Feature: the all-new Kia Carnival

All-new Kia Carnival blows the cobwebs and other MPVs out of the people-carrier market

“My dream car,” said no one ever about an MPV. If there is a vehicle that’s hard to muster up excitement over, it would have to be an MPV. Parents on the school run say that it’s practical. The power sliding doors are great for safety and extol their time-saving virtues as there’s no need for the driver to get out. They press a button to open the door on the kerbside, the children get out, press the button again, the door closes, and they drive off.

Apart from that convenience, who would want an MPV? They’re block-like (and ugly), look like they’re tottering on stilts and rarely have handling or stability to commend them.

The all-new Kia Carnival has put a serious crack in the ugly mould by being none of that. We were really blown away by it and highly recommend taking a look at one even if you’re not in the market for an MPV. We should also state, this is not an advertorial or paid review. The opinions here are entirely our own, from our experience in the fourth-generation Kia Carnival.

A new lexicon with words not usually associated with MPVs is needed for the latest Kia Carnival. It should include words like stylish, sophisticated, elegant and even, desirable. MPVs were originally on van platforms and designed around that form. Even when MPVs were built on passenger car platforms, they still looked like vans, block-like and tall. Contrary to the fairy tale, you can’t get a swan from a duck.

The Carnival looks more like an SUV than an MPV. The design of the tiger grille and double LED headlights lead the eye along the body horizontally rather than vertically so the first impression is long and lean rather than gawky. The 18-inch rims, slab-like body panels with a high shoulder-line added to the beefy look. Artistic design details like 3D etched aluminium body trim by the C-pillar caught the light as the car moved, giving the car an unexpected artistic elegance.

At 5155m long, it can be parked in any standard parking lot and easily get into any parking structure with a two-metre vehicle height limitation as its height is 1740mm. If you see an MPV, a pick-up truck or full-size SUV go into a car park, you can enter too with confidence.

As a result, the Kia Carnival looks and feels far, far more expensive than the RM192,000* price tag would suggest. So, how can the fully-imported vehicle be under RM200,000, less than most seven-seater MPVs? Taxes or rather the (almost) lack of. The Carnival is classified as a commercial vehicle which incurs lower duties.

If the looks and price still don’t pique your interest here are two facts that might. The Carnival is the most powerful MPV on the market. The 2.2-litre diesel engine produces 199bhp and 440Nm of torque at 1750rpm. The Carnival’s closest rival MPV for performance costs over RM150k more.

Slide back the doors and the interior lives up to the promise of the exterior. There is a very glamorous looking textured metal transmission dial, wireless charger, 12.3-inch infotainment display, textured metal tab-style switches, 3D-etched aluminium trim and brushed effect door handles. The instrument cluster is analogue, paired with a 4.2-inch TFT-LCD multi-info display.

The tan and black seats, multi-way adjustable for the driver and front passenger were leatherette but not sweaty. There was dual-zone automatic air-conditioning in front and single-zone automatic for the rear. The Carnival also has a 360-degree surround view camera, and front and rear parking cameras, two 12-volt and seven USB ports and several cupholders.

Already impressed by the good looks and features, it was a relief that these were matched with a solid-feeling body and powerful on-the-road performance. The Carnival drives like an SUV. The smooth, quiet and responsive eight-speed automatic transmission, with a selection of drive modes, is shift-by-wire. Manual gear changes are through paddle shifters. The pick-up was good and it was easy to maintain speed. The brakes were good too.

The steering feedback was reassuringly weighty and the car was stable at highway speeds despite its length and being front-wheel drive. The 3090mm wheelbase, wide body, relatively short overhangs, multi-link suspension, and electronics maintained the follow-through of the body exceptionally well so the Carnival suffered from very little body sway.

To ensure that this wasn’t blind fandom, we did a test- reading in the third row to see how long it took to feel off-colour. Over 80 kilometres, by the way, remarkable for the original Beg Mabuk Udara carrier. (The things we do in order to give honest car reviews). After all, nothing spoils an outing like a retching passenger or its domino effect.

With three of us in the Kia Carnival, there was ample room to spread out with our paraphernalia. The well-insulated and quiet cabin – it’s a good sign when you don’t notice you’re in a diesel while idling – had cupholders and multiple USB ports conveniently dotted about. Rear air conditioning and overhead vents that provided good air circulation and large windows with a good view of the outside made the Carnival very road-trip friendly.

After the front seats, the seats are arranged in trios which get proportionately smaller and narrower as they progress rear-ward. Comfort varies. The outer seats are more arm chair-like, with three point seat belts. The middle seats are less bolstered, only have lap belts and are designed to drop aside to clear a walkway to the fourth row. Those relegated to the fourth row have to make do with seats designed to fold away in the floor – not so well padded – but they do have three-point seat belts.

Besides the ubiquitous people-friendly power sliding doors, the Carnival also has a user-friendly power tailgate. Hands not free? The tailgate opens automatically when it senses someone standing at the rear with the car key. The tailgate also closes automatically as the person walks away. In addition, the doors and tailgate can be accessed remotely using the key fob.

Furthermore, the second and third row seats can be removed or slid along rails to alter legroom/floor space, extending the Carnival’s range beyond people-carrying to include their goods and chattels.

Beautiful and practical are not attributes usually found in MPVs but the Kia Carnival has both.

Kia Carnival

Rating: 4.5 stars
(The middle seats have lap belts otherwise it would be 5-stars)

Price From RM192,000
On sale Now
Engine 2151cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged diesel
Power 199bhp at 3800rpm
Torque 440Nm at 1750rpm
Gearbox 8-spd automatic
Kerb weight 2008 kg (kerb)
Top speed NA
0-100km/h NA
Economy 12.6km/L (claimed)
Rivals Toyota Alphard, Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Staria,