Since 2004 the Kia Grand Carnival has led the people mover sales race, a mantle it lost in 2014 thanks to the arrival of the new Honda Odyssey. The combination of eight seats, loads of space and keen pricing have long made the eight-seat Kia a winner with bigger families.
Now the Carnival has been rebooted, complete with a new body – it's 15mm shorter and sits 55mm lower - more features and improved safety. The "Grand" moniker has been dropped, with the big people mover reverting to plain old "Carnival".
What do you get?
The Carnival range starts with the $41,490 (plus on-road and dealer costs) for the S model, representing an increase of a couple of grand over the model it replaces. It comes with a reversing camera, dual-zone airconditioning, rear parking sensors, cruise control, Bluetooth and 17-inch steel wheels with plastic covers. Any colour but white is another $695.
From there you can add more equipment while keeping the same basic mechanical package – a 3.5-litre V6 or 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel; the diesel adds $2500 across the range.
There's an Si ($45,490) and SLi ($49,990), for example, with varying levels of gear, each including rear air-con controls.
By the time you get to the Platinum it's a $57,490 proposition (or $59,990 for the diesel tested here). But it does get a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen, sat-nav, leather trim, smart key entry for the front doors), front parking sensors, heated/cooled/electric front seats and gleaming 19-inch alloy wheels. The tailgate and sliding doors are also electronically operated, with buttons on the roof up front.
There's also a suite of active safety features, including lane departure warning, blind spot warning and forward collision warning – but no auto braking.
Curtain airbags provide side airbag protection to all three rows and, for the first time in a Carnival, there are lap-sash belts in all eight positions. However, seatbelt reminders for the rear seats – something increasingly common in new cars and great for keeping an eye on kids – aren't yet fitted.
However, the otherwise impressive safety story was dealt a blow with independent NCAP crash testing, which revealed potential for injury around the driver's leg in a frontal offset test (the crash test was conducted on the V6 model, not the diesel). It's understood Kia is working on structural improvements and that they could be in place on new cars late in 2015.
It's all about the space in the Carnival, something there is more of despite the slightly scaled down exterior. There are eight seats – two up front and three in each of the second and third rows – each of which has ample head room for adults. The seatbelts for the two middle seats come out of the roof so need an additional clip to bolt them in.
Roof-mounted air vents ensure a steady flow of fresh air throughout the cabin and it's controlled by a separate system – ideal for minimising complaints.
The trio of middle row seats slides forward and back individually to trade off on leg room in the third row; there's ample to go around. You can also fold the middle seats to allow for bulky items, although the seats themselves are quite chunky and high. The windows on those third row of seats are also quite slim and high, reducing visibility for children.
The outer middle seats also cleverly dip the head rests as they fold forward to allow access to the back. The flipping and folding of seats is a good system once you familiarised yourself with the functionality.
The third row folds into the floor to create an enormous flat luggage space that still seats five.
Even with all the seats in use there's a deep, wide boot with 960 litres of space. It's one of the few cars that can take eight people and a decent chunk of luggage.
Unlike many vehicles with three rows of seats, the Carnival can have child seats mounted in the second or third rows, increasing the flexibility of where to seat little people. The Platinum also gets retractable blinds.
Storage is also a strong theme throughout, from the dual gloveboxes, a huge centre console and handy storage pocket on the passenger's side of the centre console. More cupholders than seats as well as nets on the backs of the front seats add to the plethora of storage options.
One gripe is the central touchscreen, which dims independently of the other interior lights; plus it is quite bright at night, even on its dimmest setting, something more of an issue on a dark country road.
Under the bonnet
A 3.5-litre V6 is smooth but uses plenty of fuel, which is where the 2.2-litre diesel steps in. Its muscular 440Nm of torque is better suited to the two-tonne-plus bulk of the Carnival, effortlessly easing it away from lights and making light work of hills.
There's some gruffness to its demeanour, especially when you rev it harder. But it's adequately muted and is a mild penalty for what is decent performance delivered in an effortless way.
The six-speed auto rarely finds itself caught off guard and is quick to respond by shifting down a gear when it is. It also does a decent job of tapping into that torque.
The main negative with the diesel is a propensity to wheelspin on faster take-offs. Pointing up a hill or dashing out of a side street with the wheels turned can lead to an unwanted chirp as the front wheels fight for traction. It's exacerbated on a wet road.
Claimed fuel use of 7.7 litres per 100km is general unachievable, although the diesel is significantly more economical than the cheaper petrol engine. We had it using about 11L/100km in suburban and freeway driving, much of which was done with four or more people on board. It returned 7.8L/100km on a longer country drive.
On the road
The Carnival is a vast step up on the previous one in the way it deals with bumps and bends. But there's still room for improvement.
Light steering is fairly accurate, but the big body leans once you ramp up the pace. It's a heavy car and feels it.
Some softness to the suspension makes itself more obvious when you load it up and throw some bumps into the mix; it dips and squats noticeably and calls for extra respect over speed humps.
Tyre noise is more prominent at freeway speeds, albeit far from a deal breaker. And other noises are well contained, making for a fuss free tourer.
Around town the Carnival is large but manageable. Average side and rear vision is compensated by large exterior mirrors and a reversing camera. And the impressively tight turning circle helps with parking and U-turns.
The Carnival mounts a convincing case for comfortable big-family transport. However some of that appeal is diluted once you're shelling out 60 grand for the Platinum. Cheaper versions with the diesel engine make for a more sensible – and affordable – family wagon choice.
2015 Kia Carnival Platinum Diesel pricing and specifications
Price: $59,990, plus on-road and dealer costs
Country of origin: South Korea
Engine: 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
Power: 147kW at 3800rpm
Torque: 440Nm at 1750-2750rpm
Fuel use: 7.7L/100km
CO2 emissions: 199g/km
Transmission: 6-speed auto, front-wheel-drive
Safety: 6 airbags; stability control
Pros: Spacious body; flexible seating; strong diesel engine; tight turning circle; long warranty
Cons: Heavy; soft suspension tested when laden; wheelspin from a standstill in some circumstances