If you need space for seven and the ability to carry heaps of luggage, the luxurious Kia Carnival is a great option as a more than comfortable people mover.
Priced near R1 million, the Kia Carnival requires loads of your moolah if you want one.
After a short stint in the latest version, I have to say that you get more car than you pay for - it's well worth the money. With seating for seven (extremely luxurious seats), a cavernous interior, enough kit to satisfy technophiles and the fuel economy to rival a compact SUV, the Carnival is one of the best (large) family cars you can buy right now.
Built like a small apartment
My first thought when I jumped into the new Carnival was about the space inside. It's bigger in here than the studio apartment I rented years ago, I thought. The vehicle measures 5.15m in length, 1.99m wide with its mirrors unfolded, and stands 1.77m tall. A generous wheelbase of 3.09m gives it a roomy feel inside. A good ground clearance of 172mm also ensures you won't scrape its belly in most instances. The turning circle of 11.2m is also respectable considering the scale of the car.
From the driver's seat, you get a commanding view forward, and your blind spots and rearward visibility are also excellent. The car also comes standard with several cameras that offer a full-colour view of your surroundings via the infotainment screen. So you don't have to worry about getting used to parking it. In fact, if you drive it with the Comfort setting selected in the onboard computer, you get a nice and easy weight for the steering wheel, making manoeuvrability a cinch.
Dual sliding doors also make a tremendous in-and-out car for the kids. I just loved the thumping audio system and the premium feel of the materials used. Yes, there's a little too much plastic on the doors and around the cabin, but Kia's gone the length of knurling the gear selector and some trim pieces, for instance, to give it a premium feel.
In terms of carrying capacity, you'll easily accommodate seven people. In fact, in some markets, the Carnival is available as an 11-seater. So, you can imagine that even with its seven seats upright, you have access to a huge trunk. You can load up to 1139 litres of holiday or lifestyle gear. And if that's not enough, and you aren't carrying passengers, you can fold the rear rows of seats flat to access up to 4110 litres of space. If you're currently driving a premium SUV but have to tow a trailer to accommodate the holiday gear, you won't have to anymore by switching to a Carnival.
Smooth around town, with plenty of highway poke
The entire Carnival range in South Africa is powered by an oil-burner, a 2.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine that produces 148kW and 440Nm of torque. Honestly, it doesn't burn much oil nor sips much fuel. Around town, the average fuel used according to the car was around 10.5 litres per 100km. It dropped to as low as 5.5 litres per 100km on the highway when sticking to 100km/h and keeping throttle inputs smooth.
Amazingly, the large bus can be this light on fuel, as it's heavy (nearly 1800kg depending on spec). Kia's nailed the gearing on it. With eight cogs to choose from, the car shifts quickly through the gears to ensure it's using little diesel at all times. Even in Sport mode, the car likes to keep revs low. Travelling at 120km/h on the highway, it's ticking around 1900rpm in eight gear. There's so little road and wind noise, considering the boxy shape. I was amazed, too, at the lack of vibration and harshness. Plush is the word that comes to mind. Sitting in the Carnival and driving it, you feel like you're piloting this massive (safe) spaceship with all the comfort in the universe.
Around town, you'll love its low-end grunt and then on the highway, if you need to overtake safely, simply plant your right foot, and you can proceed with business as usual. It's a pity that diesel engines are on their way out as the world moves towards electrification and full-electric vehicles. Kia (and Hyundai) are making some of the smoothest diesel engines we've ever tested, and if you enjoy the benefits of long-distance driving, you have to consider this car over a petrol-powered SUV.
So much technology, but it's easy to use
While there is another more high-tech Kia Carnival available for more money, with a digital dashboard that will show you side views when you indicate (see our Kia Sorento review here), this car will satisfy your need for gadgets.
You get electric seats and windows, power mirrors, an electric handbrake, an excellent climate control system, a kicking audio system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, and just a hint of ambient lighting to spruce up the place.
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Our car had a nifty cruise control system that could maintain its distance from the vehicle in front, and you could activate steering assistance and lane keep assistance to aid your progress. I found the lane keep assistant a bit intrusive, but that's probably because of the narrow roads and the car's width. Nice LED headlights also make night driving such a pleasure. It's not the fanciest system in the world, but it illuminates the road perfectly without blinding oncoming drivers.
When you're test driving your future Carnival, ask the salesperson to give you a detailed run of the standard features because there are so many to cover. Auto lights, auto wipers, you name it. So much comes standard that you question why even bother with other makes that want you to tick options boxes to the tune of hundreds of thousands.
A great alternative to an SUV for the family
We can understand the allure of an SUV. We've tested several SUVs this year that are worth it. But that doesn't mean the MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) is dead. This Kia Carnival is more like a Swiss Army knife. It can work for families or businesses requiring a premium mobility solution for several people at once.
I love the fact that the Carnival has car-like driving qualities. It doesn't feel like a commercial vehicle that's been converted into a people mover. When you look at what some luxury cars cost these days, you get so much value for money here that it's a no-brainer. It makes the Volkswagen Caravelle seem dated, and it is much better value than a Mercedes-Benz V-Class, as much as those are also great cars to drive.
We think you can't go wrong with a Carnival in the family. And I believe this SXL Limited model hits a sweet spot in terms of price, performance and features. Now, if only Kia would add an all-wheel-drive system (how cool would a 4x4 version be for offroading?).
The Carnival comes with a five-year or unlimited mileage mechanical warranty from Kia, one of the best in the business, and a six-year or 90 000km Maintenance Plan. Please let us know in the comments section if you can think of a better (BIG) family car for R999 995.
It's light on fuel, packed with features and offers more space than you'll know what to do with. SUVs better watch out. The MPV is coming back for a fight.