James Cleary road tests and reviews the Kia Carnival Si diesel with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

When we started having kids I told my wife that the day I suggested we buy a people mover should be the day she starts secretly slipping cyanide into my Corn Flakes, because nothing screams 'I've lost the rock' like a practical family bus.

It's a notorious gateway purchase, with acquisition of a snazzy polyester cardigan, elastic-top walk socks and daggy sandals almost sure to follow.

But as a famous Nobel laureate once sang, the times they are a-changin', and Kia's current generation Carnival has played a big part in generating a significantly slicker image for the humble, multi-seat, box on wheels.

When it arrived in early 2015, the current Carnival pushed things even further along and continues to dominate the people mover category.

You might argue Honda kicked things off in the early noughties when the local launch of its lower and sleeker, third-generation Odyssey featured a TV spot where a baby-sitting grandma springs the couple she's been subbing for, in the front seats, in the early throes of making more babies (sex sells, apparently).

However, when it arrived in early 2015, the current Carnival pushed things even further along and continues to dominate the people mover category, holding a 40 per cent share against more than a dozen competitors, including the Odyssey, Hyundai's more traditional, commercial van-based iMAX, Toyota's evergreen Tarago and the VW Multivan.

But before you start thinking of this car as an automotive colossus, standing astride the Australian car market, it's worth noting people movers account for just one percent of total new vehicle sales. The preferred family conveyance is overwhelmingly of the SUV variety.

The Carnival is offered in four grades - S, Si, SLi and Platinum – each with a choice of 3.3-litre naturally aspirated V6 petrol or 2.2-litre four cylinder turbo-diesel power. A six-speed auto transmission (geared specifically for each engine) is standard across the range.

This time around we've hauled in a diesel-powered Si to evaluate its eight seat capacity, ease of use and overall manners in the city and suburban grind.

Design

Typically, to ascend to the top of a large car corporation you need a background in product planning, finance or marketing. Occasionally, an outlier from service and parts or manufacturing ends up in the corner office, but design never gets a look in.

Enter Peter Schreyer, a sharp-suited, formally trained German designer in oversize black glasses whose product CV includes game-changing vehicles like the Volkswagen 'New' Beetle and original Audi TT.

In 2006, in a move that raised eyebrows across the automotive world, Schreyer jumped ship from the VW Group to join Kia as chief design officer, and he immediately began transforming the look of what was a virtually anonymous brand.

His work has been so influential (not least on the company's bottom line) that Schreyer's job title now reads president and chief design officer, and for the last four years he's also led design direction for sister brand Hyundai.

Inside, form quite rightly starts to give way to function, but that doesn't mean the cabin is plain or drab.

Over the last decade a distinct Kia personality has been built around his signature 'tabbed' grille, applied in one form or another to every model in the range, along with an attention to design detail that's lifted Kia to a new level of quality and desirability.

Surely though, one of the biggest design challenges (literally) must be applying a sophisticated styling theme, based on "the simplicity of the straight line", to a hulking eight seater measuring 5.1m long, 2.0m wide and 1.75m high.

The Carnival proves it can be done, because the current car's confident corporate face and simple, composed lines make the pre-2015 version look like an amorphous blob.

Somehow, even though the wheels are a relatively modest 17-inch diameter, they fill the wheelarches and balance perfectly with large expanses of neatly sculpted sheetmetal and carefully shaped glass.

The result, proving the Schreyer factor is huge, is a tight, attractive exterior and a supremely confident stance.

Inside, form quite rightly starts to give way to function, but that doesn't mean the cabin is plain or drab.

The interior colour palette on our test example included mid-grey soft-touch material on the dash surround and door tops, as well as liberal application of piano black elements around the instruments and large centre console, adding a dash of flash to a clean and relatively conservative cockpit design.

We think what Kia calls 'grey' cloth trim looks suspiciously like beige, with many square metres of it used to upholster eight seats in a two-three-three formation.

Practicality

As the name implies, people movers are for getting a larger than usual number of bodies, as well as all the 'stuff' they bring with them, from A to B as safely and comfortably as possible.

Choosing one over an SUV means you know in you heart of hearts the family adventure to Kakadu is never going to happen, and the reality is you're better off buying something with side-sliding doors and decent, adult-size room for all seating positions, not just the front five.

In meeting the people mover brief Kia has duly endowed the Carnival with heaps of space for eight people and lots of storage for their things.

The combination of vast door apertures and a 'stand-up' tilting mechanism for the outer seats in the second row means passenger access for any position in the rear of the Carnival is a breeze.

Head, leg and shoulder room is perfectly acceptable for eight grown-ups, while our three kids just enjoyed swapping seats and playing with the gizmos in what, to them, felt like a Greyhound touring coach.

Not surprisingly, cargo capacity is impressive.

The cupholder count runs to 10 (two in the front, four in the centre, and four at the back), with bottle bins and map holders in all doors, lots of storage in console bins and seat back pockets, plus coat and bag hooks, as well as luggage net locating points in the cargo floor.

Other thoughtful touches include a second 'cooling glovebox', three USB charging ports, and the same number of 12-volt outlets. There are lights and air-con vents in the ceiling for the rear rows, with individual temp and fan speed control.

According to Kia the cloth trim is 'YES Essentials' stain resistant material, claimed to "repel liquids which can be easily wiped away and release stains more easily than traditional seating fabric when scrubbed gently with soap and water." Somewhat ironic given a sizeable blemish of unknown origin adorned the front passenger seat of our Si when we collected it.

Unsightly blotches notwithstanding, the middle row seat splits 40/20/40, with the centre place easily removed with the pull of a single handle, while the third row is split 60/40.

Not surprisingly, cargo capacity is impressive. Even with all seats in position the Carnival offers 960 litres of luggage space, thanks largely to a deep well in the rear floor, which accepts the third row seats when folded flat via a clever 'sinking' design. Only snag is they take a bit of oomph to release and pack flat. For reference a Holden Commodore's boot volume is 495 litres.

With the third row down you still have seating for five and 2220 litres of cargo capacity. Remove the centre position in the second row and fold the remaining two seats forward, and you're looking at no less than 4022 litres. Tennis anyone?

Price and features

Carnival pricing covers a close to $20k spread from $41,490 for the S petrol, to $60,790 for the Platinum diesel (with second row heated seat).

At $47,990 our Si diesel boasts a healthy level of standard equipment including, tri-zone climate control air conditioning, cruise control, sat nav with SUNA traffic info, an 8.0-inch colour multimedia screen, six-speaker audio with MP3 compatible CD/DVD tuner and equaliser, six-way electric driver's seat, rear privacy glass, rear view camera, heated auto-fold exterior mirrors, HID headlights with auto high beam function, front fog lights, roof rails, and alloy wheels.

Engine and transmission

The single overhead cam 2.2 CRDI (common rail direct injection) turbo-diesel engine produces 147kW at a relatively high 3800rpm, although torque peaks at a grunty 440Nm across a broad (and useful around town) plateau from 1750-2750rpm.

It features a diesel oxidation catalyst to minimise emissions (199g/km on the combined cycle) and Kia claims NVH is improved courtesy of acoustic covers for the engine block, diesel particulate-filter and drive chain case, as well as rubber coating on the cam drive sprocket.

The seating position is comfortably car-like with little of the mini-bus feel that plagues some of the Kia's commercially-derived competitors.

The six-speed automatic transmission drives the front wheels only, and contains a slightly different gear set to the six-speeder in the petrol version. First and third gears, as well as the final drive ratio are slightly lower to improve acceleration from rest and optimise the mid-range torque sweet spot.

Driving

First impressions from behind the wheel centre on how wide the Carnival feels. Even sliding nose first into an open parking spot, with plenty of room either end, feels like docking a medium size cruiser at the top of the marina. Best to take it easy and make sure you're aware of your craft's extremities.

The seating position is comfortably car-like with little of the mini-bus feel that plagues some of the Kia's commercially-derived competitors. The electrically-adjustable driver's seat is supportive and the dash layout is ergonomically excellent, ticking important boxes like digital speedo, steering wheel controls for audio, phone, cruise and trip computer, plus simple switch gear and clear instruments, thanks in part to an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display.

Despite a hint of diesel droniness, throttle response is pleasingly prompt and progressive, and the engine's broad spread of torque makes urban cruising a pleasure. Travelling at 60km/h and easing into an uphill 80 zone the Carnival responds to a gentle squeeze of the throttle, with smooth, effortless acceleration.

Claimed combined cycle fuel economy is 7.7L/100km, and over our city and suburban test we averaged 10.4L/100km with the trip computer.

Overall, the Carnival delivers an impressive combination of ride comfort and buttoned-down body control.

Kia claims a 74 per cent increase in torsional rigidity for the body shell, while masses of soundproofing around the wheel arches, engine bay and under the floor also help improve noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) performance.

The MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension set up has been tuned for local conditions and incorporates a hydraulic rebound spring on the front axle and stiffer suspension bars and cross-member bush mountings on the rear to improve bump absorption and suspension rebound rates.

Braking is by discs all round (ventilated front) and stopping power is reassuringly firm and progressive. But if you happen to be a left-foot braker, the Carnival goes into momentary paralysis if pressure (no matter how light) is applied to the accelerator and brake pedals at the same time. Reminiscent of early generation VW DSG's and some other dual-clutch 'boxes. Unnerving.
  
Overall, the Carnival delivers an impressive combination of ride comfort and buttoned-down body control. But we're not in sports car territory here. For example, road feel from the hydraulically-assisted steering is so-so at best and the 235/65 x 17 Kumho Crugen rubber is understandably more about cruising than carving.

So, not a finely honed blade for dissecting your favourite backroad; rather an enjoyable mix of refinement and dynamic competence.

Safety

As mentioned earlier, safety is a key plank underpinning the core purpose of any people mover and while some systems like blind spot detection, lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert are reserved for the top-spec Platinum model, the Carnival Si doesn't skimp on active and passive safety tech.

Standard active safety features include Electronic Stability Control, incorporating ABS, TCS, Hill Start Assist, Brake Assist, Cornering Brake Control and Roll Over Mitigation. Also particularly important when operating in a kid-rich environment is a standard rear view camera and rear parking sensors. And if you can't avoid contact there are six airbags in total (driver and front passenger, front side and full-length curtains).

The car stepped up to a maximum five star ANCAP rating in early 2016.

Child restraint anchorage points number four top tethers and three ISOFIX locations.

When the current Carnival launched in 2015 it rated four from a potential five ANCAP stars due to the absence of second row seatbelt reminders, and an unsatisfactory frontal offset crash test result.

The car stepped up to a maximum five star ANCAP rating in early 2016 when the seatbelt reminder function was installed and the front footwell and firewall were reengineered with revised bracketing for greater strength (significantly improving the front crash test outcome).

Ownership

Kia offers a seven-year/unlimited km warranty, with scheduled maintenance required every 15,000km or 12 months. Although the dollars vary across individual milestones, Kia's capped-price servicing schedule limits total cost to $3,672 for the first seven services; the average figure being $524.