Winner: Kia Carnival SLi
There was a time not long ago when hauling the tribe meant owning a traditional box van with three rows of seats and not much in the way of creature comforts or safety. Australia’s obsession with SUVs has since blurred the lines somewhat, but the thing that hasn’t changed for family wagons is their need to carry at least seven passengers and a boot full of bags in comfort, and not cost the earth to own and run. Those were the areas the judges put the emphasis on in this year’s Australia’s Best Cars family wagon category.
A recent mid-life upgrade for the third-generation Kia Carnival delivered increased safety, suspension refinement, an electric park brake and a new eight-speed automatic transmission, not to mention some styling and packaging upgrades to take the Carnival to the next level.
So much about the family wagon is its ability to move a load of occupants comfortably and safely, and none did this better than the Carnival in this year’s awards. Sitting alongside the Honda Odyssey, the Carnival is considerably wider, which translates into more internal space for all occupants. The Carnival will actually carry eight average-sized adults.
Multi power-adjustable, heated leather-appointed seats for the front row offer great comfort and support. The second row is extremely flexible, with the centre seat able to be removed to create walkthrough access to the third row. Second-row seats can be folded forward individually to create additional space and slide for more space for the third row if required. Behind the third row, the Carnival can accommodate four full-sized suitcases, as well as a couple of backpacks and computer bags. Folding away all seats in the back creates an enormous space.
Keeping your family safe is vital and something Kia has taken seriously with the recent model upgrade. All Carnival models now come with autonomous emergency braking as standard, along with lane-departure warning, active cruise control and six airbags including curtain airbags covering all three rows. The Carnival also received a localised suspension upgrade to further improve the ride and handling characteristics.
Family wagons are all about how the occupants interact. This is ergonomics and where the Carnival puts its head above the rest. Fitting an electric park brake instead of the old foot-operated unit is a great leap forward. The new infotainment unit now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto apps via the 8.0-inch touchscreen. Navigation is standard, with 10 years of map updates thrown in. The rear-view camera presents a clear image for the driver and both sliding doors can be activated from the driver’s seat. Tri-zone climate control should have everyone at a comfortable temperature.
The 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine is a carryover from the previous model, however, a slick new eight-speed auto has been added. The combination works fantastically together, with a wide range of ratios allowing the Carnival to stay right in the middle of its 440Nm torque band, leading to a relaxed driving experience even when fully loaded. Listed fuel economy on the official combined cycle is 7.7L/100km.
The upgraded Carnival SLi will cost you just under $60,000 on the road. Running and repair costs over five years are similar to the Odyssey, but the Carnival gets a scoring boost from its industry leading seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Second place: Honda Odyssey
At almost $8000 cheaper than the winning Carnival, the Honda Odyssey makes a compelling play for outright honours. A long standard features list for the top-spec VTi-L and a better-than-most five-year warranty add to the value-for-money equation.
The VTi-L seat configuration has the driver and front passenger catered for by multi-adjustable leather-clad heated seats with foldable armrests, while in the second row are two fantastic ‘captain’s chairs’ that recline and extend. The downside is there are just two of them, while the third row is designed to seat three, although our testing found it very tight for three average-sized adults. While the design allows for seven occupants, a reality check says six would be the comfort limit. Luggage space behind the third row doesn’t match the Carnival, but there’s still reasonable space available.
The Odyssey’s 2.4-litre petrol engine coupled to a CVT was no match for the Carnival. At highway cruising speeds there was little that separated the pair, but a load of occupants and an average country road incline sees the elasticity of the CVT become apparent and the tacho head north. It produces a significant amount of engine noise intruding into the cabin and not a lot of forward motion.
The Odyssey takes care of safety with multiple advanced features including forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, multi-view camera and blind-spot alert. The Odyssey features an auto parking system, tri-zone climate control and both sliding doors are one-touch electrically operated. Navigation is standard and all the usual smartphone connectivity is available.
Third place: Kia Sorento Si
You can’t dispute Sorento’s $12,500 price advantage over the Carnival, which might dull the compromises it creates as a family wagon. Besides your initial saving on purchase, insurance will be less, servicing and repair will be similar to the Carnival, but the hip pocket will take a hit on fuel consumption for the 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine. The official combined consumption figure is 10L/100km.
The Sorento picks up Kia’s seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty but falls behind its rivals in design and function. Yes, it gets plenty of bells and whistles, but its ability to carry seven passengers in comfort for an extended period isn’t to the same standard as the Carnival or Odyssey. That said, as a seven-seat SUV, the Sorento does it better than almost anyone else. You don’t need to be a contortionist to enter the third row and you can still get a few groceries in the back with all three rows in action. The third-row seats pack away nicely into the floor, revealing considerable cargo space. Drop the second row and you get a large flat area.
The Sorento gets a five-star ANCAP rating and recently received a safety upgrade with autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control and lane-keep assist now standard. Infotainment is similar to the Carnival, without the premium JBL sound system. All rows get ventilation outlets, with the third row having a fan control, and the front and outer second-row seats also have seat heaters.