With an impending ski trip and no available SUVs to test, Drive Life were kindly offered the next best thing: a top of the line, 3rd generation, 8-seat Kia Carnival Premium V6. Could the Carnival do the ski-trip-thing as a replacement for a ‘real’ ski car like a Prado or an Outback?

First Impressions

First impression for the Carnival is an easy one: this is a big mother. It’s wide, long and even though it’s shorter than the previous model, still tall. Second impression? It’s bloody good looking for a people mover. That front stance is quite stunning. This is definitely one of those cars that photos do not do it justice. Kia’s engineers have done brilliantly here.


I did a quick run-through of the Carnival’s features; dual electric sliding doors, power rear door, adaptive cruise, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, power front seats with 2-way electric lumbar support and two memory settings for the driver, tri-zone AC, full leather, SatNav, 8” colour touchscreen, automatic headlights, auto-levelling headlights, auto high-beams, driver’s 3.5” colour information display, front and rear parking sensors, Blind Spot Protection, Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, 19” chrome-finish alloys and a cooled glove box.


Well equipped? Yes. Mind you, this is the $63,990 Premium model. In saying that, the ‘base’ EX model is still very well equipped and retails at a reasonable $49,990, with a 2.2 turbo diesel.

The whole car is big and this is reflected in space on the inside. Everyone – all three rows – have ample legroom, bordering on ridiculous amounts. This is not a car where you will be crunched up for long trips.


Luxury exudes from the inside of the Carnival. One of the reasons for this I think is the seats; they are a two-tone cream/slate perforated leather, with red piping. They look fantastic and lift the inside of the car, compared to if it was just black leather or a single colour. I see the two outer middle row seats have their own armrests, which I am sure will get used (they were).


At first glance, the build quality inside and out looks excellent.

A flick through the Carnival brochure that evening and I’m surprised: this car comes in a total of four colours – grey, silver, black or white. That’s it. No reds, blues or anything that might look fantastic with that car’s design. Come on Kia, you can do better than that!

Real World Test: Ski Trip with teenagers

Every year I ferry a bunch of teens up to the mountain for a weekend of skiing. Naturally this is weather dependant, and heading back home all I could see was black clouds. Ominous at best.


Still, it’s Friday afternoon and people are meeting at my place soon. The 3.3-litre, 206Kw petrol-engined Carnival sounds subdued and feels super smooth on the motorway. I do wonder about its ability to comfortably climb steep hills loaded up, when compared to a diesel model.

I did think the brakes were a bit, well, weird. They don’t do much when you first push the brake down, and then there’s lots of braking and a wooden feel to the pedal. Not really confidence-inspiring at all. I am thinking with a big load on they will only get worse, but am prepared to be proven wrong.

Backing down my driveway shows me just how wide the Kia is – for a change I really have to make sure I’ve got an even space down both sides of the driveway. Man this thing feels wide! Certainly wider feeling than its 2 metres suggests.

I cracked open the electric back door and noticed that even with the third row of seats up, there is a huge cavern of space for bags. This is totally the opposite of many 7 seaters I’ve tested lately. Normally with the third row up, you’ve got stuff all room left. The base of the Kia’s floor is nearly on the road – so deep you have to see it to believe it. Many who saw it commented on this.


There’s an incredible 960 litres of storage behind the third row. That is massive. When you drop the third row you get 2,220 litres of space and when you put the middle row of seats up, you get an amazing 4,022 litres.

As kids started to arrive, I started loading up the rear. It did reach the top of the back seats – but that was most of the bags/sleeping bags and other gear for six people going on a ski trip. Impressive to say the least.

I synced my phone to the Bluetooth, feeling that it would only last a few miles before they synced their own phones to listen to their own music. I was right.


As kids started to pile in, the interior space was as I thought: luxurious. With only six people on the way to the mountain, we all had room to spare. The middle seat in the second row was folded down so it could be used as a table. It also it has cup holders built-in, as well as the ones at the top of the centre console for the middle row passengers. The fairly big drawer at the base of the centre console from the middle row was loaded up, and phones plugged into the 3 USB ports for charging.

Not only is there lots of legroom, but the centre console is vast. I managed to get a 4-cup coffee plunger in there standing up, with room to spare. It’s not super long, but it is extremely deep.

One big drawcard for easy access into the third row of the Carnival is the way the second row outer seats flick up vertically, and out of the way. It’s a brilliant system and makes it so much easier to climb into the back row.


The driver’s seat has an auto-exit feature where it moves backwards when you turn the key off, and back again when you close the door on entry. Sort of handy although it can get annoying, but you can turn this off.

As we hit the motorway rush hour on a wet, miserable Friday night, I am so thankful for one thing: the Carnival’s Adaptive Cruise. I’ve been a convert for adaptive cruise for a while, but it proved its value that night. With slow moving traffic, I could concentrate 100% on the traffic and let the car brake as required to keep a safe distance from the car ahead. So much less stress!

We made very slow progress, with traffic crawling at times. My thoughts about the petrol engine were coming true…sure, it sounds so nice – especially if you floor it – but it’s not the right engine for this car. It screams out to be a diesel. Still it’s early days, perhaps by the end of the weekend I’ll be a petrol convert.

A quick stop at Levin for some McDs and a look at the fuel economy so far – 11l/100km. Around what I had expected.

After leaving Levin, the traffic thinned out nicely. The weather was still rubbish – drizzly, then rain, then drizzle. This showed up a surprising missing feature: no auto wipers. This struck me as weird as the car has auto headlights. Sure, it’s a First World problem but I felt like I was constantly adjusting the intermittent speed or then flicking the wipers to on.


It was on the road from Levin I realised one of the features of the Kia I did like: it has physical buttons under the display for different functions. One of these is to turn the display off – no mucking about going through menus, just tap the button. When you are on pitch black roads at night and don’t need SatNav etc, turning off the display is so much easier on your eyes. The other buttons change the display to your standard things like phone, map etc.

The teenagers did find something a little basic with the Media function of the Carnival: when you are playing a track, your options are pause, forward and back. There’s no album art and you sure can’t browse through the phone for tracks. Just a little strange in such a well-equipped car.


Driving through Waiorou, I felt more at home in the Kia after putting a few hundred Ks on the clock. I still wasn’t confident with the brakes and the engine screamed a bit more than I would like as it kicked down to overtake, but it’s a very nice drive. Smooth, quiet and with a great ride.

I was loving the heated seats and steering wheel. The seats have three settings so it’s always easy to get the right temperature. Yeah, I’m getting old. The headlights were good – not excellent, but good. Wind noise is really well controlled, as is general suspension noise. I expect that the weight of the car helps a lot here.


We get to Raurimu at 11:30pm, and I’m feeling quite refreshed. The Kia is one easy big wagon to drive, even in drizzly rain for 7 hours. Hopefully on the return trip there won’t be so much traffic!


Rain and more rain. The mountain is shut for skiing, so we decide on Plan B. Quick trip up the mountain to play in the snow for the first timers, then off to Taupo to De Bretts to soak in the thermal hot pools for a few hours. It could be worse.

With one of the other cars in the convoy with a brake problem, we grab a couple of spare teenagers to make a full complement of eight in the Kia. The mountain is crap. Wet, drizzly, dark. While kids play in the snow, the rest of us sit in the dry, warm café and talk cars.

So far, I’m impressed with the Carnival. I really thought an 8-seater would be like driving a van, but it’s a joy to drive and dare I say it, almost like driving a car.

The cars hit the road in a convoy to Taupo. The rain gets heavier and on the road to Turangi, it hits me: this heavy, 2000kg people mover is very sure footed in the rain. Even with standing water on the road, it just feels so safe. It’s no AWD, but it does inspire confidence the way it handles in the wet. Although tight corners unsurprisingly bring body roll and understeer, this thing excels on long, sweeping bends. Not only that, but you can use the throttle nicely to manage a smooth drive through the bends. Totally unexpected and very welcome.

8 = easy fit
8 = easy fit

The brakes still aren’t my favourite part of the car. I find that I either under or over brake. It’s just a bit spongy on the first push, and then a hard pedal with not much brake feel. Work needs to be done in this department. By the end of the weekend I had gotten used to it, but I still think they are a weak area of the Carnival.

After a good long soak, we’re back on the road again to Raurimu – Base Camp for us. Time for gas before we go anywhere, and $100 doesn’t do too much. This is a fairly chunky 80-litre tank to fill. A quick stop for a photo op at Lake Taupo once again shows up the styling on the Kia. She’s a good looking wagon.

We head up and over the saddle from Turangi, and stop at the scenic lookout for another photo. No chance of convincing seven teenagers to get out of the car in this weather, but I wanted a pic anyway to show how un-scenic the scenic lookout was. Surely it would be sunny sometime over the weekend?

Uh, scenic lookout?
Uh, scenic lookout?

I tested out the SatNav on the way back to camp, but it doesn’t know where Raurimu is – it doesn’t appear as an option. We stick National Park in and this shows up a small issue with the SatNav – it doesn’t give you any directions in front of the driver in the information display. A shame but there are the verbal directions and map guidance on the central display. It’s just one of those things that once you see it on another car, you get disappointed when it’s not on all cars with SatNav.

More torrential rain. Bonus points for the Carnival – the wipers seem to clear over 90% of the windscreen, and are brilliant.

That evening some of us head to National Park to the pub to watch the All Blacks vs South Africa. There’s a guy with us who is 6”5, and needs a ride, so I stick him in the third row. He’s not keen at first but once he’s in there, he realises he has more room than he does in any seat in most other cars. In fact when we park right outside the pub, two patrons are shocked when this lanky guy climbs out of the third row. And he says he has room to spare back there. That is really saying something.

When we get back to camp, the Kia’s mirrors flick down when I put it in reverse. It’s done this the whole time I’ve had the car, but here’s the thing; I don’t actually like this feature, and you can’t turn it off. I prefer to see what’s coming up behind me on the road. Some people like this feature and it sounds good in theory, but I’m not a fan. Being able to control this to have only the passenger-side mirror dip would be better for me.


First order of the day: we have a big ass Kia and lots of teenagers – let’s see how many we can fit in this wagon. The kids are keen and it’s shoes off as they start to pile in. We get five in the boot area (with the third row seat up) and shove some into the third row. It’s on to the centre row and 8 in there, then 4 in the front. Problem: not enough people. We grab some adults and end up with 23 people in the Carnival, with the rear suspension on the bump-stops. The only problem? We’ve run out of people and we could have squeezed more in! This is a big wagon, people.

If 8 isn’t enough, surely 23 is?



While it’s not quite raining, we decide to head to National Park and play mini golf before heading home, with some going to the climbing wall instead.

It’s time to head back home. I’ve got two different extra passengers – a mother and her son plus all their gear. Now this will be a real test of the Kia’s space and my packing skills. There was no way we were going to get everything in the ‘boot’ but I gave it a good shot, and then found there was space under the third row for ski boots and some jackets. With a few backpacks on the floor in the second and third rows, we hit the road.

With the extra gear, the petrol engine shows its true colours; up hills, the 6-speed auto keeps chopping down a gear or two when a diesel wouldn’t. Max torque is at 5,300rpm, so there you go. This car needs either an 8-speed auto or a diesel. Sure, when you floor it to pass someone it sounds so good – a rorty, sweet V6 sound. Nice. But I’d still rather have the diesel version with its 440Nm of torque.


As we get closer to home, the sun comes out – of course. The other adult on board mentions that she loves the blinds that are built-in – both for the middle and third row passengers have large pull-up window blinds, a nice feature. She also mentions the AC in the back is excellent – the vents in the roof working just right. Talking about rear AC, the driver can lock the rear AC so it’s in sync with the front, in case you have passengers arguing about the temperature.

Handy blinds!
Handy blinds!

We give the 6-speaker audio system a bit of a hammering on the return trip – it’s not the greatest of quality but does sound above average, and cranking it up sees little distortion. Add to that a CD/DVD player and you could win a lot of friends right there.

A stop on the way back and I end up talking to someone at the back door of the Carnival, forgetting if you stand there for three seconds with the key fob in your pocket, the door opens automatically. All of a sudden there’s an avalanche of jackets and sleeping bags. I’m not sure the engineers had this in mind, but in general the auto-opening rear door is quite handy.

A stop in Taihape for coffee and a tap on my shoulder. A guy is walking past and sees the Carnival and comes over to ask about it – he loves the shape and has never seen one. He mentions he’s never seen a people mover looking that good, and is off to his local Kia dealer tomorrow to check one out. Score another point for the designers.


A did try a few panic stops today (without passengers), and found that the pedal needs a lot of push to get it to panic stop. It pulls up straight, but the brakes aren’t the best feature of the car.

During my 1200km with the Carnival, I averaged 10.8L/100km. I thought for the weight it was carry for most of that time that was about right. Remember we are talking about a 3.3-litre V6 petrol engine. The stated combined for the car is 11.6 so it’s probably on the money from what I got out of it on a long trip.

The Competition

Want an 8-seater? Without going to a van, your choices are limited. The Odyssey L model is closer in specifications to the Carnival, but is only a 7-seater. The Odyssey S model listed here has 8 seats but also has a lower spec. The Previa too is not high in specifications when compared to the Carnival, especially when you note the $4K price difference.

I could include the Hyundai iMax 8-seat van here, but hey it’s a van and when you compare the looks of the two, could you cough up for the iMax over the Carnival?

Brand/Model Engine Power/Torque


Fuel L/100km Price Highest to Lowest
Kia Carnival Premium V6 (8-seater) 3.3-litre DOHC VVTI V6 petrol 206/336 11.6 $63,990
Toyota Previa (8-seater) 2.4-litre 4-cyl DOHC VVTI petrol 125/224 8.9 $59,990
Honda Odyssey S Wagon (8-seater) 2.4-litre 4-cyl DOHC VVTI petrol 129/225 7.6 $45,990
Ssangyong Stavic Sport Wagon (8-seater) 2.0-litre 4-cyl DOHC diesel turbo 114/360 7.8 $39,990

The Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
  • Superb looks
  • Space
  • Storage options
  • Equipment levels
  • Relative value for a well-equipped 8-seater
  • Build quality
  • Comfort
  • Handling/grip for the size/weight of the car
  • Brakes
  • Colour choices limited

What do we think of it?

Was it suitable for a ski trip? Totally. This is a superb (and I don’t mean that lightly) people mover, which dispels the myths around people movers in general. Great looks, good handling and ride, so much space and luxury – and you can fit 8 people in.

The build quality is excellent and you aren’t left wanting for much more goodies than it comes with.

Sure, the brakes take some getting used to, but there’s little else to complain about – if you bought a diesel version. I loved the V6 for its sound and top-end performance but in a real world, the diesel would be the way to go.

What this car is designed to do, it does it brilliantly.

I’m awarding the Carnival an easy 4.0 Chevrons. Just a few niggly things (especially for me, the brakes) stopped it getting 4.5. On the other hand, I think the diesel may have ended up a 4.5 quite easily.


Vehicle Type Large People Mover
Starting Price $49,990 + on-road costs
Tested Price $63,900 + on-road costs
Engine 3.3-litre DOHC V6 petrol
Transmission 6-speed automatic with Eco Mode
0 – 100 kph Not quoted
Kerb Weight 2034 kg
Length x Width x Height 5115x1985x1740
Cargo Capacity 960/2220/4022 Litres
Fuel Tank 80 litres
ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 stars
Warranty 5 year unlimited kilometre warranty

5 year roadside assist


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Fred Alvrez
How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.


  1. Just by the way
    -You can actually turn the mirrors off tilting down by pressing either the left or right button on the mirror selector thing and then press it again so that the light on the button goes off. We have just one and we love it!!

  2. HI Harrison
    Yes, they are a great car – for a people mover they are something special. I didn’t want to turn the tilting mirrors off – I just would have liked only the curbside mirror to tilt down, so you can see the curb better but can keep an eye on oncoming traffic. To me that’s the best compromise 🙂

    Thanks for the feedback though, great to hear you are loving your Carnival.


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