Big enough to host a ball.
The Kia Carnival, in its third generation now, appears to have finally realised that being a practical people-mover doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to look about as appealing as a used gym sock. The first- and second-generations of the enormous Carnival were commended for their practicality and comfort, qualities that the third-generation has apparently retained, but it’s now packaged in a suit that you could even go as far as to call ‘sleek.’ The Carnival is the sort of car that appeals to families that prefer the real usable space of a people mover rather than overly style-conscious SUVs (that are getting more and more impractical by the day), or to people who put practicality over style, but not by much.
‘Grown up’ is the best way to describe the Kia Carnival, as it feels like the large Korean people mover has matured in its presentation and its execution, far better resolved than previous iterations. Problem is that while the Carnival has finally hit puberty, the competition is a little way ahead, with cars like the larger LDV G10 and smooth Honda Odyssey capable of giving the Carnival a hard time.
Available in S, Si, SLi and Platinum grades, with an atmo-V6 petrol or punch turbo-diesel on offer, you certainly can’t say there isn’t a Carnival for you.
“Let’s get the basics out of the way: The Carnival is huge.” — AutoExpert
The Carnival has lots of great qualities, and its looks are certainly up there with the rest. The Carnival manages to look both aggressive and elegant, with a design that is lightyears away from the dowdy, depressing looks that we’re used to seeing from people movers. While many MPVs have made the move from bricks-on-wheels to style-wagons, the big Kia does so in a way that puts it ahead of a lot of its rivals. The design team at Kia have really done it with the Carnival, and we’ll accept no other opinion.
The sharp, wide headlights flank what might be the biggest iteration of the tiger-nose grille. There isn’t a lot of complex surfacing employed here, resulting in a clean presentation that continues on to the flanks. The requisite crease towards the bottom of the doors is here, along with a shoulder-line that kicks up around the C-pillar, helping to break up the visual bulk. The rear is a masterclass at visual size-reduction, with the LED taillights working harmoniously with the tasteful rear spoiler and discreet diffuser-like element to make the rear of the Carnival look like a hatchback that’s had an anaphylactic shock.
The base Carnival S rolls on 17-inch steel wheels, which is part of the reason why we’d avoid this model. It’d be a crying shame to ruin the sophisticated, Euro-focused design with steel wheels, and everything from the Si upwards run on better-looking alloys, with the Platinum looking smartest of all. There are penalties to pay for the bigger wheels, though.
Engine & Drivetrain
“A 3.5-litre V6 is smooth but uses plenty of fuel, which is where the 2.2-litre diesel steps in.” — Drive
The Kia Carnival sees motivation from two engines, an entry-level 3.3-litre atmo petrol V6, and a 2.2-litre turbodiesel that commands a $2500 price premium at every trim level. The petrol provides a healthy 206kW and 336Nm, sending power to a six-speed automatic that then spits it out through the front wheels. This engine is smooth and quiet, and incredibly competent in town and on the motorway. If you have a phobia of diesels for some reason, this engine will suit you just fine, and it suits the relaxed, cruise-happy nature of the Carnival down to a letter, though official fuel consumption is rated at a heady 11.6L/100km (expect considerably higher numbers in the real world).
For more punch and better economy, the engine that we like best is the 2.2-litre turbodiesel. With 147kW it’s definitely down on power, but makes up for it by serving up an impressive 440Nm of twist, giving the Carnival more than enough poke to overtake just about anything on the motorway. While it’s a little clattery when cold, very little of the engine’s vibrations get transmitted into the cabin, and no harshness to be felt at all out on the open road. This engine is a real gem in the Carnival, and the excellent job Kia’s engineers have done isolating the mill from the cabin means that it’s well worth the price premium it commands. It’ll pay off at the pumps too, as the turbodiesel claims to use just 7.7L/100km on official testing, with real-world usage reportedly resulting in a sub-9.0L/100km figure. Definitely the engine to go for.
“It still feels like a grand reception hall inside, with more than enough room…” — Motoring
The new Carnival was remarked as being a bit odd, as it was made clear at launch that the Carnival is some 15mm shorter than the vehicle it replaces, and a whisker narrower too. It’s rare that cars shrink with a full-model update, rarer still in the category of large people movers. While some dimensions may have shrunk, the Carnival is still plenty spacious enough, with many reviews getting comical describing the cavernous cabin of Kia’s biggest family car.
Just like every big MPV ought to be, the Carnival’s cabin is practical and comfortable, with the materials employed throughout undoubtedly chosen to balance robustness and aesthetics. There are no less than 10 cupholders and three charging points in the Carnival, with the third row of seats able to fold into the floor and the second row split 40:20:40 and able to configure themselves in more ways than we can count. Further, the Carnival provides tri-zone climate control on higher models, allowing rear passengers, front passenger, and driver to set their own climate settings for maximum comfort.
The boot measures in at 960-litres with all seats in place, expandable to an amazing 4022-litres with all the seats out of the way. With all that capacity, it’s a good thing the Carnival comes as standard with a powered tailgate.
Behind the Wheel
“The Carnival is surprisingly easy to swing around tight corners, and it’s nimble enough to weave through traffic.” — CarAdvice
If it’s just you at the wheel, you’ll be surprised at the kind of antics you could get up to in a Carnival. In the torque-rich diesel especially, you can have a right ball in the Carnival, with relatively minimal body roll (compared to an ocean liner) and surprising levels of grip. The steering is easy to get to grips with in town, which goes some way in making the Carnival feel smaller than it is. Keep the diesel ticking over in the torque band and you’ll likely be darting through gaps in traffic like you’re in a Picanto micro-car.
Get the family aboard for a road trip, and another side of the Carnival reveals itself. Fully-laden, the Carnival becomes a comfortable, well-sorted family wagon (as it should be), capable of taking ruts, bumps and potholes in its stride (even on the Platinum’s enormous alloys). Weirdly, on the motorway, the Carnival’s steering feels a tad over-assisted and lacking in feel, which will only really be unsettling for real driving enthusiasts.
Safety & Technology
“The Carnival Platinum could lay claim to being Australia’s safest people mover.” — CarsGuide
Despite people movers being arguably the best way to transport families, more often than not, they miss out on modern safety kit that you’d expect from something smaller and more affordable. Not the case with the Carnival though, with six-airbags coming as standard, replete with curtain airbags that extend all the way to the their row. The usual array of electronic stability, traction, and braking assistance systems are here as well, along with hill-start assist that’s very handy for manoeuvring on steep inclines. On the subject of manoeuvrability, the Carnival enjoys a reversing camera and parking sensors that make parking a dawdle, with top-spec Platinum cars getting a full 360º camera that makes everything better.
Problem is, a lot of the kit that you’d expect to find on similarly-priced saloons and hatchbacks are reserved for the top-spec Platinum, like that around-view monitor we mentioned earlier. The flagship Carnival gets things like forward collisions warning, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and warning, and rear-cross traffic warning. But despite the myriad of warnings available, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is not available on the Carnival in any guise, which is something that we hope Kia will address in time.
Thankfully, convenience features are pretty generous throughout the range, with all cars getting automatic lights, an automatic transmission, cruise control and climate control, ensuring that your 2017 Carnival does not feel like a 90’s throwback.
As of March 2016, all Kia Carnivals get a 5-star ANCAP rating, revised from an earlier 4-stars as a result of a second-row seatbelt-warning omission that was quickly addressed for 2016 and subsequent model years.
The Kia Carnival is, without a doubt, Australia’s best-selling people mover, and it has certainly proven its worth with critics. It’s a thoughtful, handsome, punchy family hauler that looks smart enough to park outside a hotel lobby. With the diesel engine the Carnival is nearly faultless, with only its lack of standard active driver assistance features across the range putting a blot on an otherwise spotless report card.
The Carnival is well-recommended given its huge breadth of ability. It works well in town and on the open road, and packs all the ability that most buyers expect of an SUV minus the worsened fuel consumption and more expensive tyres. Of course, if you only need your MPV to work in town, perhaps the Honda Odyssey might be a better companion, as its smooth petrol engine admittedly feels more natural through the concrete jungle (but loses puff on the motorway).
Through the Carnival range, our recommendations lie higher up the chain, with the SLi putting forward a strong value argument in terms of its extensive kit list and visual appeal. Naturally, if you have more money to splurge, the Carnival Platinum is worth the extra dosh, giving you that little bit more confidence on the road thanks to the ever-present safety net. Also, did we mention the 7-year warranty?
CarsGuide – 4.0/5.0 – “Is the Carnival ride thrilling? Not exactly. But it’s certainly comfortable, composed, and well put-together. It looks good, provides easy functionality, plenty of standard kit for the money, and smooth performance. I don’t know whether I’ll ever suggest purchase of a people-mover to my significant other, but if I do, the Carnival means she can lay off a lethal response.”
Practical Motoring – 4.5/5.0 – “The Kia Carnival is a great combination of practical space, luxury features and easy to operate seating yet it's easy to drive and doesn't use much fuel. The only real downside is low-speed power delivery. In short, many more people should be buying these cars than seven-seat 4WDs because they're more efficient and cost-effective.”
WhichCar – 4.0/5.0 – “The Kia Carnival carries up to eight people in comfort and style, with an airy and inviting cabin that exhibits plenty of clever details – and can swallow stacks of luggage. The Carnival handles well, offers powerful petrol and diesel engines, and comes with a seven-year warranty.”
AutoExpert – 7.5/10 – “Here’s the concluding Carnival conundrum: People who value form over function buy SUVs - and they’re inherently compromised if all you want to do is move people and luggage efficiently. If you’re a logical thinker who’s done a bit of breeding and is unwilling to conform to the strictures of fashion, then the Carnival is absolutely the pick. It’s really an excellent people mover. What a pity more people don’t, or won’t, get that.”
Drive – 6.0/10 – “The Carnival mounts a convincing case for comfortable big-family transport. However some of that appeal is diluted once you're shelling out 60 grand for the Platinum. Cheaper versions with the diesel engine make for a more sensible – and affordable – family wagon choice.”
CarAdvice – 8.5/10 – “As a family MPV, the Kia Carnival is hard to argue against. The Platinum offers functional space, eight seats designed for regular use, a long list of safety features and an excellent warranty and servicing package. We may prefer the diesel engine, but the petrol is cheaper upfront and still offers a pleasant driving experience.”
Motoring – 74/100 – “People-movers are about as desirable as conjunctivitis – at least they used to be. But with the likes of the Honda Odyssey and now Kia’s once-dominant Carnival completely renewed, you no longer need feel socially inept driving one. Although it’s now $2000 more expensive at $41,490 (plus on-road costs), the new Carnival is sweeter looking, has more technology, improved versatility and is much better to drive.”