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Kia Carnival 2019 review: SLi diesel

The Kia brand’s upward trajectory has accelerated over the last decade.
EXPERT RATING
8.4
Kia's eight-seat Carnival is turning around the people-mover category's once crusty image with good looks, amazing practicality and impressive efficiency. We applied a family holiday pressure test to see how it performs in the real world.

So, you’re married with children. Energetic children, with lots of friends who love their weekend sport, picnics with Gran and Pop, and heading off on a break, camping or just road-tripping to a favourite family-friendly destination.

You might be eyeing off a three-row SUV with all the rugged, outdoorsy neighbourhood cred that goes with it. But face facts, you’re in the people-mover zone. Or at least you should be.

The reputational discomfort that once went with ownership of a ‘one box’ family truckster has been all but eliminated, thanks largely to the vehicle you see here, Kia’s third-generation Carnival

Launched in 2015, the current Carnival somehow combines day-to-day practicality with handsome design, a people-mover holy grail many though impossible. 

Substantially upgraded with new safety tech and cosmetic tweaks in mid-2018, the Cleary family spent a week on board the second-from-the-top SLi Diesel, covering roughly 800km from Sydney down the beautiful NSW South Coast and back to see how the big eight-seater handled a holiday stress test.

Kia Carnival 2019: Sli
Safety rating
Engine Type2.2L turbo
Fuel TypeDiesel
Fuel Efficiency7.7L/100km
Seating8 seats
Price from$54,990

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

The Kia brand’s upward trajectory has accelerated over the last decade, and much of that success can be traced back to the company’s recruitment of chief design officer, Peter Schreyer in 2006.

With superstar cars like the original Audi TT and Volkswagen New Beetle already in his portfolio, Schreyer rapidly applied discipline, consistency and creative flair to the Korean brand’s entire range.

And the Carnival is a grand canvas to work with, measuring just over 5.1m long, a little under 2.0m wide, and more than 1.7m tall.

The rear of the Carnival hasn't changed much except for LED tail-lights and a higher and wider diffuser panel in the rear bumper.  The rear of the Carnival hasn't changed much except for LED tail-lights and a higher and wider diffuser panel in the rear bumper.

But magically, super-sizing the signature ‘tiger nose’ grille (with added bling from last year’s update) and sweeping headlight clusters delivers car-like looks that mask the Carnival’s substantial proportions.

The mid-life refresh also brought LED DRLs and a more aggressive treatment of the lower air intake, now integrated with the front fog lights. The rest of the exterior is virtually unchanged, except for LED tail-lights and a higher and wider diffuser panel in the rear bumper.  

Kia says in developing the Carnival’s interior layout, its design team was inspired by first class air travel. And while that aspiration is a big reach for a humble people mover the results are impressive.

The interior layout has remained fundamentally unchanged since 2015. The interior layout has remained fundamentally unchanged since 2015.

The approach is simple and restrained, yet far from bland. The two-tone ‘leather-appointed’ seats, with red contrast stitching, look and feel premium, while strategic use of ‘piano black’ finishes and soft-touch materials around the dash, doors and console of our SLi version (second from the top in a four-model line-up) does indeed give the cabin a ‘pointy end of the plane’ feel.

Although the interior layout has remained fundamentally unchanged since 2015, two pieces of thoughtful design still deserve special mention. First is the flexible and oh-so-easy-to-use fold-up function of the outer second row seats. A not-too-heavy pull of a single lever on the base raises each into a vertical ‘standing’ position close to the front seat, instantly providing a wide access lane to the rear row. Beautiful. 

And speaking of the third row, pull a central handle on the rear seatbacks and the 60/40 split unit will gently concertina fold into the deep cargo well underneath to form a larger, flat load floor. And the reverse process is just as easy. Brilliant.

How practical is the space inside?   10/10

The need for practicality fundamentally underpins a people-mover purchase, and the Carnival delivers in spades. The end-result of its huge capacity and clever flexibility was our happy family on holiday, with enough room for all its luggage, snacks, and drinks, as well as power for its numerous devices. Number of vehicle-related complaints over seven days? Zero.

For a start, the driver and front passenger are provided with plenty of room and multiple storage options including two big cupholders in the centre console, and large door bins incorporating generous bottle holders.

The driver and front passenger are spoiled for room and have multiple storage options. The driver and front passenger are spoiled for room and have multiple storage options.

There are two glove boxes on the passenger side (the lower one cooled), a sizable lidded storage box between the seats (with sliding tray), two oddments trays in the centre console, a useful storage cavity in the lower passenger side of the centre console, and a drop-down sunglasses drawer is built into the overhead light and side door control unit. 

Connectivity runs to two USB ports - one for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (in the console) and another for power (in the storage box) - a pair of 12-volt sockets, and an ‘aux-in’ audio jack.

The SLi features electric one-touch sliding side doors, so access to the second-row seats is easy. There are three seats across the centre with a fold-down armrest on the outside of each window position. 

Three large adults in the centre row is do-able with reasonable comfort, not to mention plenty of head, leg and toe room. As there were only five Clearys on tour we opted to fold the central backrest forward to create a broad centre armrest with two cupholders and a small storage tray built-in. There are two more cupholders in the back of the front console, door bins again include substantial bottle holders, and there are netted pockets and bag hooks on the front seatbacks.

Three large adults in the centre row is do-able with reasonable comfort. Three large adults in the centre row is do-able with reasonable comfort.

Middle row occupants pick up another USB (power) port grouped with a small closing drawer and open tray built into the back of the front centre console. A direction and temperature control panel for the rear section of the tri-zone climate-control system is mounted in the roof (as are multiple vents servicing the rear two rows).

We’ve already touched on the ingenious ‘stand-up’ seats at either end of the centre row, which provide easy access to the 'way back' seats, and once ensconced in the third-row accommodation is surprisingly good.

Again, there’s room for three grown-ups across, although the seats aren’t as cushy and it’s likely smaller members of the family will find a home in the back row. Two cupholders with small storage bins are provided either side. 

Third-row accommodation is surprisingly good. Third-row accommodation is surprisingly good.

At first glance boot space looks modest but there’s a whopping 960 litres (SAE) available with all seats up, largely because the cargo floor is so low. With a close to 3.1 metre wheelbase to play with there’s enough real estate available further up the underneath of the car to house the space saver spare (with a lowering mechanism built into the driver’s side of the centre floor) hence the extra deep well.

Helpful touches include three bag hooks on the rear seatbacks (plus one on the boot wall), a 12-volt outlet and useful lighting. The hands-free power tailgate is also a welcome addition.

In this configuration the Carnival swallowed the CarsGuide three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres) and/or pram like a pelican scooping up a sardine. Holiday gear for five was a cinch.

  • With all seats up there's 960 litres (SAE) of space available. With all seats up there's 960 litres (SAE) of space available.
  • Fold the 60/40 split-fold rear seat flat and that figure grows to 2220 litres. Fold the 60/40 split-fold rear seat flat and that figure grows to 2220 litres.
  • Holiday gear for five was a cinch in the Carnival. Holiday gear for five was a cinch in the Carnival.
  • The Carnival swallowed the CarsGuide three-piece hard suitcase set. The Carnival swallowed the CarsGuide three-piece hard suitcase set.
  • A pram easily fits in the back. A pram easily fits in the back.
  • Even with all seats in play, there's still enough room for a suitcase and pram. Even with all seats in play, there's still enough room for a suitcase and pram.

Fold the 60/40 split-fold rear seat flat and that figure grows to 2220 litres. In this mode tie-down anchors in the rear floor and at the base of the centre row seats are provided to help secure heavy or awkward loads. Then the 40/20/40 middle row can be pushed forward (the centre section can be removed altogether) to liberate a humungous 4022 litres.

Although we didn’t hitch anything to the back, towing capacity for a braked trailer is 2000kg, dropping to 750kg unbraked, with a maximum tow ball download of 200kg.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

Available with 3.3-litre petrol V6 or 2.2-litre turbo-diesel power, the Carnival is offered in four grades – S, Si, SLi and Platinum – with our SLi Diesel weighing in at $54,990 before on-road costs (the only option was ‘Silky Silver’ premium paint adding $695). 

Despite the big Kia’s market success, it’s worth noting people movers account for just over one and a half per cent of local new car sales.

There’s a relatively small competitive set for people movers in Australia with ‘our’ Carnival aligning most directly with the evergreen Honda Odyssey in primo VTi-L trim ($47,590), Hyundai’s iMax Elite ($48,490), the car that started it all in this country, the Toyota Tarago GLX V6 ($55,990), and the entry-level TDI340 Comfortline version of Volkswagen’s ultra-flexible Multivan ($52,990).

If that price band is too rich for your blood the LDV G10 covers a spread from around $30k to just under $40k, and Citroen’s seven-seat Grand C4 Picasso sits at $45,500. Alternatively, if you’re ready to splurge the Mercedes-Benz V-Class starts at $74,990 for the V220d and tops out with the high-spec V250d Avantgarde at $87,200.

But a mid-fifty grand price tag delivers a decent stock of standard features including ‘leather-appointed’ seats with eight-way power adjustment and two-way lumbar support on the driver’s side, tri-zone climate control air (front dual and rear) with rear controls, 18-inch ‘machine finish’ alloy wheels, power sliding rear doors and hands-free power tailgate, heated exterior mirrors (with auto fold), keyless entry and start, plus privacy glass (rear windows and tailgate).

You’ll also pick up active cruise (with wheel-mounted controls), ‘Premium’ (faux leather) steering wheel and shift knob, a 3.5-inch OLED data screen in the instrument cluster, an 8.0-inch colour LCD touchscreen managing sat nav (with traffic info) and an eight-speaker JBL ‘Premium Sound System’ (with equaliser) including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as well as Bluetooth phone and media connectivity. 

The an 8.0-inch touchscreen comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The an 8.0-inch touchscreen comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

The Carnival SLi Diesel is powered by Kia’s (D4HB) iron block/alloy head 2.2-litre, four-cylinder engine using common-rail direct fuel-injection and boosted by a variable geometry turbo.

It produces 147kW at 3800rpm and a solid 440Nm between 1750-2750rpm driving the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission with sequential manual mode available (via the main shifter).

The turbo diesel makes 147kW/440Nm. The turbo diesel makes 147kW/440Nm.

How much fuel does it consume?   9/10

Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 7.6L/100km, the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel emitting 202g/km of CO2 in the process.

Of 805km covered during the ‘Cleary family South Coast Discovery Tour’ roughly 80 per cent was represented by consistent, non-stop freeway running and the rest churned out in the typical stop-start urban grind.

A switchable ‘Active Eco’ drive mode adjusts engine power, re-tunes the transmission’s shift points, and limits the power of the heating/ventilation system to maximize fuel efficiency. 

That system’s console-mounted button remained resolutely un-pressed for all but a short-term experimental period yet thanks to a commendably slippery 0.33 drag coefficient this 2.2-tonne bus (running five-up with a decent load of luggage on-board) returned an overall average of 8.3L/100km at the bowser (the on-board computer returning the same figure).

Pretty impressive, and the 80-litre tank meant we didn’t darken a service station forecourt until well after our week away, with a theoretical range (using our average figure) of 964km.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

Over 5.0m long, just under 2.2 tonnes, with seating for eight, the Kia Carnival is a substantial machine, but doesn’t feel like it behind the wheel.

Sure, you need to be aware of your extremities but vision is surprisingly good, and when it comes time to berth this family bus at the kerb the standard reversing camera, combined with front and rear parking sensors, makes life a lot easier. Turning circle is a large but not massive 11.2m.

The 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four pitches up its peak torque between 1750-2750rpm, which is perfect for around town work, with the smooth eight-speed auto (up from six-speed prior to the 2018 update) keeping revs in that sweet spot for much of the time. Beware that Eco mode knocks the edge off somewhat.

On the freeway 100km/h equates to a lazy 1500rpm in top (eighth) gear, so cruising is easy, with plenty of pulling power in reserve for hills and overtaking. There’s some diesel rattle at parking speeds, but the engine’s nice and quiet on the highway.

While the hydraulically-assisted steering isn’t exactly the last word in road feel, it’s well weighted and responds accurately. And the ride quality is a huge plus.

Suspension is strut front, multi-link rear (tuned for local conditions) and the Carnival coped with everything from broken suburban goat tracks to patchy highways with equal aplomb. Road and wind noise aren’t overly intrusive, while the Kumho Crugen Premium tyres (235/60 x 18) also proved comfy and quiet.

The SLi trim level gets 18-inch alloy wheels. The SLi trim level gets 18-inch alloy wheels.

The active ‘Smart Cruise Control’ is a godsend for long nose-to-tail freeway sections with distance maintained to the car in front adjustable through four settings. That said, when pulling into the overtaking lane from behind a slower vehicle the system takes an age to properly pick up speed, and I often found myself squeezing the throttle to up the pace and accelerate away from faster cars coming up behind. The downhill braking function is subtle and effective, though.

Brakes are ventilated (320mm) discs at the front with solid (324mm) discs at the rear and stopping power is solid with progressive pedal feel a welcome bonus.

Even after multiple hours on-board there weren’t any reports of soreness, the seats proving as comfortable as they look, and despite baking mid-summer heat the three-zone climate-control system kept us all (adjustably) cool.

Driver ergonomics are top-notch, readouts from the 3.5-inch data screen in the instrument cluster include a digital speedo, which is helpful in the speed camera age, the sound system cranks, and extenders on the sunvisors to lengthen their coverage when swung over to the side windows proved super handy. 

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

7 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

The Carnival received a maximum five-star ANCAP score when it was assessed in early 2016, and the SLi active safety suite includes ABS, EBD, BA, ESC, traction control, lane departure warning, AEB (with forward collision warning), front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera (with dynamic guidelines), auto headlights, and adaptive cruise control.

Not bad at all but bear in mind for an extra $7800 (which also buys you a bunch of extra luxury fruit) the top-shelf Platinum spec adds LED headlights, high-beam assist, blind-spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and a 360-degree camera. 

For all model grades the airbag count runs to six (driver and front passenger, front side, and full-length curtain), and there are top tethers for baby capsules/child seats on the two outer positions in the second and third rows (so, four in total).

There are also ISOFIX location anchors in the two outer second-row seats, and the driver’s side position in the third row, the latter’s less than convenient (non-kerbside) placement a likely hangover from the car’s left-hand-drive origins (it’s sold as the Sedona in the USA).

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   9/10

Kia leads the mainstream market with a seven-year/unlimited km warranty (Tesla’s at eight years/160,000km), including 12 months complimentary roadside assist, the latter extending up to eight years if the car is serviced annually at an authorised Kia dealer.

Scheduled maintenance for the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel is required every 12 months or 15,000km. Although the dollars vary across individual milestones, Kia's capped-price servicing schedule limits total cost to $3657 for the first seven services; the average figure being $522. An initial three-month service is free.

Verdict

The Kia Carnival SLi Diesel delivers comfortable and relaxed family transport, handling the rigors of the Cleary family’s Griswold holiday tribute without raising a single bead of perspiration. It’s hugely practical, well equipped, surprisingly economical and backed by a market-leading warranty package.

If you take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror, and see a large family crowding in behind you, it could be the high-capacity hauler you really need.  

Could the Kia Carnival change your mind on a people-mover purchase? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Pricing Guides

$52,640
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$42,490
Highest Price
$62,790

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Platinum 2.2L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $62,790 2019 Kia Carnival 2019 Platinum Pricing and Specs
S 2.2L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $44,990 2019 Kia Carnival 2019 S Pricing and Specs
Si 3.3L, ULP, 8 SP AUTO $47,990 2019 Kia Carnival 2019 Si Pricing and Specs
Sli 3.3L, ULP, 8 SP AUTO $52,490 2019 Kia Carnival 2019 Sli Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8.4
Design8
Practicality10
Price and features8
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption9
Driving7
Safety8
Ownership9
James Cleary
Deputy Editor

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Pricing Guide

$54,990

Lowest price, based on new car retail price

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