This is something a bit different for me, up to a few years ago I would have crossed regional state lines to avoid people movers. Car enthusiasts treat them like a plague, to be avoided at any cost. But then our daughter came along, which everyone with kids knows, is the spanner of all spanners in the works. How your life was, it will never be the same again. And as vehicles go, what used to work for you as a couple, may not work anymore.

But we must not forget that enthusiasts are just a percentage of society, there are many out there that look at cars in different ways. People movers in some countries are a sign of wealth and status. Some people buy cars based on what they need, not how it looks or its performance, and others with large families have little option in the market when you’re looking for more seats and some luxury. I guess the point here is that it takes all sorts to make the world go around.

The DriveLife team last tested the KIA Carnival for a ski trip back in 2016. We were keen to see what the 2020 updates to the mighty 8-seater Carnival is all about. 

The Range

There are three variants of the Carnival; the EX which starts at $59,990. Next is the Deluxe, which starts at $69,990 and finally Premium, starting at $74,990 which we are reviewing. Normally when we say starts at, there are optional extras you can add. But that is not the case with the Carnival. Each spec comes with a set list of options, with the EX being the base spec and the Premium the top with everything. So you pick which spec you want for what options you want. All models come with a 3 year scheduled service plan up to 45,000km. 

All three models have the same engine, a 2.2L DOHC CRDi turbo-diesel. It produces 148kW of power and 440 Nm of torque. All have an 8-speed automatic gearbox and are front wheel drive. KIA advertises the combined fuel economy of the Carnival is 6.5L per 100km.

The EX comes with the following options: 17” alloys, 7 airbags, 5 star ANCAP safety rating (2021 standard), forward collision avoidance assist – car, pedestrian, cyclist, junction

multi-collision brake, lane keep assist & lane follow assist, blind spot collision avoidance assist, Rear Cross traffic collision avoidance assist, driver attention alert, advanced smart cruise control, front & rear parking sensors, rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, smart power sliding rear doors, LED daytime running lights, smart proximity key with engine start / stop button & remote engine start, 8” colour LCD touchscreen infotainment, 4.2” Colour TFT Supervision instrument cluster, Bluetooth® multi-connection functionality, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto.

As you would expect, with each level they add more on. The Deluxe comes with all of the above from the EX with the following additional features: 19” alloys, rear occupant alert with sensor, advanced smart cruise control, around view monitor with dynamic guidelines, dual zone automatic climate control, remote 1-Touch power doors & tailgate control, 10-way power driver’s seat with 2-way lumbar support, a 12.3” colour LCD touchscreen infotainment with split screen function, satellite navigation and wireless smartphone fast charging (Qi).

Last but not least we have the Premium, which has all of the features from both the EX and the Deluxe with its on additional features, which include: heated steering wheel with paddle shifters, 3-stage heated & ventilated front seats, 12-way power driver’s seat with 4-way lumbar support and BOSE® premium sound system with 12 speakers.

It’s fair to say that the Carnival is packed with features. For a full range of spec and information on the 2021 KIA Carnival, follow the link to KIA’s New Zealand website – LINK

First Impressions

As shapes go, the new Carnival is huge and sculpted to look and feel more like a SUV than a people mover. I really like the strong design cues, across the front grille, the chrome along the rear quarter windows and the lights sweeping across the entire rear end. There was a subtle feeling of a large Chevy Suburban, a serious vehicle that you didn’t want to mess with.

I was hoping that our review car would be in Flare Red. I would never have guessed what colour that had selected for our review car. It is called Ceramic Silver, and if I was to describe it to anyone, it’s 50% grey. That’s it, no pearl, just flat grey, and in my opinion, it does not work with the overall design of the Carnival. Oddly this colour is only available on the Premium model, personally I would have taken any other colour. It turned a lot of heads, and I soon found out that this would divide the nation, almost every other person said they loved it or hated it. 

The Inside

From the drivers seat,  which feel more like a captain’s chair at the bow of a starship. You have so much space, and you are surrounded by all of the controls and displays that makes it feel more like a high-end German SUV than a people mover. Everything is within reach of the driver’s seat, all the normal controls, rear climate, open and close both automatic side doors and open and close the boot. 

The front seats are great, and have a huge range of adjustment so that anyone of any shape or size can feel comfortable. The Premium comes with a 12-way power driver’s seat with 4-way lumbar support. Both front seats are heated and cooled, with 3 setting levels to choose from. Add to this the steering wheel – which is also heated – it proved really nice to have during the week of cold rainy weather we had. 

The dash is good, with a clean modern style to most screen pages. The default home page has the time and a blended overlay of the GPS like Tesla have on their driver’s dash. The central screen is very clear, especially noticeable when reversing with the 360-degree camera system. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard across the range, connecting my phone was simple and quick via bluetooth.

A nice feature to see was that you could also have driver profiles. These profiles allow you to have a complete list of settings saved to one profile; what phone is connected, radios stations, seat positions and more. With a simple select on the main screen you can switch through pre-saved profiles. 

The driver’s dash display was a bit simpler then the rest, with two normal needle dials and a digital display in the middle. It would have been nice for it all to be digital, but it didn’t really bother me, and it would have hiked the cost. Everything I needed was there and it was easy to see the information I required. I also liked the simple things they added in which would help display what wiper setting you have selected. With most controls on the steering wheel indicator stalks, sometimes it was hard to see what you set. But the display would show a brief popup, which made it quick to check and change settings. 

The level of joy that my 3 and a half year-old daughter, Aoife, got from the side doors opening on their own can’t be transferred into words. This was done via the key fob, but who am I to spoil the fun. She turned to me and said “it’s magic” and from there she referred to them as the magic doors. She also cut me deep when we got in our other cars and she said “no magic doors, that’s ok Daddy”. Ouch, I didn’t need you to rub it in, Aoife. 

Back to the car, once the side doors are open, access for kids is easy. As the Carnival is not an SUV, it’s lower to the ground like a car, so my daughter could get in and out on her own, which she can’t do from my Land Rover Discovery. It’s something you don’t think about, but she loved that she could climb in and get all the way up into her seat herself. As the door is sliding sideways, from the parent’s point of view, there is so much access. Standing up you can get any kids buckled in without having to balance yourself or squeeze through a small gap. 

The space in the rear is impressive, more so when you realise all the second row seats are on their own seat runners. So each seat can be positioned for different leg room. With the second row seats back all the way, there is still room for me to sit down and have ample leg room in the third row. This is a first I think, other cars I have managed to fit in the third row, but this is spacious, not crammed in. 

One thing that didn’t go unnoticed by everyone who got in was that each seat had access to cup holders and a USB charging port. The USB port itself scored high with a lot of people.

Beside the driver in the centre console you have the automatic transmission controls, heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel, parking sensors, and camera controls. Below this and under the armrest was a rather large storage compartment. There was a general feel of high quality finishes and solid craftsmanship, however the armrest squeaks a lot when resting on it, which did annoy me a lot. 

Above the transmission controls there was a large tray to put all sorts of things, something most high end cars have done these days. In here you also found the Qi charging plate, two USB charging ports and a USB media port. That, mixed with the two large cup holders beside the transmission controls, left you plenty of places to put things you carry from day to day.

From the seat behind the driver, that passenger was able to use the rear climate control button that was on the roof above the sliding door. From here you can set the fan speed, temperature, where the air is coming from, Auto mode and Off. 

Apart from the exterior colour there was very on the inside of the Carnival that I didn’t like. The one thing that really seemed out of place were the seat controls on the rear side of the front passenger seat – controls that can be used by the passenger in the back. Anyone who has kids will know that they are like monkeys with their feet. These buttons would very quickly drive someone up the wall. Unless they can be deactivated, I would see someone like myself bypassing the wiring just to solve the problem. Not even sure why they thought having these buttons there would be a good idea. 

The boot of the Carnival is a wonder to behold even with all 8 seats in place, you still have a very useful and practical 627-litre boot. If you need more space, all you need to do is pull on the two large grab handles on the back of the rear seats. With a pull, they fold away into the floor, creating a huge flat space which is now 2,785 litres. You shouldn’t struggle with fitting things in there, but if you need more, the second row can fold down. However they do not fold flat to the floor like the third row. To get the third row back, you pull up on the same grab handles and the seats quickly fold back into place.

The rear tailgate is powered for open and closing function, it also has a convenience function where you can open it when you have your hands full carrying shopping. All you have to do is stand by close to the door with the key on your for more than 3 seconds and it will open. However if you’re not aware of this and stand there for some other reason, like wrangling your kids, the door will give you a bit of a fright.

The Drive

Out on the road the Carnival cruises along like a yacht. The engine is not very loud, and even with such a large cabin the road noise is minimal. The 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine moves the large vehicle effortlessly. I did fear that it would be underpowered, but I was proven wrong right from the start. 

The engine feels efficient too, on a full tank the range reads over 800km. Even after several days of driving the needle had barely moved and the range was only down to 725km. The advertised efficiency of the engine is 6.5L per 100km, the best I was able to achieve was 9.0L per 100km. It’s a far shot from 6.5L per 100km, but considering what weight it’s pulling along and all of the systems onboard it does a pretty good job. 

The automatic transmission is very smooth, in fact I can’t even recall a time I noticed it changing gears. The Premium variant comes with gear-select paddles on the steering wheel. Why I do not know, this is not a vehicle that should have them or you should even need to use them because it is an 8 speed. Let the well-tuned automatic do the hard work so you don’t have to worry about it. Some may not like the twist dial on the centre console to select D, N and R. My Land Rover Discovery has a similar setup, which I like as it frees up room taken up by an ugly gear shift stick. My only comment about the gears would be that when you stop and want to switch to reverse, you have to twist the dial very assertively and all the way. A three quarter twist wont do it, and you will still be left in Drive.

The ride was surprisingly good, I had expected it to be hard, more like a panel van than anything. Even in the corners it did not roll from side to side like a SUV. But it was smooth as most upmarket sedans. I was so impressed by how it drove that I even pushed it a bit more to see at what stage it might start to feel a bit uneasy. Along an empty road I pushed it quicker though some tight corners, up and over some bumpy roads. The Carnival didn’t even flinch, took it as well as any high-end Euro would. That’s an impressive feat for what the KIA Carnival is. I won’t be saying it’s an 8 seater performance car, but credit where credit is due.

Many would worry about parking a large vehicle like this, but with the 360-degree parking cameras it’s easy. It’s harder to park my Land Rover than it is the Carnival, and the Carnival is longer. Once in reverse or if you select the parking cameras, you have a wide range of options to choose from. The camera will select automatically what it feels is the best view based on your movements, somewhat like BMW’s parking system. You can then pick other views at your leisure if you want a more specific view. Even pulling into a car park nose first, the system comes on when it senses you’re driving slowly and getting close to an object. Super simple and it helps to make life easier when you have a larger vehicle.

Back to the keyfob again, which has a few more buttons than your average fob. The normal lock, unlock and boot are there, but you can also open and close each side door individually, and turn the engine on. This last feature requires the car to be locked to do it, and could be rather useful for the cold mornings, where you can start the car from your house and let it heat up before you come out to it. One thing I did find weird about the proximity key is that the car knows when you’re beside it. Puddle lights come on and side mirrors open up. However you still have to press the button on the door or key to unlock it. This seems counterproductive considering what the key was already activating. It would have been nice for it to also unlock the driver’s door by a touch of the handle, which is more common now. 

Overall if I was to describe how the Carnival drives, I would say it’s more like a car than a van. Even though it’s rather long, it does not feel big, which is thanks to that engine and the smooth ride – it never feels to struggle with anything that your everyday life throws at it. 

The Competition

As far as options go in the market, you don’t have many to choose from if you need a lot of seats. Seven is more common than eight, and when you get to eight, it’s the KIA Carnival or a minibus van.

Hyundai have just released the new Palisade, starting at $99,990 which is based more on an SUV, so I can’t imagine it will have the space on the inside like the Carnival. Oh, and it’s $25k more.

Brand / ModelEnginePower kW/NmNumber of SeatsFuel L/100kmBoot Capacity LitresPrice Highest to Lowest
Hyundai Palisade2.0-litre Turbo Diesel140/44087.3311/704$99,500
VW Multivan2.0-litre Turbo Diesel110/34086.6685/NA$75,500
KIA Carnival Premium2.2-litre Turbo Diesel148/44086.5627/2,785$74,990

Pros

  • It’s massive
  • Spacious interior
  • More SUV less people-mover styling
  • Nice smooth power from the diesel
  • Drives like a car, not a van
  • 360-camera parking system
  • Packed with features
  • Premium SUV interior
  • High tech gadgets
  • Massive boot
  • Smooth and comfy ride
  • Great build quality

Cons

  • No auto unlock on drivers door handle
  • Squeaking centre console armrest
  • Buttons on the side of the passenger seat
  • Smart proximity key

2021 KIA Carnival Premium

Vehicle Type8-seater People Mover
Starting Price$74,990
Price as Tested$74,990
Engine2.2L DOHC CRDi Turbo Diesel Engine
Power, Torque
kW/Nm
148/440
Transmission8-speed automatic with paddles
Spare WheelNone, Gel puncture kit
Kerb Weight, Kg2,082
Length x Width x Height, mm5155 x 1995 x 1775
Cargo Capacity, litres627/2785
Fuel tank capacity, litres72 
Fuel Economy, L/100kmAdvertised Spec – Combined – 6.5
Real World Test – Combined – 9.0
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Towing Capacity Kg, unbraked/braked750 /2000
Turning circle, metres12
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
 Warranty5 years / 100,000 km warranty 
ANCAP Safety Ratings5 Star

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Economy
8
Interior
9
Performance
6
Safety
9
Styling
8
Value
9
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It started at a young age with bedroom posters, the Countach of course. This slowly grew into a super car die-cast model collection, fifty five 1:18 models at the last count. At which point it had almost taken full control, the incurable Mad Car Disease ran deep though my veins all the way to the bone. And things for my loved ones just got worse as the cars where now being bought at 1:1 scale, after a BMW, HSV, and couple of Audi's, the disease reached my brain, pushing me over the edge and down the rabbits hole into the world of the bedroom poster.

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