2021 Kia Carnival review: Australian first drive

8 Jan 2021

[This article was first published on caradvice.com.au. Vehicle specifications may vary by market.]

Thinking about buying a large SUV for your growing family, with no plans of going off-road? Don't. Buy this instead.

I’ll admit it: I used to laugh at Kia Carnivals many years ago, before I had anything to do with them. “They’re not as cool as a four-wheel drive or SUV, what a big boring car with no redeeming qualities”, I used to think.

Boy, oh boy. How wrong I was.

I’ve since found out it’s impossible to dislike a car, when it happens to be very good at its core role. And the new 2021 Kia Carnival people mover is exactly that.

This ain't no muscular, swooping, coupe-SUV-off-road-shooting-brake-family-sportscar, like so many segment-blurring models that are currently crowding showrooms. The Kia Carnival is a god-damned, unabashed people mover. And it’s all the better for it.

It wasn’t that long ago that Kia’s previous generation Carnival impressed me greatly, even in its cheapest and most basic form. And now that Kia has an all-new Carnival, CarAdvice has been behind the wheel of a top-specification Platinum for review.

With a drive-away price of $69,990, the Platinum represents a price hike of 33 per cent over the base specification diesel (which starts from $52,390).

And for those wondering, the list price represents a $3190 price rise over the previous generation diesel-powered Carnival, while petrol models have gone up by $3690.

Good news across the range is that Kia hasn't skimped on important safety features - autonomous emergency braking and many other features are standard across the range. While S makes do with manual cloth seats, 8-inch infotainment and manual air conditioning, it's the cheapest of the bunch at $50,390 drive-away (petrol).

Opting for Si specification brings 18-inch alloy wheels and a 12.3-inch infotainment system, amongst other things. Pricing for Si starts at $55,790 drive-away.

Next up is SLi, starting at $60,290 drive-away. Big changes here includes synthetic leather trim, push-button start, power doors and electric seat adjustment. Once again there are more changes, but I won't bore you with them here. I've got enough to get through as it is.

For the full rundown on 2021 Kia Carnival pricing and specs, check out this story here.

For 2021, opting for diesel power brings a $2000 price increase across the range.

Let’s cover off some dimensions: Sharing the same new platform as Kia’s new and impressive Sorento, the new Carnival gains 30mm in wheelbase over the third generation (now 3090mm), but has retained the same overall length of 5115mm.

It’s 10mm wider and 20mm taller as well, at 1995mm and 1775mm respectively.

The look has changed dramatically also, leaving the previous generation appearing a little bloated and lethargic in comparison.

This new model is much more chiselled, although it’s impossible to hide the outright size: its long roof, slab sides and flat boot all point towards the fact that priorities of interior space, practicality and versatility were more important than a sleek silhouette.

The new generation Carnival has dropped a few kilograms, as well, with 61kgs going missing in comparison to an old diesel Platinum model. 19.5 of those kilograms come from under the bonnet, where an alloy engine block replaces iron.

Safety is improved, with Autonomous Emergency braking (covering pedestrians, cyclists and intersections), blind spot warning and collision warning, smart (adaptive) cruise control, driver attention warning, high beam assist, rear cross traffic alert and reverse braking, multi-collision braking and safe exit assist. Let's call that thorough, then.

The Carnival is yet to be ANCAP tested, but we're told that it's in the works and isn't too far away. Even though there isn't a centre airbag between the front seats, there's a chance that the Carnival will achieve a five-star rating.

While a centre airbag is not a specific requirement, a number of car makers have deemed them necessary to achieve a five-star result, in the wake of more stringent criteria.

However, the Land Rover Defender 110 managed to achieve a five-star score without a centre airbag, possibly due to its extra width inside the cabin. This result could bode well for the Kia Carnival, however we won't know until the umpire tests the vehicle.

This engine, sticking with the 2.2 litres of swept capacity, has similar outputs as well: 148kW at 3800rpm and 440Nm at 1750~2750rpm.

Kia says the diesel will account for roughly 80 per cent of sales, while a minority will prefer the updated 3.5-litre petrol V6, which has 216kW at 6400rpm and 355Nm at 5000rpm, at its disposal.

Both run through an eight-speed automatic transmission, with a torque converter coupling instead of the Sorento’s new dual-clutch, and powering the front wheels only. Once again, the Carnivals’s big van-shaped interior was not going to be encroached upon by all-wheel drive hardware.

Why no dual-clutch, like the Sorento? That's a bit of a European flavour favourite, with slight improvements to efficiency and sharper shifting characteristics. While the Carnival is directed more toward a broader global market (including America), where torque converters still find favouritism.

And of course, this new platform promises to make the Carnival more rigid, stronger, safer, lighter and better overall than the previous generation. That’s all well and good, but how does the Carnival drive and ride as an end-product?

In a word, great. Kia thankfully hasn’t gone down the path of adding a sporty dimension to the Carnival’s riding nature, which often comes at the expense of comfort. With the 19-inch wheels fitted to our Platinum specification, the Carnival had the ability to soak up bigger bumps and high frequency imperfections well, without transmitting everything into the cabin (and therefore the occupants).

Body control is in good supply, leaving the Carnival feeling not exactly dainty, but far from unwieldy. Overall, the ride is a great balance that well suits the Carnival’s application. The turning circle - 11.7 metres - is good for the size of the vehicle, but the long wheelbase means you'll need to get used to navigating tighter corners.

There is only one suspension tune available across the range, so lower-specced Carnivals with smaller 17- or 18-inch wheel diameter, depending on the variant, might yield some additional wafting comfort around town and on the highway.

Electric power-assisted steering debuts for Carnival in this new generation as well, allowing additional tuning and adjustment to be applied. Because of the current global pandemic we all know and love, Kia’s local ride and handling programme ran out of time before steering could be tweaked to suit Australian tastes, so initial Carnivals use the Korean domestic market steering tune.

Steering is light in resistance without being absolutely finger-twirling at a standstill, but also returns to centre without vagueness. I expect that the steering might be calibrated with a touch more meatiness in Normal and Eco modes when Kia is able to complete its tuning programme. It shouldn't be a surprise, because like the Carnival, the Sorento also feels dialled with a nice balance of control and comfort.

That shove of torque from the diesel donk at around 1500rpm-2000rpm is handy, and all that you need for cruising around town and on the highway. It has a sense of effortlessness, as long as you’re not in a mad hurry.

When under heavy load and revving hard, the alloy block does emit more raucous noise. But in day-to-day usage, doing such things is rare. Most of the time, it’s nicely quiet and responsive.

Fuel economy was averaging 9.2L/100km around town and 8.5L/100km overall with a bit of highway bias in my driving habits. The flash rotary gear dial in this top-spec Carnival means paddle shifters are needed when you're looking to change gears, but it's rarely required - the gearbox really is set-and-forget.

Lane departure warning and lane keep assist can feel overdone at times, binging and tugging at the wheel quite often. It's a common complaint, especially if road markings are inconsistent, and your roads are narrow. It can be turned off with a three second press on the steering wheel, but because it defaults back on, needs to be done every time.

Inside the Carnival, is where the true strengths of this body style – and this car in particular – lie. It hasn’t changed dramatically compared to the previous generation Carnival, and that’s a good thing, because the old Carnival is also awesome.

Starting from the back, the boot is enormous. Folded down, the third row gives big flat boot load of 2461 litres (floor to ceiling). Huge. Flip it up, and a big abyss of space avails itself to be filled. And it takes lots of filling.

Counting in at 1139 litres on the SAE measurement, we failed to go anywhere near filling it on a weekend away with the kids. The shelves on the side are super handy, and there is a 12V outlet back there as well.

In terms of passengers, there’s room for three in the third row, with good accommodation features to boot: USB points, cup holders, air vents and curtain airbags. Two adults fit well in here, with plenty of headroom, legroom and visibility. The middle seat, however, is more suited to kids.

In the second row, it’s a different story.Three big adults can fit in easily. Or in my case, I can slide in between two outboard baby seats quite comfortably for long drives.

Three seats here tilt and slide independently, allowing you to apportion space as you need it. The centre seat can be fitted to face backward, or can be pulled out completely to aid access to the third row.

Combine air conditioning controls, air vents, USB points, cup holders, heated outboard seats and sun shades, and this Carnival pulls no punches in the fight as a proper high-grade family car.

Because there's no off-road ground clearance or four-wheel drivetrain to worry about, the flat and low floor of the Carnival makes it supremely easy to live with, and get the most out of.

Up front, the 2021 Carnival does miss out on a few nice touches. Blame our old friend Coronavirus, but if you want a digital drivers display, automatic windscreen wipers and an Australian-tuned steering map, then you’re better served waiting for the 2022 model.

But regardless, the new Carnival regales you with an enticing mix of materials, finishes and design. The interior of the Carnival has a definite premium Euro style to it, with a long strip of wood-look material across the full length of the dashboard, along with chrome strips incorporating air vents.

It misses out on on twin gloveboxes compared to the old model, but it looks sharp and is still very practical. Large door pockets, centre console, cup holders, plenty of smaller nooks, inductive charging and a generous glovebox means storage options abound.

The massive 12.3-inch infotainment display runs Kia's new software, and although it has plenty of features to get through, proved to be slick and easy to use. A good mix of buttons below and on the steering wheel (including a few configurable buttons) makes it easy to use when on the move also.

The multi-function display is nowhere near as impressive as a full digital driver's display, but does the job well enough with a mix of information, including a digital speed readout.

Floor mats in all rows help when it comes to keeping the Carnival clean inside, but the tracks in the floor do tend collect bits of snacks and biscuits that kids inevitably drop, keeping them from the reach of vacuum cleaners. You'll need to stay on top of the many piano black plastic surfaces as well, to guard against grime and smudges.

For those who want all the fruit, Platinum does deliver plenty of goodies. Features unique to this specification include: heated steering wheel, puddle lamps, dual sunroofs, 12-way electric drivers seat, Heated second row, heated and vented front row, Bose Centrepoint 12-speaker system, matte chrome on the outside, some special touches on the inside, and last but not least, a luggage net.

Coming in at $69,990 drive-away, the Carnival Platinum is not a cheap exercise, and kind of makes the Sorento GT-Line look like good value at nearly five grand less with some extra tech (for the time being). However, the Carnival offers more space and practicality than any other SUV, so if you're needing maximum interior room and comfort, it still stands proud.

And don't forget, it still has Kia's red-hot seven year warranty with unlimited kilometres worth of coverage. It's new and updated, but it remains our clear choice in the people-mover segment.

Experience Now

[Source article: caradvice.com.au/913020/2021-kia-carnival-review-australian-first-drive/]

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