The first all-new Kia Carnival in almost 10 years was long overdue when it arrived in Australia early in 2015. But rest assured the intervening decade hasn't been wasted.

Huge strides in body design and engineering have been made globally and the new Kia Carnival people mover has advanced significantly when compared with the old stager it has finally replaced.

Explore the 2015 Kia Carnival Range

In fact, there's one important area in which the big South Korean marques – Kia and its parent company Hyundai – have moved ahead faster than any other car maker: quality of finish.

The Japanese probably still outperform the Koreans in this way, but only by a small margin. To get a European vehicle that's as well made as a Korean one you have to buy in the top end of the market and pay many tens of thousands of dollars more.

Design

All-new Carnival has style, and plenty of it. No longer is this a box on wheels bought by the family that needs – rather than wants – a people mover. We love the big bold radiator grille and squared-off front of the new Carnival. The rear-side area has the newly fashionable slim window design and this ties in nicely with a rear end that's shaped to appeal, yet is squared off and sensible.

In a quest for easier driving and parking the Carnival's body is slightly shorter and lower than before, but sits on a longer wheelbase to stretch the legroom in the cabin. Headroom is still plentiful.

Seat layout is two individual seats in front; three in the centre row; two reasonable units in the back. The centre row has its two outer pews slightly wider than the centre seat. The centre seat backrest can be folded down to form a table, or can be removed altogether to give stretch out elbow room.

There's good luggage length and volume and various configurations of passenger/cargo space are offered. The rearmost three seats have a 60/40 split arrangement, one or both sections can be folded completely flat to provided uninterrupted boot space.

Even with all seats in use there is still good luggage space

There's stretch out legroom that gives the sort of space you normally only get in a limousine. Ease of entry to the rearmost seats is better than average, though this area is probably best left to the younger and nimbler. Space in the rear seat is good without being outstanding, but that's not unusual in this class.

Even with all seats in use there is still good luggage space.

Safety

Carnival has a full suite of crash avoidance or mitigation features, including rollover mitigation and brake cornering control.

Engines / Transmission

Big people movers need plenty of power when loaded with people and stacks of stuff. Kia has been smart in offering Carnival with a 3.3-litre V6 petrol or a big torque 2.2-litre turbodiesel.

Power outputs are 206kW (petrol) and 147kW (diesel). More important are the torque numbers, a very useful 336 Newton metres for the petrol and a huge 440Nm from the diesel. Official fuel consumption numbers are 11.6L/100km and 7.7L/100km respectively.

Driving

Clever design results in Kia's all-new Carnival being more an eight seat sedan than it is a people mover. It provides impressive comfort, space and quality of ride. Entry and exit to the front two rows of seats is simple, there's the usual hassle for older and/or larger people getting into the rearmost seats. However as this is a low-set people mover not a high-riding SUV those difficulties are minimised.

Handling is competent enough and sensible drivers will never get anywhere near the Carnival's limits. If you do push it too hard or enter a corner faster than expected because of inattentive driving the big Kia will do whatever it can to avoid crash, or at least minimise its consequences. It's interesting to note that Kia Australia even employs Australian suspension and steering people to work on their people mover. Smart move.

Parking is easier than you might expect thanks to excellent visibility in all directions. Rear parking sensors are fitted to all models in the Carnival range.

The Carnival makes more sense than seven and eight seat 4WDs

We dislike foot operated parking brakes, finding them awkward in use. If you use the added safety provided by left-foot braking foot parking brakes are even worse because you need to juggle feet to get the parking brake off and the Carnival moving. Presumably the parking brake is like this to suit the Americans, hopefully the first update of the big Kia will see it following the European route of using an electric handbrake.

Engine performance is good, even with a decent load back there. Our road test review was done in the big-torque Kia turbodiesel that we have admired since its introduction. It has plenty of grunt at virtually all revs and is pretty economical. We found it typically using six to eight litres per hundred kilometres on motorways and non-challenging country roads. This rose to nine to eleven litres around town.

These are good figures for this class and, again, show the Carnival makes more sense than seven and eight seat 4WDs.