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Detroit show: Kia ramps up fun factor for next Carnival

Wing and a prayer: The KV7 concept has a powered gullwing side door.

Kia KV7 foreshadows next-generation family bus as ageing Carnival nears end

11 Jan 2011

THIS funky Kia concept van revealed at the Detroit motor show might be the next iteration of the resurgent South Korean car-maker’s top-selling Carnival people-mover for a new era of Gen Y parents.

At first glance, the Kia KV7, with its gullwing side door, swiveling lounge seats and table-top touch screen computer display, appears like a bit of motor show fun, but the basic design is likely to have a serious intent as a new model in the next 18 months or so.

Unlike other slinky designs from Kia’s newly acclaimed German styling studio headed by Peter Schreyer, the boxy KV7 springs from Kia’s American design team in Southern California.

If it was loaded with eight seats and a sliding side door, the KV7 might well evolve into the next Carnival, which is due for replacement in about mid-2012.

17 center imageSuch a dramatic change would fit with Kia’s tear-it-up-and-start-again approach to car design under the new styling regime, which has propelled the company to the forefront of international design with vehicles such as the slinky Cerato Koup, cheeky Picanto and stylish Optima.

In particular, the KV7 design would fit well in the United States, where the similarly purposeful Ford Flex is the top-seller in the minivan market.

The KV7 is easily big enough to accommodate three rows of seats for family travel. At 4873mm long, it is 63mm longer than the current Carnival but 263mm shorter than the long-wheelbase Grand Carnival.

At 2033mm wide, it is broader than both existing vehicles by about 50mm, but lower by a few millimetres to help deliver a wide, hunkered-down stance on the road.

The sporty intent is also underscored by its 213kW powertrain, based on Kia’s new Theta II turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder engine mated with a six-speed auto transmission.

Described as a modern-day activity van, the KV7 builds on the “embracing the box” philosophy of Kia’s other squared-off vehicle, the Soul.

Kia Motors America chief designer Tom Kearns said the design team believed the van category was in need of “an honest reassessment due to the fact that everyone seems so desperate to attach the word ‘sporty’ to their minivan, even though vans at their very core are simply a box”.

“Rather than reject the box, we chose to celebrate it, just like we did with the Soul, and the result is a straightforward yet sophisticated vehicle that retains the functionality vans are known for and meets the changing and diverse needs of today’s consumers,” he said.

But, unlike other boxy vans, the KV7 generates a sporty look with features such as a sloping windscreen, near-continuous window line, 20-inch wheels and smooth skin.

The fanciful and impractical gullwing side door is never likely to make it into production, and it remains to be seen if the compact LED light clusters front and rear will survive.

However, the scaled-down version of the now-familiar signature Kia tabbed grille that melds with the front lights to create a strip across the face of the vehicle might well find a place in production.

Inside, the design team trialed elements that are unlikely to immediately find a place in a cheap and cheerful family fun bus, including a dashboard that moves 150mm towards the driver once the start button is pressed.

Teak wood flooring and custom-built seats – including a mini lounge corner settee that seats three – are also likely to be just for show.

While the wi-fi connected table-top computer screen is unlikely to come standard in any vehicle soon, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that such an option might one day become available.

The Carnival is Australia’s best-selling people-mover, dominating the category with a 31 per cent share.

Kia sold 3638 Carnivals in 2010, up 17.5 per cent over 2009, while the next best was Hyundai’s much younger iMax, which accumulated 2476 sales for the 12 months.

The current Carnival was launched in Australia in 2006 and upgraded last year with more airbags, a new Euro 4-compliant V6 engine and a fresh transmission in its Grand Carnival guise.

Thanks to sharp $35,990 pricing that makes the Carnival one of the most affordable full-sized people-movers on the market, it remains the brand’s second-best seller in Australia, behind the Rio light car.

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