[This article was first published on businesstimes.com.sg]
Kia's new Carnival embodies the appeal of a family bus in a very big way.
The Kia Carnival is longer and wider than a Range Rover, and has just as much presence on the road. What really fascinates about the Carnival is how there seem to be a hundred and one things to discover about the interior.
CARNIVALS are fun, but big, boxy cars are anything but. That makes this one something of a head-scratcher. As a giant multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) with up to eight seats, the Kia Carnival ought to bore the kilt off a Scotsman, yet it's a strangely intriguing car.
Kia calls the Carnival a GUV, or "grand utility vehicle", probably to mollify anyone who can't stand the prospect of MPV ownership. That includes me; I would sooner have a tree topple onto my groin than have to drive a family bus. But if it looks like an MPV, walks like an MPV and quacks like an MPV … you know the rest. Whatever you want to call it, the Kia Carnival is a big box on wheels.
Mind you, saying it's big is a bit like saying the ocean is slightly moist. At 5,155mm nose to tail, the Carnival is the kind of car that will probably show up on Airbnb listings soon. It's longer and wider than a Range Rover, and has just as much presence on the road. As for people who drive other MPVs, the Carnival is liable to give them bouts of serious size envy.
But like that guy who plays The Mountain on Game Of Thrones, the Carnival wears its size well. From some angles, it does look like a shiny, toppled cabinet, but it's otherwise pretty striking. The way the headlamps blend into the front grille, the mean black wheels, the textured silver blades just behind the rear doors, the thin light strip that stretches across the rear … the details add up to an MPV that you don't feel you can only be seen driving with a paper bag over your head.
But what really fascinates about the Carnival is how there seem to be a hundred and one things to discover about the interior. Apart from virtual instruments, the front of the cabin has just about every modern convenience known to the car world.
From electric this to digital that, listing the Kia's features would be a waste of precious column inches, but the highlights worth mentioning are the 12.3-inch touchscreen (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto enabled, of course), which is mounted good and high and a doddle to use, and the large number of storage places for odd and ends.
The dashboard looks modern and doesn't feel cheap, all the controls fall within reach nicely, and there are still enough physical buttons so that you can operate the air-con without a computer science degree.
But the back is where the fun stuff lives. The more expensive seven-seat version, as tested here, has two individual chairs in the middle row that slide, recline and tilt back, with footrests that glide into action electrically. Built-in ventilation, and the fact that the seats can slide backwards a good 32cm, mean the Carnival's middle row could well offer the best way to travel overland, this side of a Bentley. If they had been massage chairs as well, they would still be trying to pry me from the test car with sturdy poles.
As for the rearmost seats, they're decently comfy for two, but if you want to cram three people back there, they had best be on the lissom side.
Family men (the poor sods) might find the eight-seat version more compelling. While the seven-seater is dedicated to comfort, the eight-seater is more about cosiness, and is S$6,000 cheaper.
You can turn the middle row chairs around so everyone behind the driver can face each other, as if in a living room. Kia suggests keeping an eye on your kids this way, although if your offspring can't be let out of your sight for the length of a car journey, you're probably lousing up the whole parenting business.
Yet, little touches like these are what's nicest about the Carnival. There are USB ports in surprising places, the sliding doors could let a buffalo through, the chairs are easy to configure, and the cabin just feels well thought-out and hospitable.
Then there's the sheer practicality of the thing. Despite all that room for passengers the boot is properly cavernous, going from 637 to 2,905 litres depending on how many chairs you need.
For all its size, from behind the wheel the Carnival manages to avoid feeling like a motorised pachyderm. It is a hassle to handle in multi-storey carparks, where you will never be more grateful for parking cameras, but otherwise it gallops around with a certain twinkletoed lightness.
The diesel engine plays a huge part in that, flexing its muscles without needing to rev much and moving the bulky Carnival without strain, at least at city speeds. The downside is that it clatters crudely, growling when asked to deliver the goods. And if you're sensitive you can feel it vibrate through the floor sometimes, but only in a Princess and The Pea sort of way.
If the engine could do with better manners, the transmission is impeccably smooth. In fact, it feels slicker than most, and does its job as if lubricated by Echire butter.
About the best thing that can be said about the Carnival as a driving experience is that it isn't horrible, which is high praise for an enormous MPV. The steering is geared gently so the arms must twirl sometimes, but you sit high up so it's easy to see out, and there are lane-keep and autonomous braking systems to help keep the thing in check.
You can never quite shake the sense that you're piloting something huge, but then that merely reinforces the feeling that you're getting an enormous amount of car for the money. That's despite the hefty price tag; the Carnival cracks two hundred grand, but it packs in so much comfort and size, and so many features, that if you switch into it from whatever MPV you're driving now, it will probably feel like an upgrade.
That holds just as true if you have a seven-seat Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) or crossover, which is just never going to feel as capacious as this inside, while very likely being no more agile.
While sizeable SUVs have stolen the hearts of buyers who want seven seats in a car, the Kia is a reminder that proper family buses have their place in the market when executed well. The seven-seat crossover may make MPVs seem irrelevant, but the Carnival makes big SUVs look inferior.
[Source article: The Business Times] © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction. Published 21 May 2021.