Carnival eight-seater beats SUVs for value and versatility
I'D PREFER to kick off this review by saying something other than "If you're thinking about buying an SUV you really should take a look at this too …" because every road tester and his dog is writing the same thing at the start of wagon reviews these days.
But in the case of the Kia Carnival, Australia's No. 1 people-mover, what else can I say?
The eight-seater Carnival is a big box on four wheels that does precisely what's it's supposed to do: move people in safety and comfort. Some SUVs only pretend to do that.
So … if you're thinking about buying an SUV you really should take a look at this too.
We're testing the base model S in the recently updated Carnival range. Priced at $42,490, it runs a carry-over 3.3-litre direct injection, naturally aspirated V6, driving the front wheels via a new eight-speed automatic.
A 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel with the same drivetrain starts at $44,990.
As the cheap seats in the line-up, the S benefits most from the update, gaining more sophisticated infotainment and driver assist safety technology. The Carnival's 2-3-3 seat cabin layout, already one of the most versatile, spacious and clever interiors in the business, has been left alone.
Then there's the market leading seven years/unlimited km warranty, and reasonable servicing costs. Value? Absolutely.
Upfront, you're seated in a captain's chair, with a head restraint that protrudes a long way forward and may be intrusive. I took it off and hoped the drivers behind me weren't texting.
Kia does a clean, elegant dash with obvious inspiration from Audi. A new seven-inch touchscreen is still a stretch to reach and, even if Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are now included, there's no navigation or digital radio at base model level, and no stand-alone voice control on any variant.
Handy storage includes a huge, lined centre console box and two gloveboxes. You also get a couple of USB and 12V sockets. Vision is clear, assisted by a rear camera with moving guidelines, rear parking sensors and a second, convex rear mirror that allows you to keep an eye on the back stalls.
Access to these is via a light, easy to handle sliding door on each side, so in tight spaces you can get everyone in and out of the Carnival safely, with minimal aggravation and no risk of damage to adjacent vehicles.
Row two is split 60-40, with each side adjustable for legroom, plus backrest angle; there are armrests for each outboard seat, cupholders galore, plenty of storage and a USB socket.
Many SUVs and people-movers have clumsy, heavy second row seat release and fold mechanisms for access to row three but Carnival's is completely effortless, on both sides, with just a light touch on one lever required to lift and fold each outboard seat.
Raising the 60-40 split rear bench from the floor is easy, too. It's more spacious and comfortable than most, is a realistic proposition for only two adults but can accommodate three pre-teen kids on a short trip.
The middle seat belt for rows two and three spools out of the roof, so it's a bit fiddly and time consuming to clip yourself, or a young child, into position. Three Isofix and four tether strap restraint anchors are fitted.
Rear seat aircon controls are on the dash - so the driver is the only person who can operate them - with roof vents provided for rows two and three.
Boot space in eight-seater mode is pretty good, thanks to a deep well where row three is stored when not in use.
Curtain airbags extend to all three rows. Autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise and lane departure warning are standard. Only the top-spec Platinum at $60,290 gets blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert and surround cameras.
The Carnival drives like a small bus, because that's what it is. The ride is comfortable and quiet but with a full load the relatively soft suspension's control may deteriorate, causing some road shock to reach the cabin.
Driven to its brief, the Carnival is safe, secure and surprisingly manoeuvrable for its size. Its dynamic limits are low, of course, again more so with a full load on board.
This will also increase fuel consumption, never a strong point on a large capacity petrol engine lugging two tonnes around. Unladen, the 3.3-litre returned 8L-9L/100km on the highway and 13L-15L in town, on regular unleaded.
The eight-speed is kept busy compensating for the V6's lack of bottom-end grunt but it's a well calibrated, responsive, refined drivetrain and performance is more than adequate.
I don't have a huge amount of money to spend but I want to make sure that the kids I have to carry around every day are safe and happy. Otherwise they'll drive me insane.
No SUV at this price has anything like the Carnival's space, versatility or value. I want something that can carry a lot of people safely and comfortably and I like the fact that Kia backs it with seven years' warranty.
HONDA ODYSSEY VTI FROM $37,990
Base model Odyssey seats eight, its 2.4-litre four is frugal (7.6L/100km) and it handles better than a people-mover should. Five years' warranty. Models before this year had no AEB (it gained a heap of new kit earlier this year), and row two child restraint anchors in the roof are problematic.
HYUNDAI IMAX ACTIVE FROM $43,990
Hyundai's eight-seater runs a torquey 2.5-litre turbo diesel, an engine well suited to shifting a load. Only a five-speed automatic, though, so fuel economy (8.8L/100km) isn't great for a diesel. No curtain airbags or driver assist safety tech.
It's not exactly auto erotica, it shouldn't be taken anywhere near the outback and other drivers will think you're a bit tragic. Are you brave enough for a people-mover? This is a good one.
KIA CARNIVAL S
PRICE $42,490 (good value)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 7-year w'ty (best in class); $2027 for 4 years/60,000km (reasonable)
ENGINE 3.3-litre V6, 206kW/336Nm (good)
SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise (good)
THIRST 10.8L/100km (yep, thirsty)
SPARE Space-saver (not ideal)
BOOT 359L (all seats in use; good)