Car reviews - Kia - Carnival - Platinum
Styling, cabin space, road manners, cargo space, proven drivetrain, supreme manoeuvrability
Room for improvement
Dash controls a long way below eye line, rear HVAC controls on right only
Kia reinvents its all-conquering Carnival for 2021, does it live up to the mantra?
25 May 2021
IT’S fair to say Kia is on a roll at the moment, pumping out some of the best cars available across just about all of the segments it’s present in, and that trend looks set to continue with the new fourth-generation Carnival people carrier.
Riding on a new platform and brandishing a whole new look, Kia is marketing the latest version of its biggest family hauler as a GUV – a ‘grand utility vehicle’ – given its resemblance to a plus-sized SUV.
According to global Kia executives, the new Carnival was specifically designed to “appeal to progressive young families, with a leading combination of innovation, flexibility, and style”.
Pricing for the new model starts at $46,880 plus on-roads for the entry-level S petrol and tops out at $66,680 for the Platinum diesel, marking price increases of between $3000-$4000 across the range.
For the extra outlay however, punters score an updated platform and drivetrains, increased refinement, more standard kit and more standard safety gear across the range.
To see how fit the new model is to take over the mantra as Australia’s best-selling people carrier, we spent some time putting the flagship diesel through its paces both around town and on the open road doing all the things a giant family hauler could be expected to do.
There are some vehicles on the road which instantly look classy and competent and the new Carnival is one of them.
It looks elegant and sophisticated, quickly disproving the long-held stigma that people carriers are dull and boring – this is a genuinely good-looking car, and not just for a people carrier.
Part of the secret here is its new ‘GUV’ proportions which essentially takes the typically boxy shape of an SUV (including roof rails) and stretches it out to people carrier length – in this case, 5115mm.
Add Kia’s current edgy styling features and a new take on the ‘tiger nose’ front grille and you have a recipe for success.
Some people during our time with the car informed us of their disliking for the contrasting silver trim piece behind the C-pillar and how it looked tacky, but the general consensus from passers-by was positive with the common theme being how cool the Carnival looked, especially for a people mover.
It’s a similar story inside the cabin too with an elegant and well laid out interior design teeming with modernity.
As you would expect from a car of this size and type, cabin space is in abundance with even the biggest of Aussies able to get comfortable in the first two rows and while the third row is a little smaller, it’s by no means a tight fit.
That third row can be folded away into the floor too, expanding the already impressive 627 litres of cargo space to a simply huge 2785L.
On that note however, the rear seats on our particular Carnival proved a little stiff and awkward in their folding action, something those with slighter builds may struggle with.
The second row meanwhile features plenty of adjustment with each individual seat able to be slid fore and aft while the middle backrest folds down to create a giant armrest with cupholders – third row occupants score their own cupholders and storage bins too.
Given it’s underpinned by the same platform and shares its powertrains with the Sorento large SUV, it should come as little surprise to find the new Carnival is a wonderfully competent vehicle to steer both around the suburbs and on the open road.
Despite its enormous length and 1995mm width, this is one people carrier that never feels especially big or cumbersome on the road.
Due to complications inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the first few waves of Carnival stock have not been gifted Kia’s usual Australian-specific suspension and chassis tune, instead making do with its native Korean settings.
Out on the road though this hardly matters as the Carnival rides just fine on the Korean tune, even when only carrying one or two passengers.
What really surprised us however was the handling.
For such a big unit, the Carnival conducts itself extremely well in the bends, once again in defiance of its huge dimensions, with very little pitch on corner entry and a good sense of sure-footedness over mid-corner bumps.
There is some body roll through faster turns, but still less than most would expect.
That trend continues in town too with a level of manoeuvrability that would make a lot of SUV drivers have a double take, with things made even easier in the top-spec Platinum thanks to the standard inclusion of a surround-view monitor.
Obviously if you try and squeeze it into a compact spot or go down a narrow alley for example, you could run into some troubles, but for the most part it’s very impressive with a decent turning circle and plenty of lock on offer.
All Carnivals come with the choice of a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine (216kW/355Nm) or a turbocharged 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel mill (148kW/440Nm) under the bonnet, the latter of which featured in our test car.
Just like in the Sorento, the diesel engine chugs away with minimal fuss, delivering a relaxed but efficient driving experience thanks to the wealth of low-end torque while the slick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission shifts through the gears to ensure the revs stay calmly in the torque band.
You could never accuse the Carnival of being sporty, but decent progress can certainly be made when the situation calls for it, especially in traffic where that low-end grunt really comes into its own.
Fuel consumption for the diesel is rated at 6.5 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, a figure we were able to comfortably match during our week with the car.
Visibility all-round is good for a vehicle of this size, however we aren’t fans of how low-set the climate control buttons are on the dashboard as drivers are forced to drop their eye line well below the bonnet line in order to spot the desired function.
Over time this would likely become less of an issue as familiarity increased and while the Carnival isn’t a particularly bad offender, the size and grouping of the controls makes it more noticeable than in other vehicles.
A similar criticism can be levelled at the rear controls which have been placed exclusively on the roof behind the driver’s side B-pillar – passenger side occupants either have to stretch to reach (adults), ask the driver to adjust the settings via their control panel or tough it out.
Of course up there the controls are safe from the mess-making and destructive capabilities of young children but we still feel a more central position would boost the rear ergonomics to almost perfection.
At the end of the day though, these are relatively minor gripes with what is ultimately an extremely accomplished and polished vehicle.
If you have a big family or regularly need to use more than five seats but don’t need the extra ground clearance or all-wheel-drive, forget the SUV and have a look at one of these.
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