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2021 Kia Carnival review

By Tim Robson, 08 Jan 2021 Reviews

Need bulk space for your spawn but want to avoid the people mover cliché? Kia’s all-new Carnival straddles a new line between pragmatism and prowess

2021 Kia Carnival review

Overall Rating

4/5 stars

Plus & Minus

    1. Plus Throws the people mover paradigm out the door

Minus Couple of spec compromises, in-car storage

WHAT IS THE KIA CARNIVAL PLATINUM?

Kia's fourth-gen baby lugger is all grown up, and it's all the better for it

WHY WE’RE TESTING IT

Consider, if you will, the fates of happenstance that would require one to buy a car with more than seven seats. Or maybe it’s best you don’t…

The choice of machines that can cater for a volleyball team’s worth of kids is, let’s be honest, not that inspiring.

The Honda Odyssey is competent, and the Hyundai iMax is… well, big, but neither are cars that are likely to ever adorn your laptop as a screensaver.

It’s not to say Australia’s best-selling (by some margin) people carrier, the Kia Carnival, has the ability to set hearts a-flutter, either – but when you’re browsing in this aisle, you’ve got a whole new set of priorities anyway, like space, safety, space, baby-seat mounting, space and more space.

Now in its fourth generation, the Carnival aims to blend the need for size with the wants of a new generation of fussier buyers.

THE KIA CARNIVAL PLATINUM REVIEW

Based on the front-drive-only KA4 platform that also rides under the excellent Sorento SUV, the Carnival is big. Really big.

At 5.2m long and a shade over two tonnes, the Carnival’s bluff nose and fancy grille, sculpted bonnet and bejewelled butt soften the squared-off roofline and straight sides that’s a necessity for such a contraption.

Powertrains are similar but improved over the previous generation Carnival; an updated version of the Hyundai group’s 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine is accompanied by a newly lightened 2.2-litre turbodiesel four-potter which now runs an alloy block.

Both have been breathed on for efficiency and emissions gains, with the petrol engine pumping out a healthy 216kW and 355Nm, and the diesel making a very handy 148kW and 440Nm.

The petrol engine’s claimed 9.6L/100km combined fuel economy score is 10 per cent improved, according to Kia, while the diesel now returns a claimed 6.5L/100km on the combined numbers, down from 7.6.

It’s the oiler that Kia expects to sell most of; the cost of entry is a shade over $50,000 driveway for the petrol S, while the diesel version will cost $2000 more.

Front-wheel-drive and an eight-speed auto is the only choice across the eight variants, which tops out at a shade over $70,000 for the diesel Platinum you see on these pages.

How practical is the Kia Carnival?

The three-row Carnival retains sliding doors on each side, teamed (obviously) with a top-hinged tailgate which opens high and wide.

There’s a tonne of seat flexibility thanks to a brace of rail-mounted pews, including a centre seat in the second row that can be spun to face the third row.

Worthy to note, however, that while it’s possible to fit five ISOFIX seats across the rear two rows, it’s not approved in Australia to add one to that middle second-row seat while it’s turned around.

It’s physically possible, but not approved for Oz.

The seat in question can actually be chucked in the garage, creating two pseudo captain’s chairs in the second row. It’s a pain to fiddle with, though, so be warned.

Third-row occupants need to be small, especially if there are three of them, but they’ll be safe, cool and entertained, thanks to third-row covering curtain airbags, roof-vents and USB chargers on our top-spec tester.

Second-rowers get similar treatment, though storage space is compromised by the design of the sliding doors.

The Carnival can also be hollowed out to swallow 2785 litres of stuff, though the floor isn’t flat. Even with the third row in play, there’s still 627 litres of usable space to play with, thanks to the Carnival's 40mm more overall length over the previous model.

Handily, it can also tow a two-tonne braked trailer.

How safe is the Kia Carnival?

The Platinum is absolutely rammed with tech and spec; Kia’s latest safety suite adds all manner of aids, including sliding door latches that won’t open if the car detects something passing by, rear-seat occupant detection, and both front- and rear cross-traffic assist.

Strangely, the Carnival misses out on automatic wipers; they’re a victim of COVID delays, with the conversion process between left- and right-hand-drive missing a crucial deadline. Expect it to make the first facelift, though.

The Carnival is still waiting on an ANCAP score, as well, but the company is quietly confident of a solid result.

AEB everything, advanced blindspot tech and the aforementioned seven airbags make for a compelling safety argument for a large family.

MORE 2020 ANCAP rules explained

A five-star ANCAP 2020 rating isn’t dependant on the addition of a front-centre airbag, either; that part of the test is about whether the front occupants strike each other, not whether a bag is there or not.

Given the width of the Carnival - and given that the same-platformed Sorento scored a top result - it would be fair to say the Carnival will rank well.

Driving the Kia Carnival

Despite its girth, the Carnival is well-mannered and stable, its Aussie-tweaked damper set providing terrific ride quality and roll stability that doesn’t feel overly soft.

The Korean-spec steering tune (another COVID hangover) may get an update, according to local engineers, but it actually feels pretty well suited to the car out of the gate, and the smoother, quieter, lighter diesel is a handily torquey package.

It's big, sure, and it's a steady-state understeerer given its enormous wheelbase, but long runs in the Carnival are a quiet, comfortable doddle.

Its lane-keep assistance is intrusive and always defaults to the 'on' position after the ignition is killed, but when it combines with the adaptive cruise control system, it's every bit as competent as similar setups in Audis or Mercs - and way better than many others out there.

And the various reverse camera modes in the big-dollar Platinum are seriously impressive, especially the tow line view. You'll back up to the ball first time, every time.

Warranty/service, fuel economy

Seven years of roadside assistance and capped-price service complement Kia's seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. 

Based on current fixed-services costs, the diesel-powered Carnival is the most expensive Kia to service, costing a little over $3600 over seven years of servicing every 12 months or 15,000km.

Over 500km, we posted a combined average consumption figure of 7.2L/100km, comparing well to the claimed average of 6.5L/100km.

On this kind of form, you can expect up to 1000km from a 72-litre tank of diesel.

VERDICT

So complete is the new Carnival, Kia reckons it takes the place of the new large Telluride (which is a left-hook-only deal anyway).

It’s a big assertion, but the Carnival has successfully shed its homely image to move even closer to becoming a viable alternative to a big family SUV.

KIA CARNIVAL PLATINUM rivals

It's a limited field, but the Honda Odyssey and VW Multivan will be on people's shopping lists.

KIA CARNIVAL PLATINUM specs

Model Kia Carnival Platinum diesel

Engine 2151cc 4cyl turbocharged

Max power 148kW @ 3800rpm

Max torque 440Nm @ 1750-2,750m

Transmission eight-speed auto

Weight 2068kg

Economy 6.5L/100km

Price $66,680 MSRP ($67,375 MSRP as tested)

On sale Now