[This article was first published on topgear.com.sg]
Singapore - Ground Control was certainly keeping very busy, with every (Major) Tom, Dick and Harry remotely connected to the 2021 COTY asking after the presence of the Kia Carnival in the line-up.
Our Singapore-Style Cars of the Year is a celebration of the exceptional in any given year and isn’t intended to be an award solely for expensive sportscars – if only things were that easy.
This means everything is potentially fair game, which is why we keep saying, if we think a car has made it, it’s included in our list of Star Cars, if not, well…
Honesty and authenticity are important elements in cars, which is why we prefer to call a spade a spade.
Maybe we’re missing the point, but we don’t quite ‘get’ the folks who absolutely need a MPV to be sporty to drive or even worse, not look like one.
Ultimately, if you can (and we think there are many of our readers who can), it’s always better to have several cars for different needs, as opposed to trying to make one car fulfill all your needs… because it’ll end up not doing any of them well.
After all, when you’re talking MPVs (or Grand Utility Vehicle in the case of the Kia Carnival), you want maximum utility and versatility and the best way of achieving this is with the traditional box shape design.
You’re not as concerned with drag efficiency as you are with the efficiency of loading/unloading people and barang-barang.
The Kia Carnival is decidedly unapologetic about its MPV status and it makes no bones about it. It isn’t just bare-bones function without the fun either, because as you’ll see, it’s feature-laden with all the latest in-car mod-cons to keep the occupants, erm, occupied, especially when it’s fully-laden.
Now in its fourth generation, the big Kia’s design is bold and almost brutalist in execution, with the Ceramic Silver of our test-car practically the colour of concrete, which helps reinforce this impression.
In spite of its utilitarian function, the Carnival certainly isn’t designed to be anonymous.
As most other modern MPVs/SUVs have evolved into differing degrees of crossovers, there’s no mistaking the stark, sharply-defined silhouette of the Carnival as it traverses our roads.
Kia’s prominent ‘tiger-nose’ front design with LED DRL headlamps integrated into its powerful grille - very apt for the Year of the Tiger – and a full-width rear light-bar help create a road presence for the Carnival that is unmistakable.
It has two qualities we feel are essential for MPVs: sliding doors and a torquey, turbodiesel engine.
Sliding doors are underrated and a real boon when you’re loading/unloading, tight confines or not, because you no longer have to manoeuvre items or contort yourself around the protrusions of conventionally opening doors.
Even better if they feature one-touch open/close operation, as they do in the Carnival.
Turbodiesels of late have taken a backseat to hybrids and EVs and aren’t popular politically or to the trendy, eco-evangelist crowd.
However, this author reckons it’s hard to beat the real-world long-range between fill-ups and low- to mid-range wallop of modern turbodiesel engines, especially for vehicles that see huge mileage like the Carnival.
The 2.2-litre Smartstream turbodiesel engine produces 202hp and more importantly, 440Nm of torque.
We won’t bother going into 0-100km/h timing and top speed, because those are pretty irrelevant for the Carnival’s intended function. However, the 10.7secs century sprint timing from standstill isn’t exactly slow (sorry, we still had to!).
What is important for day-to-day commutes and grocery runs in start-stop traffic is when the fat wedge of torque comes in.
In the case of the Carnival, it hits hard from between 1750rpm to 2750rpm, the perfect window to exploit when you’re fighting your way through the cut-thrust of CBD/school-run traffic.
Once the Carnival hits its cruising sweet-spot, progress is brisk and fuss-free, with the ratios of the softly-slurred 8spd automatic perfectly suited to leisurely performance.
In particular, we like how the wafty-worthy level of torque makes light work of the Carnivals 5155x1995x1775mm dimensions – in a sense, it drives like a much smaller car.
The amount of space inside the 3090mm wheelbase Carnival boggles belief.
In the eight-seater variant, the second-/third-row seats can be tumbled, flipped and rotated every which way to maximise passenger comfort and convenience, or simply to expand load-lugging capacity from 627-litres (with all three rows up) to a cavernous 2827-litres (with the second and third rows tucked away).
Passengers in our seven-seat test-car enjoy plushly padded second-row reclining captain seats that are ventilated and feature adjustable arm-, back- and leg-rests.
Some folks like to look at hardware and fancy features as indicators of ‘luxury’ or ‘premium-ness’, but we prefer to look at the less tangible qualities, which include on-board comfort and more importantly, ride quality.
There’s a poshness to the proceedings that can be felt in the small things, in particular the suspension damping.
The Carnival proves pliant and perfectly composed over the gnarliest surfaces, which is a pleasant surprise that demonstrates the brand’s maturity, especially given such refinement typically comes only with time.
In addition to the entertainment goodness that is operated via the 12.3-inch centre touchscreen, there’s an array of intelligent active/passive safety features that ‘take care’ of the passengers, be it children, friends or colleagues.
Most pertinent is the brand’s Safe Exist Assist, which stops the sliding doors from opening if the system detects a car approaching from behind.
The Carnival is a fine example of how far Kia has come – it’s really made the grade in terms of both hardware and software – in creating a credible competitor to the established brands’ MPV offerings, some of whom might even be seen to be sitting on their hands.
So no, there’s certainly nothing odd at all about Kia edging ahead in the space race...
Book a test drive to experience the Kia Carnival now!