People movers are not just vans anymore. These days they’re less box-on-wheels and completely decked out with all the fancy equipment to make them as comfortable as possible.
If you’ve got more than five children, you’ll probably need a people carrier like one of these. And if you’re always moving large, bulky items that’s another good reason to get one. But which is the best?
Today we’ve got a people mover comparison lining up two stand-outs, the top-of-the-range Kia Carnival Platinum, costing $64,680, before on-road costs and extras, and the Volkswagen Multivan Comfortline Premium, which is second from the bottom of the range and costs $61,990, before on road costs and extras.
The Carnival seats eight people while the Multivanseats seven, they’re both technically 'vans', and are huge inside. But which is the best people mover to suit your needs? Let’s get into it so you can decide!
Firstly, how do the two compare on design and style? This is possibly the biggest difference, because the Kia Carnival is slowly edging into SUV territory while the Volkswagen Multivan remains true to its roots and staunchly a proud van shape.
The Carnival has black wheels, a new grille, and a brand new look, with a longer nose and wider body. There are black tinted windows with a textured silver plate on either side and the whole effect is that of a much flashier car.
The Carnival has black wheels, a new grille, and a brand new look (image: Dean McCartney).
Inside has stepped up and it feels like you’re in a proper SUV. Compared with other people movers that tend to look like a utilities van, this is next level.
It’s got synthetic leather seats (I couldn’t tell the difference between these and the real thing) and a 'premium' steering wheel, and it still feels good.
The seats are comfortable on a long drive. Sometimes I get an achy hip if I drive long distances but the Carnival's 12-way power adjustable driver’s seat had me fully supported.
The inside of the Carnival feels like you’re in a proper SUV (image: Dean McCartney).
The centre console is well designed, especially if you compare it with more van-like people movers, some of which don’t even have a centre console.
This makes you feel like you’re in a car rather than a van and is more in line with Hyundai’s new eight-seat PalisadeSUV.
If you want something that reminds you of an old-school van, you’ll want to check out the Multivan. It stays true to its Kombi roots with the very rectangular shape and high wheel arches.
If you want something that reminds you of an old-school van, you’ll want to check out the Multivan (image: Dean McCartney).
And this colour! It’s like the Mystery Machine! It’s called 'Bayleaf' in case you’re into it.
How about the interior? Again, sticking to its van history, there’s no centre console, rather a large open space between the passenger and driver’s seat which makes it feel less premium for me, especially when compared to the Carnival.
That aside, the rest of the features are good on their own. There are fabric seats in this lower rung model, which are comfortable and smooth.
There are a high gloss and brushed metallic accents peppered throughout the cabin in the Multivan (image: Dean McCartney).
The steering wheel is big but has a flat-ish bottom which makes it feel good. There are high-gloss and brushed metallic accents peppered here and there, so it does feel well designed.
So, as far as looks go, if you like the retro coolness of the Multivan that’s going to be the one for you, but the Carnival wins with a fresh, modern shape that’s less like a van, and a plusher interior that makes it feel like a proper car.
The main reason people are looking for people movers and vans is space, so let’s open up both and see how big they are on the inside.
I have two children, so a van is hardly necessary. But still, the space in here! It feels very luxurious and I tested it on a weekend that we were going away with another family so it did all get used.
The space in the front is positively breezy, and the kids are beyond excited to climb up into their spots in the middle row.
Everyone has plenty of room in the Carnival (image: Dean McCartney).
Everyone has plenty of room, even with legs stretched out, and the driver’s seat moved into my taller husband’s driving position.
I can easily fit into the second row also, there is loads of legroom and head space isn’t an issue at all.
Taller adults and teenagers will be comfortable. Given the rectangular shape, that space continues into the back row, though there is less legroom.
If driving adults and children around, the kids are always happy to go in the back seat and the adults sit in the middle row for optimal comfort.
With all three rows in use the Carnival has 1139L of boot space (image: Dean McCartney).
The boot is deep, and you can stack loads of things on top of each other. With all three rows in use the Carnival has 1139L of space - which is already huge - and with the third row down there’s a massive 2461L.
This is an improvement on the last model and I could fit everything two families needed for a long weekend away.
Into the Volkswagen Multivan and space is huge in the front. It does feel like you’re driving around in a small room on wheels.
The Multivan feels like you’re driving around in a small room on wheels (image: Dean McCartney).
VW's done away with the bench seat on both rows, and instead have two lounge seats in the centre. It makes it feel very spacious and quite luxurious in the middle row but means it seats seven people, not eight like the Carnival.
The boot space is customisable, so it can be smaller when the third row is pushed all the way back, and larger when the third row is more forward.
The boot space is in the Multivan is customisable (image: Dean McCartney).
There’s a lot of space so play with it as you see fit. It will fit loads - double prams (yes, plural, depending on how you use the space), suitcases and more.
There’s also a long-wheelbase version which makes it even roomier inside for people and things.
So, while the Kia Carnival seats eight and is very spacious and comfortable, the Volkswagen Multivan has even more room to use as a passenger vehicle, and if you’re looking to transport things around.
It’s positively enormous inside and wins this category, even though it does only have seven sets of seat belts.
In the Carnival and it looks quite high tech, with a large 12.3-inch multimedia screen that connects to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto via the USB cord (this one worked seamlessly which I've found isn't always the case).
Carnival features a large 12.3-inch multimedia screen that connects to Apple CarPlay and Android (image: Dean McCartney).
I listened to music via Spotify and navigated with the maps app. You can also connect two phones via Bluetooth if you like, and there are seven USB ports throughout the car.
For the Multivan, the screen is smaller at 8.0 inches, and you can upsize to the 9.0-inch screen if you want to (I would!).
The Multivan is available with either an 8.0 or 9.0-inch multimedia screen (image: Dean McCartney).
All Multivans have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which give you instant access to your phone’s main apps. Besides that, the interface has decent resolution and a digital radio, but it doesn’t feel as modern as the Carnival and I think this makes a big difference when you’re using it as a family car.
It’s the driving that steals the show in the Carnival Platinum. It feels much more like an SUV with a very smooth drive and a powerful engine.
This one is the petrol version which has a 3.5L six-cylinder engine. There is a diesel option on offer for an extra two grand if you prefer.
It was so great to drive on the open road, there’s no shaking, and no 'loose' feeling. It has loads of power to overtake and feels more solid than people movers have in the past for me on highways.
It handles well around corners, the steering is easy to turn and it’s not too heavy on take-off either. I really enjoyed driving it for three hours, there and back to our weekend away.
Fuel consumption is a claimed 9.6L/100km and I averaged 8.0L/100km, but that was mostly highway driving.
Parking is not too bad in the Carnival either, given the size. It is extra long and it can stick out a little in car parks, just so you’re aware.
The easy steering makes it doable to squeeze into parks and there is a great reverse parking camera and 360-degree top view to help you out.
Driving in the Multivan feels like a bouncy, fun old time! It has a loud 2.0L diesel engine which makes it feel a bit like a commercial vehicle. But it gets up hills fine and was great to drive around on my week doing the school run and going to after-school activities.
While it’s not what I would call smooth, it does feel much more nimble than you’d expect because it has a short nose.
You’re seated right at the front of the vehicle, so when you turn it turns immediately from where you are. That actually makes it easier to drive than you think it’s going to be.
This tested Multivan features FWD and there’s an AWD option for an extra $3000 if that’s what you’re after. I'd always prefer the AWD version, it’s just worth it to feel confident on unstable road surfaces.
The steering wheel is easy to turn which also makes parking relatively good. It’s a wide, long car which you need to account for, but it has a decent reverse parking camera to help out.
The Carnival scores more points in the driving section, purely because it feels like a very smooth drive and handles more like an SUV than a van. While the Multivan still has that bouncy van feeling, even though it is a lot easier to drive than you think it’s going to be.
Firstly, the doors to the Carnival open with a button on the car which my kids think is ace (they get very excited when I bring a van home).
There is a step to climb in, which we found necessary as it’s high off the ground. The front seats are power adjustable and there is keyless entry.
There is a step to climb into the Carnival, which we found necessary as it’s high off the ground (image: Dean McCartney).
The second row slides forward and backward to make more room for the third row if necessary, and the third row tucks flat for more boot space.
For storage, there are 10 cupholders throughout the car, with two in the front, two in the centre and four in the back. It boasts bottle holders in the doors and a cooling glove box to keep drinks chilled.
The second row slides forward and backward to make more room for the third row if necessary (image: Dean McCartney).
Air vents are spread throughout the car with middle and back rows not missing out.
Into the Multivan and it has very customisable interior seats. The second row 'lounge chairs' can swivel to face the back.
They can move forward and back, and the third row can also move forward and back so you can give more space to the third row or the boot, depending on where you need it.
And I know I said earlier I didn’t like the look of the empty space between driver and passenger seat, but it is useful.
The Multivan has very customisable interior seats (image: Dean McCartney).
As my daughter said when she walked from the back row to the front row (when parked, of course), “Look mummy! It’s got a hallway!”
Yes, small people can wander around upright in the Multivan and they love it.
VW's made clever use of the dash for storage as there is no centre console. You’ll find a storage spot on the passenger side on top of the dash, one in the middle and one for the driver on the right.
There is also generous storage in the front doors with a bottle holder, plus a shelf in each door that’s handy for keys and a phone. The passenger gets two shallow shelves in front on the dash and the driver gets two shallow trays on top of the dash.
Strangely, there are no cupholders in the back seats at all, and no storage in doors which is a miss for families.
The side doors are power operated, which again my kids are obsessed with and means you don’t have to do a big swing to shut them like in ye olden days.
But the non-power operated tailgate in this base model is heavy. You’ll also have to leave room behind the car so you can open it, no parking against walls if you want to get the groceries in.
The Carnival scores more points here, mainly because it’s the top-of-the-range and has more automation, but also more storage for families throughout the car.
You’ll get ISOFIX points on five seats and top tether points on five seats, which is an improvement over the last model. Plus airbags for driver and front passenger and side curtain airbags for all three rows.
It scored a maximum five ANCAP stars when it was tested in 2021.
How safe is the Multivan Comfortline Premium? Well, the Multivan has city auto emergency braking, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
There are airbags including side curtain airbags that extend to the back row, and all five back seats have ISOFIX points and top tether points so you can travel with kids safely.
So there you have it! Two great people movers, both similar prices, but very different cars. Which is the best family van? While the latest version of the Multivan has certainly come a long way from previous versions in areas of safety and driving, it has still kept it’s van-like history and retro cool very much front and centre to its offering.
The Kia Carnival is edging so much away from a van toward an SUV without losing its core people mover values, it’s hard to go past the comfortable, stylish interior, smooth driving and better handling while driving, particularly for a family. And that’s why it’s our winner today in the battle of the family people movers.
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