Kia Carnival review & buyer's guide

 

If you have copious amounts of people and gear to move, maybe an SUV is not the right call. So, here's the good news: You don’t have to live in a kind of automotive Guantanamo Bay

 
 
 
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The best thing about a Kia Carnival is versatility. Her'e just one example: You can get four child anchor seats in the back, spread across two rows. You can unclip that centre seat in row two, and this means that, unlike in an SUV where you have three child restraints row two, which is a sort of obstacle course for the octogenarian parents, in a Carnival, the grandparents don’t have to be Cirque du Soliel gymnasts … they can simply stroll through, and take their seats.

Also, it transitions seamlessly from people mover to ersatz van in minutes (useful for the hardware store and related domestic duties - and not bad for dual-purpose small business running about the place). Plus, it's not so tall that it's compromised in underground car parks.

Check out my detailed report on the top five reasons Carnival beats an SUV >>

People mover popularity

Top six people movers by sales, Australia, 2017. Carnival is the clear segment leader

If you're in the market for a late-model used Kia Carnival, here's my review of the previous model Carnival >>

People movers are not traditionally renowned for their style and sophistication - and yet Carnival manages to be both fully loaded and classy. (Classy, for a people mover.)

This is the base model 'Carnival S' interior: it doesn't exactly present as a poverty pack...

This is the base model 'Carnival S' interior: it doesn't exactly present as a poverty pack...


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Love

  • Carnival is incredibly versatile - you get an eight-seat people mover that converts seamlessly to a two-seat van
  • The middle seat in row 2 unclips and can be removed - and then row three passengers can simply walk through
  • Sliding side doors provide unbeatable access
  • There's considerable luggage space even with all eight seats occupied
  • Four child restraint anchor points are standard
  • 2.2 diesel ending and new eight-speed transmission are a winner for all round driving (in town and on the highway)
  • Top-spec Carnival platinum is downright luxurious - it comes standard with everything under the sun
  • Kia's 7yr/unlimited kilometre warranty and 12-month service intervals are excellent, as is customer support

Hate

  • There's no getting around it: people movers are the least sexy class of vehicle on the road today
  • This really is a big vehicle - it is both long and wide, and therefore a challenge to precision park (but most people will get used to that)
  • It's not a cheap transportation option - especially Platinum

Reliability, resale value & support

Kia is seriously committed to customer support at the senior executive management level. Individual dealers can be dicks, of course, but at the top the company is one of the best customer support operators in the market.

Sliding rear doors provide 'next level' access for passengers, compared with an SUV

Sliding rear doors provide 'next level' access for passengers, compared with an SUV

There’s a long seven-year factory warranty - unlimited kilometres, seven years of capped price servicing, and seven years of roadside assistance - all transferrable to the next owner.

And if you’re worried about resale value - don’t be. According to Redbook.com.au, which tracks resale values enthusiastically, the first of the current shape Carnivals, launched in 2015, is carrying up to 74 per cent retained value into the market today - which is line-ball with the Honda Odyssey.


What's new for 2018

I’ve reviewed reviewed the current generation Carnival several times previously (links above). This time around Kia has added the new eight-speed gearbox, which we first saw in the Stinger and which was also recently added to Sorento and Sportage. (And also the Hyundai Santa Fe and Tucson diesel - because Hyundai and Kia have the same parent and share engineering.)

Engines are the 2.2-litre diesel and the direct injected 3.3-litre V6 petrol. Both engines are both available across the range, and they're mated to the new eight-speed conventional auto transmission. They're both good options - the diesel delivers excellent mid-range power and tremendous fuel economy - for a vehicle this size. The V6 is thirstier and needs a rev to perform, but goes well when you push it. If you’re having trouble choosing between petrol and diesel, my guide to that is here >>.

Also standard on Carnival for 2018 is auto emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and an electronic parking brake. That’s across the entire range, which is pretty impressive.

As you step up through the range you get bigger wheels, LED lamps, bigger touchscreen, and tri-zone climate air conditioning - things of that nature. Full details below.

Carnival Platinum is impressively equipped - but certainly not a cheap vehicle

Carnival Platinum is impressively equipped - but certainly not a cheap vehicle

You’ve probably never thought about it like this but comfort levels are high in Carnival because the wheelbase is so long, and that means that in particular for passengers in rows one and two it’s just like sitting in between the wheels in the middle of a big Greyhound bus. The ride is thus less affected by inputs at the front and the rear.

But if you’ve got kids and they’re susceptible to motion sickness, spare a thought for them if they’re stuck right up the back, and literally sitting on top of the rear wheels. So if you want to avoid that whole ‘technicolor yawn’ scenario on the big trip (and who doesn’t?) then I’d be dialling back my driving enthusiasm by about 30 per cent.


Model line-up

There are four model grades available - and both the diesel and V6 are available in all of them. Diesel attracts a $2500 price premium up front.

There is a significant jump in price between the grades. I've listed the grades below, plus the jump in price and the additional equipment you get for that extra spend, to assist you in selecting the grade that's right for you - and right for your budget.

Here are the key standard features by model grade:

Carnival S ($42,490, V6 - plus on-road costs)

Standard features: Auto emergency braking with forward collision warning alert, lane departure warning, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, adaptive cruise control, reversing camera with dynamic parking guidelines, rear parking sensors, electric parking brake, four child restraint anchor points.


Carnival Si (+$5500)

Additional standard features: GPS sat-nav with live traffic updates, eight-inch colour LCD touchscreen infotainment system, eight-speaker JBL audio system, three-zone climate control air conditioning, electric external mirrors with auto-fold, 17-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass.


Carnival SLi (+$4500)

Additional standard features: Power sliding doors, hands-free auto tailgate, leather seat trim, front parking sensors, proximity key with pushbutton start/stop, 18-inch alloy wheels, chilled glovebox


Carnival Platinum (+$7800)

Additional standard features: 360-degree camera view system, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat with two memory positions, 19-inch alloy wheels, sunshade blinds for rows two and three. 

Download the official Kia Carnival Specifications >>


Safety

Carnival is a very safe vehicle. They’re all five-star across the range, since January 2016. The official safety score was 34.62 out of 37 - which was comfortably inside the criteria for achieving a five-star ANCAP safety rating at that time.

One of the things I really like about Carnival, which in my view does not get enough publicity, is that there are head-protecting side curtain airbags for all three rows of seats. (In other words, the side impact protection extends to the third row, which is not the case with all seven-seat SUVs.) And if you're putting kids in the third row frequently, this is a point you would want to know about.

Also, a reversing camera is standard even on the base model. This will also certainly save lives because driveway death is the single biggest cause of accidental death in children (after drowning in the backyard swimming pool). A pretty grim statistic, but one that is important for you to be aware of.

See ANCAP's independent assessment of the Kia Carnival's crashworthiness >> or download the ANCAP Carnival technical report >>


Suspension tuning for Australian roads

Kia has this wizard whom they employ to tweak the suspension for our uniquely crap ‘Strayan roads, and our very demanding market when it comes to ride and handling. His name is Graham - which is not much of a ‘wizard’ name, if you ask me.

(I had dinner with Graham the other night. Don’t worry - there were a bunch of other journos there, at the launch. It wasn’t some weird candle-lit homo-erotic engineering deleted scene.) But it was kinda interesting. We had a binary conversation about this stuff (which is also not a weird homo-erotic engineering thing)...

Suspension tuning for Australian roads really does make a substantial difference to driving enjoyment and ride quality

Suspension tuning for Australian roads really does make a substantial difference to driving enjoyment and ride quality

So, Kia calls the wizard, he comes over and - I dunno - plays with his wand for a few weeks. Punches in the data, does the whole ‘root mean square’ thing - which is also not how it sounds. But it could be.

The upshot is - in North America they get this soft, wallowy thing called a Kia Sedona, which is essentially this vehicle on ‘suspension Valium’, and here in Shitsville we get a reasonably crisp-handling thing that is a far cry indeed from dynamic disappointment.

However: Nobody is ever going to say: ‘I traded in me WRX STI after fathering seven kids to five different exes - #bogans rock - and I couldn’t be happier. It’s amazing.’

In the context of what you expect from an eight-seat glorified minibus - in terms of dynamic performance, styling, equipment levels, etc - Carnival is way ahead of the curve. ‘Crisp’ means different things in different segments.

And, thus, I take my hat off to the Wizard - because doing that in a vehicle like this is harder than making a performance car right. I mean, this car accepts a tonne of payload, potentially. Or it can drive unladen. And/or you can stick a two-tonne trailer on the back.

That’s a lot of variability. And the dynamics have to stack up despite all that gross variation. And they do - which is impressive.


What makes Carnival better than an SUV

The thing that really impresses me about Carnival - and it will impress you, too, once you get over your grief because you didn’t buy a far sexier SUV, is the versatility - it’s officially an eight-seater, but if you unclip the centre seat in row two, it’s the best seven-seater money can buy.

There’s actual luggage space - even with bums on all the seats. Hypothetically, you could fit a fat, middle-aged man and three or four cheerleaders in the cargo bay, and it would not be an entirely unhappy experience. Try doing that in an SUV.

And if you’re renovating - perhaps because you need three extra bedrooms suddenly - it’s brilliant. Easy to disappear the seats and drive your ersatz delivery van to Bunnings, or whatever.

Therefore, a lot of the excuses for casting Carnival from your short list have been objectively banished. It’s not too big and it’s objectively better than an SUV - for the 99 per cent of people who will never actually drive off road and beat the wilderness into submission.


Dad Vs kids...

If you’re a car-loving dad, I must warn you that you will lose the vote on this if you take your kids to the dealership. Kids love Carnivals. I was talking to a Kia insider who I won’t name (Roland Rivera, the product planning boss) and he was telling me the kids hate it when he brings a Stinger home.

And any red-blooded car-loving dad would be quite happy with a Kia Stinger >>

You might not think a Kia Carnival is that exciting. It's a safe bet your kids won't agree...

You might not think a Kia Carnival is that exciting. It's a safe bet your kids won't agree...

Anyway, Roland's kids are like: ‘Dad! Dad! When can you get a Carnival?’ That’s kinda how it plays on the domestic front. I have to say that R-squared’s experience here gels with anecdotes other Carnival owners tell me.

So there’s that. Don't take your kids to this gunfight, or you're the one likely to end up wounded...


Price Vs value

And then there’s the price: Carnival Platinum is fully loaded, but it’s gunna cost you $65,000 on the road. For a Kia. Just for perspective, you can buy two Kia Picanto GT-Lines for $17,000 each, and get 10 seats for about half the price. So there’s that. Still, Carnival is the best ‘not an SUV’ money can buy, and with the 'two Picanto' option, you will always need a second driver if the payload is more than five people, and there's two registrations and insurance policies to factor in, annually.

It’s is certainly an expensive purchase … except when you consider the true cost of breeding so enthusiastically. Feeding, clothing, housing and educating all those children you have inflicted upon the world. When you budget for all of that, I guess a Carnival is not that high on the 'progeny support' balance sheet.

You could hypothetically buy two five-seat cars (nice ones) for the price of one Carnival Platimum...

You could hypothetically buy two five-seat cars (nice ones) for the price of one Carnival Platimum...

Finally - a quick shout-out to my mate Rod Turnbull from Tonic Films - car nut, real cinematographer (he shot the making of Star Wars - the first one - knows George Lucas, and what all the buttons do on a camera, et cetera).

Rod helped me with some of the shots for the video above - and he shoots a lot of the really cool overlay vision for the car industry. He’s a good guy - and this report is all the better thanks to his assistance.

If you’re a car company and you’re not using Tonic Films for your vision, you really are not managing to paint the product in its best light. Credit where it’s due.


Conclusion

It's probably the 'anti kudos' streak in me, but I always enjoy test-driving a Carnival. Last time I did that, just for kicks, I went to the nursery, bent the plastic and came home with nine bales of lucerne mulch, plus a big bag of dynamic lifter, and a few sundry plants ... and the Carnival wasn't even near its volumetric capacity.

Once you figure it all out, it takes about three minutes to transition from eight-seat people mover to two-seat van (or any permutation of seating/load carrying configuration in between). That's impressive. Plus, it'll tow up to two tonnes while you're doing all that.

Admit it (at least to yourself): This is a better option than an SUV for the kind of driving you most likely do

Admit it (at least to yourself): This is a better option than an SUV for the kind of driving you most likely do

The biggest hurdle on the path to purchasing a Carnival is 'snob factor'.

Among prolific breeders, SUVs for the same cash have a lot more of it. Carnival is just better at doing all the things an SUV does for the average large family. I'm not saying an SUV is the wrong choice - because there's a hugely subjective element to buying a car. What I am saying is that, against objective criteria, for most families, Carnival does the job better.

Check out Carnival on the Kia website >>


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