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    Kia Carnival 2021 review: SLi petrol

    The Kia Carnival's styling is a standout, looking like no other people mover available right now.

    Daily driver score

    4.5/5

    Urban score

    4.5/5
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    Kia’s Carnival has long been a byword for people mover or multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), having spent the past 22 years in Australia establishing itself as a big yet affordable three-row family wagon down at the cheaper end of the market.

    In that time, many rivals have abandoned the cause, but Kia’s diligence in improving the series has paid off handsomely. While the first two Carnival generations were joyless and crude, 2015’s YP series brought real style and swagger, enjoying the lion’s share of sales in the segment, especially now that the Toyota Tarago is history and the Honda Odyssey’s appeal has waned.

    The redesigned KA4 series builds on the latter's legacy, as it strives to take on many larger SUVs with quality and class.

    A crossover of a different kind then that's clearly chasing a richer mix of buyers, we see if the up-spec SLi V6 has what it takes to broaden the Carnival’s appeal beyond extended families and so on, in line with its maker’s lofty aspirations.

    Or, put another way, can the Kia cut it as a big upmarket wagon in the rough and tumble of inner-city living? We find out.

    Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

    Fitted with eight seats, the Carnival comes in eight flavours – base S from $46,880, Si from $52,380, SLi from $56,880 and Platinum from $64,680, and all before on-road costs. Engine choices are a 3.5-litre petrol V6 or – for $2000 more – a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel. Both drive the front wheels via an eight-speed auto.

    Compared to the previous model, the new KA4 diesels jump by some $3200 and petrols $3700, though with the fresh design comes improved power, economy and standard equipment.

    Ours is the penultimate, $56,880 SLi V6, and bare like Old Mother Hubbard it is not. You’ll find on/off LED headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, heated and powered folding mirrors, roof rails, keyless entry/start, three-zone climate control, a 12.3-inch touchscreen multimedia system, dual Bluetooth connectivity, satellite navigation with live traffic, digital radio, an eight-speaker sound system, power-sliding rear doors, rear privacy glass, a powered tailgate, an electric driver’s seat, synthetic leather trim and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

    It's little wonder that (in the first six months of 2021) the Carnival commanded 60 per cent of its entire sub-$60K people mover segment. It's little wonder that (in the first six months of 2021) the Carnival commanded 60 per cent of its entire sub-$60K people mover segment.

    While all Carnivals include key safety items such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, intersection assist, lane-keep and steering assist, active blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, speed sign recognition, driver attention alert, high-beam assist, Safe Exit Warning (great for not dooring cyclists), a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, the SLi steps up with active rear cross-traffic collision assist (it applies the brakes!), Safe Exit Assist (doors momentarily won’t open) and surround-view cameras. Nice.

    Peace of mind is helped by Kia’s seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, seven years of free roadside assistance (if serviced by Kia) and published capped-price servicing.

    For people seeking opulence, the statement-making Platinum ushers in matte-chrome exterior trim, black 19-inch alloys, puddle lights, a sunroof, an upgraded 12-speaker Bose audio, a wireless smartphone charger, a heated steering wheel with paddle-shifters, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, powered front seats with driver’s side memory, centre and rear side-window sunshades, ambient lighting and Rear Occupant Alert (so nobody gets left behind inside). That's a lot of lush luxury for an extra $7800.

    You’ll find on/off LED headlights amongst the range of additions that come with the SLi. You’ll find on/off LED headlights amongst the range of additions that come with the SLi.

    But while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is also included, it’s not wireless in models with in-built sat-nav (meaning every grade above S), allegedly because one tech giant won’t allow it to work if their proprietary GPS apps have to compete with inbuilt sat-nav in the same vehicle. Petty.

    Note that premium/metallic paint adds $695.

    So, how competitive is the Carnival SLi V6 at a shade under $60K?

    Until the related, Cylon-esque Hyundai Staria arrives, nothing touches it for the money when you combine the packaging, features, performance, refinement and safety.

    While Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is also included, it’s not wireless in models with in-built sat-nav. While Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is also included, it’s not wireless in models with in-built sat-nav.

    The only other car-based rival, the recently facelifted Odyssey VTi-LX, undercuts the SLi by $4500 and yet boasts gesture controls for the powered doors, a sunroof, powered front-passenger seat and walkaway auto door locking; but it's also older and smaller, and has fewer seats, litres of cargo capacity, years of warranty, ISOFIX child-seat latches, cylinders, kilowatts of power and Newton metres of torque – among other things.

    Everything else, meanwhile, is commercial-van derived like the unsuccessful Toyota Granvia, more expensive (smaller VW Caddy and crude LDV G10 aside) and not as car-like inside, outside, to ride in or to drive.

    No contest then, and little wonder that – in the first six months of 2021 – the Carnival commanded 60 per cent of its entire sub-$60K people mover segment. The Kia's a hit, and here's one big reason why.

    Is there anything interesting about its design?

    Is there a more elegant people mover on the market?

    Hyundai’s space-age Staria will certainly stand out, but the KA4 Carnival’s imposing dimensions, boxy proportions, square-edged styling, glittering grille and intricate design detailing makes it the most compelling vehicle in its class since the futuristic Toyota Tarago/Previa of the 1990s.

    There isn’t an odd angle or jarring line. When an eight-seater wagon looks this sophisticated and confident, praise is wholeheartedly deserved, and – again – it’s reflected in the Carnival’s popularity.

    Is there a more elegant people mover on the market? Is there a more elegant people mover on the market?

    Our only aesthetic quibble is that Kia didn’t see fit to fit its new logo, which at last does away with the Ford oval-derived item (fun fact: done so to be interchangeable on pre-Hyundai ‘90s models such as the Kia Pride/Ford Festiva).

    We're expecting that some people will buy the Carnival on looks alone.

    How practical is the space inside?

    How large is the Kia people mover compared to before? Here are the main stats.

    For reference, it clocks in at 5155mm long (+40mm), 1995mm wide (+10mm) and 1740mm tall (unchanged), with its 3090mm wheelbase (+30mm) boosting cabin space by 60mm.

    But the Carnival is no longer merely function over form. Its interior is as modern and appealing as the outside styling, with huge attention to detail revealing the undeniable hallmarks of nearly a quarter of a century of MPV-making experience.

    The boxy shape certainly allows for unencumbered entry and egress into the big, glassy and expansive cabin, aided by tall front doors and lofty seats.

    Being an SLi, the fit and finish can’t be faulted. Being an SLi, the fit and finish can’t be faulted.

    Electrically adjustable for the driver only, they’re big, enveloping bucket seats providing plenty of comfort and support, along with a lumbar switch for the driver. Our only real query is that they don’t slide back as far as you might expect. Still, the driving position for most people is first class – aided by a tilt/telescopic steering wheel – that also provides a commanding view forward and from the sides. Ventilation is excellent and most of the switchgear layout is logical.

    Being an SLi, the fit and finish can’t be faulted. Two-tone colour blocking, double-stitched vinyl covering the dash top, piano black glossy trim surrounding the instrumentation offset by metallic circular rings for the analogue speedo and tacho, digital speedo and trip computer functionality and an array of interesting textures and surfaces help elevate this grade of Carnival’s expectations closer to the high asking price.

    A trio of USB ports, four big cupholders, wide glovebox, long door bins and a huge centre console box help take care of storage up front, though surprisingly there is no under-seat storage in this model.

    The expanse of touchscreen shows of Kia’s latest multimedia set-up, while a touch-sensitive panel below that operates the easy and functional climate control system.  

    ROW 2

    • Even the tallest person should find enough room back there, owing to the deep floor and tall ceiling. Even the tallest person should find enough room back there, owing to the deep floor and tall ceiling.
    • The middle seat folds on to itself to present a table with cupholders for the outboard occupants. The middle seat folds on to itself to present a table with cupholders for the outboard occupants.
    • The second row comes with plenty of storage. The second row comes with plenty of storage.
    • Closing the door is possible via the interior door pull or a natty little button on the B-pillar ahead. Closing the door is possible via the interior door pull or a natty little button on the B-pillar ahead.

    The SLi’s doors open electrically, via a touch of a door handle, or remotely by pressing on the key fob or specific button besides the driver’s right knee. Thus, getting in and out could not be easier. Step in and sit on the seats. Closing the door again is possible via the interior door pull or a natty little button on the B-pillar ahead.

    The second-row seats are divided up into three in a 35-30-35 arrangement, with each able to slide and recline individually of one another. The outboard buckets are very-slightly narrower than the front ones, to allow for a wider body to fit in the centre seat.

    Let’s talk seat comfort first. Even the tallest person should find enough room back there, owing to the deep floor and tall ceiling.

    The outboard ones are nicely sculptured and quite supportive, while the middle is a little flat but not too bad for shorter journeys. Longer legged people might find the cushions are set too low, however, forcing an unnatural knees-up seating position. This can be alleviated by pushing the seats right back, or completely cured by sitting in the middle pew and pushing it as far back as possible, allowing for a total legs-stretched-out posture. It’s a favourite.

    Alternatively, the middle seat folds on to itself to present a table with cupholders for the outboard occupants, which of course can also be slid back well behind into the area where the third row is, or completely removes altogether if you feel you have the personal strength, as it isn’t light. It can be stored in the boot well where the third-row seats stow in.

    Second-row amenities include: entry and exiting grab handles mounted on the side; seat-sited retractable three-point seat belts for all three passengers; a roof-mounted climate control set-up offering directional air vents and full temperature, fan speed, temperature and auto settings for both the centre and rear rows; two USB ports on the side and a map pocket each in the back of the front seats; a 12V socket and storage shelf behind the front centre console; bottle storage in the doors; child-seat tethers on the rear of each middle-row seat base; overhead reading lights and a takeaway-bag hook and at the back of the passenger seat. Kia’s experience here shows.

    Note, however, that the middle centre row does not have a seatbelt-off warning buzzer while the huge sliding door windows do not lower all the way down.

    ROW 3

    • The KA4's cargo capacity (VDA) with all seats in situ is 627 litres. The KA4's cargo capacity (VDA) with all seats in situ is 627 litres.
    • There’s space galore for two adults, or three at a big squeeze. There’s space galore for two adults, or three at a big squeeze.
    • Storage capacity grows 67L to 2785L when the third row is stowed. Storage capacity grows 67L to 2785L when the third row is stowed.

    On either side, the SLi’s reclinable bucket seats fold and slide forward with a tug of a lever, then return to their original position. Alternatively, a strap allows the third-row occupants to easily adjust its fore and aft position.

    The rear is a pleasing mix of MPV and wagon. My 178cm frame and large work boots fit in with room to spare, on a firm but adequate cushion and backrest that offers more than 15 reclinable settings.

    There’s space galore for two adults, or three at a big squeeze. Each outboard occupant gets to enjoy two cupholders plus a phone holder plus a USB charger and speaker/mic to talk/listen to the driver up front (or music). The middle-row’s climate control system distributes air via face-level roof-mounted vents. A trio of overhead reading lights are fitted. And the speakers in rows two and three can be muted so as to allow peaceful travel without denying the driver and front passenger’s multimedia entertainment. Thoughtful.

    Be aware that the third-row seating when stowed down does not seem to lock in place, so moves about over speed humps.

    Overall, it is a fairly quiet place to travel in, with not as much road noise as you might expect.

    One of the Carnival’s great strengths is its ability to carry eight people and still offer a reasonably large and surprisingly deep cargo area behind. The floor is as low as the car itself, making it an ideal part-time panel van with a carpeted load area if you need to move bulky items. You'd be surprised how handy something like this becomes.

    For the record, the KA4's cargo capacity (VDA) with all seats in situ is 627 litres (up 268L) while storage capacity grows 67L to 2785L when the third row is stowed.

    While no spare tyre lives there (a space-saver wheel is accessed under the car, below the floor between the driver’s seat and middle row), a jack and tools for changing a spare tyre do. There is also additional side storage, 12V outlet and a couple of tie-down hooks.

    Overall, with the deep windows affording an expansive, airy cabin and great vision all round, the Carnival’s interior is an enjoyable and pleasant way for a family to travel.

    What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

    It’s not just the body and interior dimensions that have grown in Carnival IV.

    The previous 206kW/336Nm 3.3-litre V6 has grown into a so-called ‘Smartstream’ 3470cc 3.5-litre double overhead cam direct-injection V6, offering up 216kW of power at 6400rpm and 355Nm of torque at 5000rpm.

    Late in the life of the old model, the Carnival switched to an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission, and this remains the case here. Late in the life of the old model, the Carnival switched to an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission, and this remains the case here.

    Tipping the scales at a hefty 2136kg, the Kia’s power-to-weight ratio is 101kW per tonne – a strong showing.

    Late in the life of the old model, the Carnival switched to an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission, and this remains the case here.

    How much fuel does it consume?

    With no more than four people on board, but at times used to cart items around, and with a mix of inner-city and freeway driving, we averaged a reasonable 10.6 litres per 100km at the pump during our 464km of testing, which is better than we expected.

    Such consumption isn't a disaster given that this near-2.2 tonne eight-seater wagon’s combined average figure is 9.6L/100km, for a carbon-dioxide emissions rating of 220 grams per kilometre. With a 72-litre tank, about 750km between refills is possible.

    Kia has tuned the SLi V6 to run on regular unleaded petrol, as well as on E10 ethanol.

    What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

    The fourth-generation Kia Carnival was awarded ANCAP’s maximum five-star crash-test rating back in April this year.

    Assessed under the organisation’s stricter 2020-2022 criteria, it performed strongly in the Adult Occupant Protection (a 90% score), Child Occupant Protection (88%) and Safety Assist (82%) categories.

    A lack of a rear AEB with pedestrian detection meant that the Kia managed just 68 per cent in the Vulnerable Road User Protection result.

    With pedestrian and cyclist detection in mind, Carnival’s AEB system operates between 5km/h and 85km/h, or up to 180km/h car-to-car, and works in all light conditions.

    The fourth-generation Kia Carnival was awarded ANCAP’s maximum five-star crash-test rating back in April this year. The fourth-generation Kia Carnival was awarded ANCAP’s maximum five-star crash-test rating back in April this year.

    Safety equipment includes intersection assist, lane-keep and steering assist, active blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, speed sign recognition, driver attention alert, high-beam assist, Safe Exit Warning (great for not dooring cyclists), a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, the SLi steps up with active rear cross-traffic collision assist, Safe Exit Assist (doors momentarily won’t open) and surround-view cameras.

    On the airbag front there are dual frontal airbags, side head-protecting airbags (for all outboard-sited first, second and third rows occupants), side chest-protecting airbags (first row) and a driver knee airbag.

    Kia fits five child restraint anchorage points and five ISOFIX latches.

    What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

    One of the better schemes in the business (only Mitsubishi’s conditional 10-year warranty tops it), the Carnival arrives with a seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. There is just 12 months of roadside assistance, though a further six years is available if you choose a Kia dealership.

    The Carnival arrives with a seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. The Carnival arrives with a seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.

    Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, while published basic capped-price servicing is available.

    Prices start at $324 for the first year, then years two to seven are priced at $598, $396, $779, $365, $747 and $387.

    What's it like to drive around town?

    Pleasingly painless.

    With its light yet positive steering feel, lofty seating position, deep windows affording a commanding view out and surround-view camera angles, the Carnival SLi is surprisingly easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces around town or in inner-city areas.

    Yes, that 5.2-metre length means you’ll use up almost every single centimetre of an allocated parking space, but at least squeezing it in one isn’t the chore that the vast dimensions suggest. The front/rear parking sensors and RCTA alert help out when reversing out of blind spots, while the exit warning system reduces the chances of collecting a car, pedestrian or cyclist moving alongside the stationary vehicle.

    The Carnival SLi is surprisingly easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces around town or in inner-city areas. The Carnival SLi is surprisingly easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces around town or in inner-city areas.

    You'd think the Carnival was designed for the city.

    Other pro-urban traits include superb ride quality, with softly sprung suspension that soaks up quite a lot of the bumps and rough surfaces you’ll find in built-up areas, impressive sound isolation from the outside world, excellent LED lighting and those sliding side doors that means hemmed-in parking scenarios aren’t so bad since the most occupants can pour out of the Kia without dooring the vehicle or object parked right beside it.

    Additionally, the 3.5L V6 petrol engine is another ally and feather in the Carnival’s cap.

    The softly sprung suspension soaks up quite a lot of the bumps and rough surfaces you’ll find in built-up areas. The softly sprung suspension soaks up quite a lot of the bumps and rough surfaces you’ll find in built-up areas.

    Strong yet smooth performance is the name of the game here, allowing the SLi sustained, punchy acceleration right from the get-go, assisted by an equally slick and responsive auto gearbox that works effortlessly in ensuring the correct gear ratio is selected. This box-on-wheels bowls along at quite the rate of knots.

    With a deep well of torque to draw upon, the Kia can increase speed quickly and calmly, with ample forward thrust for effortless overtaking. That the V6 also sounds so appealingly muscular further highlights the lovely, lusty nature of the Carnival’s powertrain, making it a fast-flowing and refined point-to-point grand tourer. Are we really talking about a people mover here?

    Despite the considerable torque output, the front wheels also cope surprisingly well. Maybe it’s the quality Continental tyres, which retained their traction in wet conditions, meaning that the front end does not shudder or hop violently under hard acceleration unless the driver is especially provocative with the throttle in slippery conditions. We suspect, however, that as the rubber ages, their grip on damp roads will deteriorate. It’s too bad no AWD option is available.

    You'd think the Carnival was designed for the city. You'd think the Carnival was designed for the city.

    Still, out on the open road, the Carnival’s steering keeps on being light yet direct, with decent levels of weight and feedback for a vehicle of this size and ilk. Yes, the Kia’s mass – along with its soft suspension tune – do mean that the body leans noticeably at speed through corners, so you'll never mistake the SLi for a sports wagon, but it remains well planted and secure, promoting confident and reassuring handling. In fact, the people mover's ability to track true at speed is remarkable, aided by effective brakes and driver-assist tech that isn't too intrusive, even over gravel surfaces.

    Considering the Carnival’s primary role as a transporter of people, its comfort, ease and dynamic capabilities are as sophisticated are the styling.

    Pricing & SpecsInsurance Quote

    By recasting the MPV as ultra-modern, progressive and desirable while building on the practicality and functionality of what came before, the latest Carnival pushes out boundaries while simultaneously blurring them.

    Sure, the Kia is far from perfect – the V6 is hardly economical compared to the new wave of hybrid SUVs like the Toyota Kluger, and at $60K it isn’t exactly cheap to begin with – but the Carnival represents a milestone in people movers… one where you could own one just for the sake of it. Extended family not required.

    In 2015, the previous Carnival had come of age. In 2021, its successor is graduating with top honours. Great job, Kia.

    $55,690

    Based on new car retail price

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    Daily driver score

    4.5/5

    Urban score

    4.5/5
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    Price Guide

    $55,690

    Based on new car retail price

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