2020 Kia Carnival Range Review

The Kia Carnival can carry eight people in comfort and style, with a clever cabin that can swallow stacks of luggage. It is powerful, handles well, and has a seven-year warranty.

2019 Kia Carnival PE Platinum 02 1 3 Jpg
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Space
  •   Comfort
  •   Versatility
  •   Performance
  •   Warranty
Not so much
  •   Steering feel
  •   Thirst of petrol V6
  •   Noise of diesel

What stands out?

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.

What might bug me?

Heavy fuel consumption in the petrol version. Tipping the scales at an elephantine two tonnes, a laden Carnival V6 doesn’t half mind a drink.

The relatively light feel of the steering at speed. Easy and responsive around town, the steering feels increasingly short on feedback the faster you drive a Carnival. Roadholding is safe and predictable, but compared with better recent Kias the Carnival is short on dynamic finesse.

Driving under 80km/h on your space-saver spare tyre, until you can have your full-sized flat repaired.

What body styles are there?

Eight-seat, five-door wagon only. The rear doors on a Carnival slide open, like the doors on many commercial vans.

The Carnival drives its front wheels, and is classed as a people mover, lower priced.

What features do all Carnivals have?

An MP3 compatible sound system with an AM/FM radio, a CD player, Aux and USB inputs, Bluetooth connectivity for audio streaming, and six speakers.

A colour touchscreen for controlling cabin functions to mirror your smartphone via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Three USB charge points for mobile devices: two for those in the front seats and one for the middle row. Three 12V power outlets (including one in the cargo area).

Autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.

A height and reach adjustable steering wheel from which you can operate the cruise, the audio system, and your phone. Height adjustment for the driver’s seat.

A reversing camera, and rear parking sensors.

Seating for eight people. A sliding, and collapsible, middle seat row, which makes it easy to enter the rear row.

Keyless entry, and doors that will lock automatically once you’re moving.

Headlights that switch on automatically when it’s getting dark.

Air-conditioning that can supply different temperatures to front and rear passengers.

Eight-speed automatic transmission.

A space-saver spare wheel and tyre (with a recommended top speed of 80km/h).

Roof rails, which make it easier to fit rooftop luggage systems.

Hill-start assist, which helps you take off on uphill slopes by controlling the brakes automatically.

Six airbags. Electronic stability control, which can help you control a skidding car and is mandatory on new cars. (For the placement of airbags, and more on Carnival safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)

Every Carnival is supplied with a seven-year, unlimited distance, warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

The 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel is by a long way the more fuel-efficient of the two engines available in a Carnival, consuming 7.7 litres/100km on the official test (city and country combined).

This is a fine engine for highway use, hauling the Carnival down the road without fuss.

One reason you might not choose it is that you expect to use your Carnival almost exclusively for short trips around town. The diesel is surprisingly noisy and clattery (even for this type of engine), especially when cold or when accelerating up to urban speeds.

The other obvious reason to bypass the diesel is that you want to pay less when you purchase your Carnival, while enjoying additional zip from the other – smoother – engine available, a 3.3-litre petrol V6.

You will spend more on fuel, however. Petrol Carnivals use 10.8 litres/100km on the official test.

Every Carnival drives through an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The least costly Carnival, the Carnival S, rolls on 17-inch steel wheels, and has cloth-covered seats and the features common to all Carnivals. Its central touchscreen measures 7.0-inch. And while the air-conditioning can serve front and rear passengers differently, you have to keep an eye on its outputs yourself.

Spend more for a Carnival Si and you get a bigger touchscreen at 8.0 inches, which also displays satellite navigation, and – once you’ve parked – can also play DVDs. Sound is also improved via an eight-speaker JBL sound system.

A digital auxiliary speedometer helps you avoid speeding fines. Three-zone climate-control air-conditioning maintains temperatures automatically, and the driver, front-passenger and rear passengers can set preferred temperatures independently. Rear-side and rear windows are tinted against sun penetration. Exterior mirrors power-fold out of harm’s way automatically when you lock the car. The 17-inch wheels are made of nicer looking aluminium alloy (which does not need plastic trim-caps).

Spending more again for a Carnival SLi brings you leather on the seats, and power-adjustment for the driver’s seat. Smart-key entry lets you unlock the car and drive away without taking the key from your pocket or bag. Front parking sensors augment those at the rear. The rear doors power-slide open, and a hands-free tailgate power-raises for you if you linger next to it. The centre-console contains a chilled compartment. Wheels are bigger at 18 inches, and can mount tyres with a marginally lower profile for a sportier look

The most expensive Carnival, the Platinum, ventilates and heats both front seats, and provides powered seat adjustment for the passenger also. The steering wheel has a fake-wood finish and can be heated. Headlamps use very bright and long-lived LEDs, and switch to low beam automatically to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers, and the fog lights have a smarter “ice-cube” design. Smart cruise control can reduce your speed to follow a slower car ahead, until you can overtake. And the wheel diameter grows again to 19 inches, with a corresponding small reduction in tyre profile.

The Platinum also brings you a suite of active safety aids, comprising Forward collision warning, Lane departure warning, Blind-spot monitoring, Lane-change assistance, and a Rear cross-traffic alert. (For more on these systems, please open the Safety section below.)

Does any upgrade have a down side?

The more expensive Carnivals, the SLi and Platinum, bring you bigger alloy wheels with lower-profile tyres (from the side, the tyres look skinnier – and they are). This makes the ride less comfortable, due to the decreased cushioning effect of the shallower rubber. In some circumstances, you also hear more inside the cabin from the tyres’ broader contact with the road. As well, these tyres cost more to replace, they tend to increase fuel consumption slightly, and the wheelrims tend to be more prone to damage while parking – because the rubber provides a smaller buffer. Ask yourself how much you value looks over comfort and economy.

White exterior paint comes as standard; other colours cost extra.

How comfortable is the Carnival?

Kia has kept those in the front seats firmly in mind when designing the Carnival – that’s obvious from the moment you open the wide driver’s door and climb onto the broad cushion.

A seat placed almost at SUV height, lots of glass, and almost unimpeded forward vision, help make this car feel exceptionally roomy and airy. The front buckets offer adjustable lumbar (lower back) support only in the more expensive versions, but in any Carnival the seats envelope you completely, providing ample support. And the driving position is widely adjustable.

An expansive and solidly presented dashboard is a model of clarity, boosting familiarity and thus confidence when you’re driving the Carnival. Big instrument dials (with an auxiliary digital speedo from the Si upwards), large and logically placed switchgear, excellent ventilation, and more storage compartments and receptacles than most families will ever need, make the Kia feel intuitive to operate, even if the central touchscreen does require a steady finger once you’re on the move. It will take you only a few moments to understand the multimedia functions, too. Nothing intimidating going on here.

So it is likely you will feel like you’re in command of a Carnival. Most switchgear is easy to reach, and all the major controls feel light to operate. The steering turns freely and without much effort at all, the throttle is well modulated so as to not be jerky in traffic, the transmission shifts smoothly enough, and the brakes are effective but not overly touchy.

On the 17-inch wheels of the less costly Carnivals, the S and Si, the ride is a welcome blend of cushiness and control, without the wallow or pitching that some softly suspended people movers suffer from. The Carnival SLi (on 18s) is more firmly sprung, however, while the Platinum (on 19s) is firmer again. Noise isolation also goes from commendable to tolerable as wheel sizes increase.

The Carnival’s turning circle is commendably tight for a 5.1-metre box on a 3060mm wheelbase – which is great for round-town manoeuvrability.

What about safety in a Kia Carnival?

Every Carnival has the mandatory stability control, six airbags, a reversing camera, and rear parking sensors (which might warn you that you are reversing towards something or someone). It will also have auto-on headlights (which make you visible more reliably in low light), and speed-sensing door locks (which lock automatically to mitigate the chances of a car-jacking).

Autonomous emergency braking is also standard, along with lane departure warning, which monitors road markings and alerts you if you begin to drift out of your lane on the highway – perhaps because you have gotten distracted or are falling asleep.

Seatbelt reminders are fitted to the front and outer second-row seats only, however.

There are airbags directly in front of the driver and passenger; an airbag outside each front seat to protect from side impacts at chest level; and a curtain airbag extending past all three rows of seats on each side, to protect at head level.

The Carnival Platinum (only) adds additional sensor-based active safety features including blind spot and lane change alerts, and a rear cross-traffic alert.

The blind-spot and lane-change alerts look behind you, warning you of vehicles near your rear corners – but perhaps not showing in your exterior mirrors – or overtaking you quickly from behind.

The rear cross-traffic alert operates when you are reversing, perhaps from a shopping-centre car park or a driveway. It warns you if it recognises that another vehicle is about to cross behind you.

The Platinum also has a multi-angle reversing camera that lets you check all directions around the car.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Carnival five stars for safety, its maximum, in March 2016. (The rating applies to Carnivals on sale new since January 2016; previous Carnivals had been awarded four stars.)

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

If you value relaxation and ease, the Carnival’s effortless, loping driveability is sure to please you.

The standard 3.3-litre V6 petrol engine is tuned for eager off-the-line acceleration, and will keep pulling energetically and smoothly to speeds well beyond the legal limit. And there’s an appealing exhaust note to go with all that healthy performance.

However this is a heavy car, and so you pay a price for its sparkling response to your right foot: heavy fuel consumption. Maybe that’s why Kia has tuned the V6 to require a lot of movement from the accelerator pedal. While there’s plenty of oomph, you need to push the pedal a long way to find it.

If fuel economy is a high priority, you could pay a bit more initially for the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel, and that’s probably the better bet. You get a bit of diesel-lag at take-off, but diesel Carnivals pick up speed almost instantly after that with only moderate pedal depression. At mid-range speeds – say when overtaking from 80km/h – the turbo-driven whoosh is considerable: here, diesel Carnivals feel even livelier than their petrol siblings. Just get used to some roughness at idle and a harsh feel if you spin the engine hard.

The Carnival’s steering feels planted and precise, especially in straight-ahead driving but to a very pleasing degree in low-speed and high-speed corners also. Kia’s chassis engineers dialled in safe and predictable handling and roadholding. Kia says Australian-specific suspension dampers and thicker anti-roll bars contribute to the Carnival’s serenity in local conditions.

That said, with steering effort so low, the steering wheel does not talk with much authority about the front tyres and how committed they are to the road – and it tells you less as speeds rise. If the idea of steering that seems somewhat remote from the action repels you, definitely try this first before you buy.

Ride quality on the 17-inch wheeled S and Si is calming, with the suspension ably soaking up bumps. Your passengers will appreciate the comfort on offer, even at the price of mild floating over undulations at speed. Bigger-wheeled Carnivals trade that loping absorption for a tighter and more hunkered down look and feel, and the harder ride that inevitably comes with that.

How is life in the rear seats?

Sliding rear side-doors reveal huge apertures that make access to a Carnival’s middle and third seat-rows easy.

The middle-row trio of seats offer versatility at a level rare in any vehicle.

Both outboard seats slide and recline, boosting comfort considerably, while all three seats can be removed individually. The centre-seat can also double up as a table or armrest, complete with cupholders and other amenities. We’re talking premium economy here, even in the Carnival S.

Operating these features is child’s play too, and won’t strain anybody’s arms or back.

The outboard middle chairs can also fold forward and up in concertina fashion, opening a sizeable cavity behind that makes it almost a joy for people of most shapes to access the third row. Clever engineering.

Though cushions might be a tad flat under thigh, the rearmost seats are sufficiently spacious for most folk under about 180cm tall. Measuring almost two metres across, these two seats can easily support three abreast, but shoulder space for three big people could be a bit of a squeeze.

Otherwise, this Kia can lay claim to being a true eight-seater mover of adult-sized occupants. Heaps of legroom and head room, backed up by ample vision, face-level ventilation outlets, head rests, lighting, and storage, for all, make travelling in the rear compartments no trial. No SUV can compete with a purpose-built people mover.

With a trio of ISOFIX points in the middle seat row, and each second-row and third-row outboard seatback offering child-seat strap latches, the Carnival is purpose built for transporting children in a variety of cradles or booster seats up to the age of 11 or so, without their bits and pieces affecting other passengers.

And at nearly 1.8m tall, the lofty ceiling means that you don’t have to stoop much when preparing for kiddie transport.

How is it for carrying stuff?

You’ll find 10 cupholders scattered around the Carnival, as well as a bottle-holder in each side door, two sizeable gloveboxes, several map pockets and storage trays, and shopping-bag hooks.

The cargo situation is almost as impressive as the passenger compartment. Even with the rearmost seats erect, there is an impressive 960 litres of total cargo space free behind them.

In five-seat wagon mode, the third-row seats tumble and fold into a deep recess – opening up a total cargo capacity of 2220 litres.

In two-seater mode, with the second seat-row also folder, a vast 4022 litres is on offer.

This is yet another example of how SUVs have nothing on the Carnival for ease and versatility in carrying people or loads.

Whether petrol or diesel, the Kia’s towing capacity is a competitive 2000kg with a braked trailer.

Where does Kia make the Carnival?

All Kia Carnivals hail from South Korea, and have done so since the original reached Australia in 1999.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Possibly nine or more seats. Similarly sized vehicles like the Volkswagen Caravelle, LDV G10 and SsangYong Stavic offer this, for example. (But without the Carnival’s sophistication.)

Perhaps auto emergency braking. That feature is rare and very expensive in people-movers, but it is standard in the seven-seat Mazda CX-9 SUV, for example.

All-wheel drive, for extra traction and stability on snow, sand, gravel, or mud. The significantly more expensive Volkswagen Caravelle 4Motion offers this, for example, as do many seven-seat SUVs.

Among other people-mover alternatives is the Honda Odyssey.

Among seven-seater SUV alternatives are Mazda's CX-8 or CX-9 and Kia’s own Sorento, along with the Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Everest, Holden Acadia, Peugeot 5008, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Nissan Pathfinder, and Toyota Kluger.

Are there plans to update the Carnival soon?

This third-generation YP-series Carnival arrived early in 2015, superseding a second-generation car that had a decade-long run.

A facelifted model arrived in May 2018. This minor update brought a reconfigured nose and bumper design, and a fresh headlight configuration with distinctive LED headlamps and “ice cube” fog-lights on upper-spec variants. Front and rear overhangs will be reduced, giving the Carnival a bolder stance that’s enhanced with newly designed alloy wheels.

The interior also gained a makeover, with updated instrument graphics and a less-cluttered centre console featuring an electrically activated parking brake.

The only change under the bonnet was the new eight-speed automatic transmission for the 3.3-litre V6 petrol engine, for improved fuel economy and performance.

I like this car, but I can’t choose which version. Can you help?

The Kia Carnival Si diesel is the pick of the bunch for economy, value and comfort. It looks and feels quite luxurious. It might not have leather, but the standard cloth seat trim is comfortable and attractive.

The leather and other additional features of the SLi arguably justify its 10 per cent price premium. However, the move to 18-inch wheels erodes some of the ride quality.
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Space
  •   Comfort
  •   Versatility
  •   Performance
  •   Warranty
Not so much
  •   Steering feel
  •   Thirst of petrol V6
  •   Noise of diesel


How are you finding our new site design? Tell us in the comments below or send us your thoughts at feedback@whichcar.com.au.


Subscribe to Australian car magazines

Subscribe to any of our motoring magazines and save up to 49%





Stellantis gives brands stay of execution until 2031

Marques like Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Lancia, and Vauxhall can rest easy…for now

9 hours ago
James Robinson

We recommend

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.