult for a parent to check that all were well done up. In part this was due to a rather low rear roofline.

The seating on the Carnival represents a bit of a gamble on Kia’s part. The third row is the same concept as the previous generation Carnival in that it folds down into a large well, creating a flat (albeit not quite flush) area extending to the rear of the second row. Where things start to differ is the second row. The centre position is removable, the two outboards seats are not. Instead, these seats fold vertically against the front seats to give a bit more space. While this system is a doddle to use, is it not a patch on Chrysler Voyager’s disappearing seats. We can see Kia’s thinking in opening up access to the rear, but having removable seats would’ve been a bonus.

The verdict

With six children between us, my partner and I really gave this vehicle a workout.

There are few vehicles that can carry our Brady-like bunch in this much comfort. The Hyundai iMax is one possibility but there is no hiding its van roots. Probably the main competitor is Honda Odyssey, which in base spec has eight seats.

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Written by Nick Platt
May 04, 2015