2021 Kia Carnival SLi Diesel Review4.4 out of 5 stars
Kia has been on a bit of a roll lately.
First, they nailed the micro-car segment with the Picanto. Next, there’s the sports-sedan market in which the Stinger offered superior value for money for a performance car. Then, they tackled seven-seater SUVs where the new Sorento came out on top, even winning a few industry awards along the way.
Now, I have my hands on the new Carnival. This isn’t just making waves here in Australia, but is receiving critical acclaim from overseas publications.
Let me tell you why the minivan isn’t dead, but instead, why this is a minivan you’ll be itching to own.
Build Quality4.5 out of 5.
Having stepped up the build quality in cars like the Stinger and Sorento from Kias of the past, the new Carnival is no different. Kia packages their cheaper materials far away from your major touchpoints, leaving the nicer leather and softer plastics as your main points of contact.
The Carnival isn’t a cheaply built car, however itl is cheaper to buy since it’s not adorned in excessive amounts of expensive materials. All of this translates to an adequate level of build quality.The doors are heavy and have a comforting weight when you close them - something Kia is working on to lift the perception of their cars from cheap alternatives to viable competitors.
Inside, the Carnival presents the steering wheel, seats and door cards in a leatherette material, which feels plush and pleasant to touch.
The way the buttons, latches and levers work in the Carnival are reassuring in their operation, their sound and function all feel extremely sturdy. There is nothing of concern when it comes to the build quality, both inside and out.
This minivan is likely to stand the test of time against the ultimate measure of build quality… rambunctious children.
Value for Money4.3 out of 5.
The Carnival I tested was the SLi Diesel, which is priced from $62,790 drive away.
The range kicks off at $50,890 with the base model. However, like many of Kia’s products, I always recommended heading as high up on the range as you can afford. Heading higher up in the range will reward you with all the fruits of convenience and comfort that these cars have to offer, rather than missing out on key features like a heads-up display or a fully digital TFT drivers display.
The SLi acts as a good middle ground between the model below and the range-topping Platinum. This trim has a great range of features such as the 12.3 inch media display, larger alloy wheels and leather interior , therefore, it’s recommended you get as close as possible to the SLi trim when purchasing a Carnival.
Cleaning and Maintenance4.5 out of 5.
Compared to the medium-sized seven seater Sorento, this people mover has a greater surface area to clean. But because it’s simple in its overall design, it’s easy to clean.
You might be more interested in what the car’s like to keep clean on the inside. Unfortunately, there are plenty of crevices and gaps that will keep you busy if kids are dropping dirt, sand or snacks inside.
The Carnival comes with Kia’s 7 year/unlimited kilometre warranty and capped price servicing over 7 years or for up to 105,000km.
The total cost of servicing over 7 services comes to $3,767 with the total breakdown below.
|1 Year or 15,000 km||$349|
|2 Years or 30,000 km||$610|
|3 Years or 45,000 km||$423|
|4 Years or 60,000 km||$798|
|5 Years or 75,000 km||$393|
|6 Years or 90,000 km||$777|
|7 Years or 105,000 km||$417|
This is on the expensive side of servicing, however, you can have peace of mind knowing how much you should be paying for each service.
Noise Level4.1 out of 5.
The Carnival has the same diesel four cylinder found in the all-new Sorento. Whereas the Sorento was able to reduce some of the engine noise that bled into the cabin, there was plenty of diesel tractor noise entering the cabin under the acceleration in the Carnival.
Apart from this, the Carnival kept quiet even at high speeds. You’d expect a brick like this to generate a fair bit of wind noise, but instead, I found it almost tranquil once up to speed on the highway.
The speaker system in the Carnival wasn’t as impressive as the Bose system in the Sorento. Instead, I was met with an audio experience that wasn’t mind-blowing but functional, for music and podcasts.
The clarity wasn’t as clear as it was in the Sorento, and the bass was a little soft, however it was making phone-calls that proved to be an issue in the Carnival. Many people on the other side of the call complained about feedback issues when I had the volume a little higher in order to hear them. It is only a small complaint, but it made it frustrating to make and receive calls via Apple CarPlay.
Braking4.3 out of 5.
Who knew minivans could drive like hatchbacks?
The braking in the Carnival was seriously impressive, with seemingly ordinary brakes I was impressed with being able to stop two tonnes of metal with ease.
Braking is smooth and progressive. I didn’t have to dig too deep into the pedal box to slow down. The overall brake feel felt more inline with a car weighing 500kg less than this.
Acceleration/Power4 out of 5.
The Carnival was fitted with Kia’s universally implemented 2.2L four-cylinder diesel engine, producing 148kW at 3800rpm and 440Nm at 1,750-2,750rpm.
Diesels aren’t the best motors when it comes to outright performance or urban fuel economy. However, Kia has appeared to refine this 2.2L diesel to the point where it’s effortless to move not just around town, but also out on the open road.
It’s most certainly not a gutless motor; with 440 Nm, there’s plenty of torque - there’s even enough to tow a braked trailer of up to 2 tonnes.
The main issue is that there’s no AWD option for the Carnival, meaning you need to send all of that torque through the front wheels.
This results in two things. The first is a more aggressive off-the-line acceleration that can be embarrassing when the front wheels start to chirp for grip. The second is that when turning at higher speeds on sweeping roads, this front heavy car will understeer if you’re either going too fast or turning too quickly.
These are at the extreme end of why I’m unsatisfied with a front-wheel drive only option for the Carnival. I think (if it’s mechanically possible) that fitting an AWD drivetrain in the Carnival would transform it into the ultimate road trip machine.
Gear Shifting4.5 out of 5.
The 8-speed is buttery smooth; there’s no need for manual shifting.
Whether it’s going up an incline, or needing to suddenly overtake, the gearbox will be ready to handle anything you throw at it.
The lack of paddle-shifters in a car like this earns some bonus points, as this helps keep the area around the steering wheel feel less cluttered.
Suspension & Handling4.4 out of 5.
People-movers generally have better handling than SUVs. The hierarchy of family wagons and their handling ability starts with the station wagon at the top, followed by people-movers, and then SUVs at the bottom.
Thanks to recent trends in SUV design, manufacturers have been cooking up SUVs that can now out-corner sports cars that were considered top-tier a few decades ago.
What you can’t engineer your way out of is a low centre of gravity, which the Carnival has. Keeping the weight low means that steering feels more direct, even in a bus like this.
Mid-corner body roll on the Carnival is significantly reduced compared to cars with their weight higher off the ground.
Much like the Sorento, it offers a direct, yet plush ride. The benefit of smaller alloy wheels in this trim allows for additional comfort, thanks to the larger side walls on the tires.
At the end of the day,, with all of its space and comfort when doing the school pickup, or heading out on a school holiday adventure, the Carnival really feels like a family room on wheels.
Fuel Efficiency4.3 out of 5.
Kia claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 6.5L/100km.
I managed to return a figure as high as 13.6L/100km in the city. However, after mixing up my driving a bit, , I returned a far more conservative figure of 8.1L/100km towards the end of my week with the Carnival.
A full tank in the Carnival is 72L and will cost you around $88 to fill from empty.
I personally found the tank to be an exceptional size. A week of driving in the city - combined with a 400km return road trip - still left me with a quarter tank before I had to hand back the keys.
Interior Design4.6 out of 5.
Unlike its other van-based competitors, the Carnival has a far more car-like interior.
There’s plenty of space in the cabin, which should feel very familiar to those used to driving or riding in a van. Imagine a family car that's wider than usual and has more storage space, leg room and head room - that’s the Kia Carnival.
Large centre storage bins are a convenient place to keep all of your loose items. There’s also an IMAX-style 12-inch media display, which certainly makes you feel connected to the car. You feel as if you can access a wealth of information via this screen, simply because of its gargantuan size.
There’s less fiddling around with this screen - instead, it’s like using an oversized phone thanks to Kias easy to use UI.
After experiencing the dual-screen set-up in the Sorento, I was a bit surprised to see analogue driver gauges in the Carnival. At the end of the day, it didn’t have an effect on my driving experience.
Instead, what did affect it was the omission of a head-up display, which would help distracted parents keep an eye on the speed limit and their own speed with greater ease.
Boot Size & Comfort4.7 out of 5.
With a total available space of up to 2785L, you better believe the Carnival is spacious.
You might not need to use this for moving people. Instead, the Carnival can make a fantastic camping companion, as there’s air con controls for the rear seats, making it easy to head on a long road-trip in this minivan.
The middle row is the most desirable row. It offers the most space for legs, arms and the head. All seats move independently of each other, either to recline or to slide back and forth.
If you need to carry three occupants in the middle row, they can be separated, as the middle seat can not only be completely removed, but it can also slide as far back as the third row. This adds what feels like Shaquelle O'Neal levels of leg room here.
However, third-row occupants will feel the least amount of space, especially with the cushioning in this third row being considerably less than that of the other available seats. As much as I liked sitting in the back of a car when I was a kid, I can’t say that this third row offers minivan comfort as you would expect it to for adults.
Helping with comfort is the remote operation for the automatic boot and doors. All which can be controlled from the key, or from the driver's seat. So, if your rugrats forget to close a door, you can control all that with ease.
This SLi trim of the Carnival can automatically detect that you’re standing close to the car, whilst holding the key and will open the boot or side doors closest to you. My main issue with this feature was that I felt that this took far too long to operate. Rather, it was easier to put the bags down and either pull on a handle or open the doors up from the key.
To summarise, it’s a mini-VAN, you’re never going to complain there’s not enough room in here.
Features4.3 out of 5.
Although the Carnival misses out on some of the range-topping features the Platinum trim gets, there’s still plenty here to keep you happy.
Kia’s radar cruise control and active lane-keep assist systems are some of the best, and are a stand out on the Carnival.
Automatic tailgates and doors that can be opened just by standing next to them are also a highlight...even if it takes a little while longer to operate.
- 2.2L 4-cylinder Diesel
- 8-Speed Automatic Transmission
- 12.3 inch colour touch screen
- Driver Talk in-car intercom
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- DAB Radio
- Blind Spot Collision Avoidance Assist
- Active Lane Keep Assist
- Active Steering Assist
- 360 degree Camera
- Radar Cruise Control
- Automatic rear door disable button (prevents kids accidentally pressing the open doors button for the rear doors)
- Fuel consumption combined 6.5L/100km
- Towing capacity unbraked: 750kg
- Towing capacity braked: 2,000kg
- Max. towball download: 200kg
- Remote door and boot operation from key
- Automatic rear door and boot operation by walking up to car
- Removable middle seat of 2nd row
- 8 seats
- Roof rails
- Automatic headlights and wipers
- Front electric seats
- 2nd row climate controls which can also be operated from the drivers seat
Should you buy one?
For an eight-seater, this is one of the most conventional and spacious ways to carry people and large amounts of cargo.
Kia offers the traditional minivan experience, but they’ve made it cool to own one now.
The styling, powertrain and interior design are all step-ups from past models and against Carnival's competitors.
The Hyundai Palisade stands out as the alternate eight-seater that offers SUV looks, but misses out on that minivan space.
Other minivans in the segment are showing their age, and are priced well above the Carnival for a similar trim.
If this is the sign you need to buy a Carnival, go do it. Opt for a diesel, and like with all Kia products, head as close as you can to at least the SLi model for the best ownership experience.
About the author
Cameron is your typical car nut, but also drives and writes about cars for ProductReview.
|Fuel Consumption||7.8 L/100km|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||72 L|
|Engine||SmartStream In-line 4 cyl. E-VGT CRDi 16 valve|
|Max Power||148kW @ 3800rpm|
|Max Torque||440Nm @ 1750-2750rpm|
|Country of Manufacture||South Korea|
|Manufacturer Warranty||7 year(s)|
|Release date||Oct 2020|
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