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People-mover power

Little wonder, then, that Kia's Carnival, at $29,990, has proved to be such a hit: it offers considerable value for money for anyone willing to make a few sacrifices to save$10,000.

Kia is now taking aim at a slightly more affluent sector of the market with its new, more powerful and larger Grand Carnival, priced from $36,990.

The Korean giant plans to sell both the old, sub-$30,000 Carnival and the new model side by side for the foreseeable future as it attempts to increase its market share.

The people-mover segment is fast becoming one of the most competitive in the vehicle industry, and makers have even tried to sex up their image.

Most successful has been Honda's new-generation Odyssey, which is far more car-like in both appearance and dynamics than its predecessor.

Ford has come up with a winner by offering soft-roaders such as the Territory with an optional third row of seats.

With a bewildering array of choices in the market, Sunday CARSguide looks at five vehicles for the masses.


Chrysler Voyager

PRICE: $55,990 to $71,990

GOOD: Space, and lots of it. The 3.3-

litre V6 offers a handy 128kW of power. The Stow 'n' Go option allows you a wide variety of seating and cargo options, and sliding rear doors make for easy access.

BAD: All that interior space makes for a very big exterior. The Voyager feels a lot like a delivery van, and has an interior reminiscent of the early 1990s. When behind the wheel, you can't help feeling you're heading off to the local Dunkin' Donuts shop somewhere in middle America.

VERDICT: This is one for the "size really matters" crowd. Extra size and power can't prevent the Voyager feeling distinctly old-school. It's also expensive. Speaking of old school, did I mention the column shift?


Mitsubishi Grandis

Price: From $39,990

GOOD: The Grandis has excellent interior space. functionality and style. Its tip-and-tilt seating system is one of the easiest and most useful around. Priced from $39,990, it also offers reasonable value for money.

BAD: The somewhat aggressive exterior styling may not be to everyone's liking. Its height means it can't quite match the Honda Odyssey for on-road dynamics and feel.

The 2.4-litre four puts out 121kW and has to work hard with a full load. Some dashboard controls are fiddly and set too far away.

VERDICT: If you don't mind the looks, you should definitely test-drive the Grandis; it's a genuine rival to the Odyssey, and at a competitive price.


Honda Odyssey

Price: $38,790 to $45,290

GOOD: The most car-like MPV, the Odyssey has great on-road dynamics. Its interior and exterior build quality is superb.

BAD: The Honda is not alone among modern cars in having the emergency brake on the floor, but it's an annoyance — even if it does allow extra space for the centre console. The test Odyssey had an acute case of reflected glare on the dashboard.

VERDICT: A quality product that is quite rightly considered the leader in the people-mover stakes. The Odyssey's 2.4-litre, in-line four makes the most of its 118kW and is reasonably frugal, but fitting the 140kW engine from the outstanding Accord Euro would make things even better. The rear seats are best suited to pre-teens.


Ford Territory

Price: $39,490 to $56,320

GOOD: The new ZF six-speed transmission fitted in the AWD version of the Territory is a huge leap forward for Ford. Its AWD system is one of the best, and the Territory proved sure-footed during a three-hour trip along the freeway from Sydney to Newcastle in a torrential downpour.

The Territory can go places the other four in this comparison can't,, but it's not a fair dinkum off-roader.

BAD: The six-speed tranny and AWD are expensive options, as is the third row of seats.

The four-litre, six-cylinder motor delivers a healthy 190kW, but driven with enthusiasm, it gulps down considerably more juice than Ford's claimed 12.2 litres per 100km for the RWD and 12.8 for the AWD.

Again, the third row of seats is strictly for pre-teens. Interior fit and finish are good by local standards, but can't match the Japanese.

VERDICT: Most versatile of the five, but you pay handsomely for AWD and

a six-speed gearbox. Though not the best vehicle for transporting seven people, the Territory wins points for its across-the-board potential and would suit a family of four or five who need two extra seats on occasion.


Kia Grand Carnival

Price: From $36,990

GOOD: It's obvious why the base-model Kia, at $29,000, is Australia's best-selling people mover. For $7000 more, you can now get what is effectively a completely different vehicle.

Interior and exterior remain bland, although the Grand Carnival wins points for the functionality of its eight seats. An enormous rear luggage space is achieved by placing the spare wheel under the centre of the vehicle. The sliding rear doors are generally easier to access than those on the Odyssey, the Grandis or the Territory.

A big improvement is the new 3.8-litre V6, which increases power from 132kW to 184 and torque from 220Nm to 343.

BAD: Engine problems with the earlier base model dented the Kia's reputation and hurt re-sale values. This will have flow-on effects to the Grand Carnival, despite it being a different vehicle.

It's still clearly built to a price, with dynamics and general feel below that of the other vehicles in this test; in particular, the steering felt indirect. The new engine has loads more power, but you pay at the bowser, with Kia claiming a best-scenario fuel consumption of 12.8 litres/100km. Like the Odyssey, the Kia has a foot emergency brake.

VERDICT: Money talks, and the Grand Carnival is a bargain buy that will garner healthy sales. The Odyssey and Grandis are better vehicles overall, but the Kia scores points for size and power.


The winner ...

HONDA'S Odyssey remains the one to beat. Although the Grandis runs a close second, the Odyssey outsells it by almost six to one. The Territory is a genuine option if you want to get a little way off the beaten track. The Grand Carnival is good value despite the price increase, and the Voyager is for those who really value their personal space.

Most prices quoted in this story exclude dealer delivery and statutory prices

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