2021 Kia Carnival review

The 2021 Carnival gives the humble people-mover a new lease on life.

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First launched in Australia in 1999, the Kia Carnival has consistently proven a popular people-mover with Australian buyers at several points in its lifespan. With the Carnival now in its fourth generation and Australians purchasing larger, more stylish, three-row SUVs as opposed to people-movers, Kia has decided to make some changes.

Taking inspiration from the SUV market, they’ve taken a chisel to what could be described by some as a bland design and sculpted a new Carnival that is genuinely attractive. 

With that being said, just because it looks more SUV-esque, should you buy one or just stick with old faithful?

Our test vehicle was the Kia Carnival SLi, which sports the 2.2-litre diesel and has a drive-away price of $62,290. If you would prefer to have petrol power under the bonnet, you’re looking at $60,290.

2021 Kia Carnival Specs

Transmission

8-speed automatic

8-speed automatic

Max power

216kW @ 6,400rpm

148kW @ 3,800rpm

Max torque

355Nm @ 5,000rpm

440Nm @ 1,750-2,750rpm

Combined fuel economy

9.6L/100km

7.6L/100km

What’s it like inside?

The fit and finish of the 2021 Kia Carnival are impressive.

Apart from the faux leather trim and wood-look insert, there is a large 12.3-inch touchscreen adorning the dashboard, sitting in the same panel as the speedometer and trip computer. It wraps around slightly too, tilting toward the driver, which adds to the occasion. While it may just be an attempt to imitate the look of some new European SUVs with screens spanning the dash, it still adds a level of class upfront. 

The screen itself is responsive and easy to use. Kia’s new infotainment software is well laid out and we’ve found it easy to learn and navigate across all new Kia vehicles we've reviewed. It comes loaded with satellite navigation, DAB digital radio, some unusual preloaded calming sounds as well as cabled Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. As this is the Carnival SLi, it also cops a 360° parking camera.

Seating up front is comfortable with the driver’s seat being 8-way electronically adjustable and the steering wheel telescopically adjustable, making for a quick job to get set up.

With Melbourne coming out of lockdown and Sydney seemingly going into one, there are acres of space between yourself and your passengers. It was welcome to find a large well-padded armrest opening up to reveal a deep storage bin.

From the SLi model up, there are electronic-sliding doors for access to the back seats. These can be opened internally via the key fob or hands-free (if you have the patience to stand next to the vehicle long enough).

Once in the back, there is plenty of room again, no matter how many you are carting around. Second-row seats are adjustable back and forward to allow for more legroom and can also be reclined for comfort. 

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The middle seat also folds down as needed to form an armrest or to allow access to inbuilt cup holders. You can also remove it completely should you prefer to use the Carnival as a party bus (don’t do this).

Impressively, USB connectivity is available for all. In the second row, you will find a USB plug in the back of the front seats, while third-row passengers have two points on either side. 

Dual-zone air conditioning is available for those in the front and you’ll also find single-zone air conditioning spanning the rest of the 2021 Kia Carnival, so nothing to complain about there.

One key benefit of the 2021 Carnival over its SUV counterparts is third-row space. Should you need to use these often or for long distances, those who draw the “short straw” are going to be much more comfortable back there.

How big is the boot in the new Kia Carnival?

The new Carnival offers up best in class storage thanks to some clever use of space. By making the boot floor sit quite deep, Kia has made more space available. The low boot floor also serves as a space for the third row to fold into, making a flat floor without them in place. 

Here is a photo to demonstrate how deep it is.

In terms of numbers though, with all three rows in place, the Carnival has 627 litres of cargo (or luggage) space. With the third row down, you have access to 2,785 litres. 

What's the 2021 Kia Carnival like to drive?

The fourth-gen model runs on a modular architecture (think Toyota’s TNGA platform). Named the Hyundai-Kia N3 platform, it is also found under the skin of the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Kia Sorento.

A new, fully-independent suspension system as well as noise, vibration and harshness measures aim to make the people-mover better behaved and more comfortable on the road. The set-up underwent local testing, tuning and refinement to ensure that it met the needs of Australian motorists.

As a result, the 2021 Kia Carnival rides comfortably, absorbing bumps and rolling over harsher surfaces while maintaining a good amount of body control. Where some SUVs can be too harsh without weight in them and others too soft, the 2021 Carnival finds a nice balance to be a people pleaser whether you’re driving or a passenger.

Replacing the hydraulic steering set-up of old is a brand new electric power steering system that makes this large van easy to manoeuvre around town. In SLi guise, with its parking sensors and 360° parking camera, it is also easy to park.

The output figures for the 2.2-litre turbo diesel under the bonnet are 148kW of power and 440Nm of torque – giving the 2021 Kia Carnival SLi more than enough power out on the road. Power gets to the front wheels via an 8-speed torque converter automatic transmission that is smooth and relatively quick at swapping cogs.

Officially, Kia reckons that the 2021 Carnival will get through 6.5L of fuel per 100kms on a combined cycle. 

There is often a level of disparity between these lab-tested numbers and those customers actually get out on the road; however, we weren’t too far off, coming in at 7L/100kms.

How safe is the 2021 Kia Carnival?

Kia has been quite generous on the safety front too. Not only do you get airbags spanning the cabin, ensuring everyone is safe in case of an impact, but Kia has also added a plethora of safety features and driving aids as standard across the range. If you were sitting in a base model Kia Carnival S, you would have the following safety features:

  • Anti-lock braking, with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist
  • Electronic stability control and a traction control system
  • Hill-start assist control
  • Multi-collision braking
  • Reverse parking sensors (with dash display)
  • Rear-view camera
  • Day and night rear-view mirror
  • LED front headlights
  • LED daytime running lamps
  • Dusk-sensing automatic headlamps
  • High beam assist
  • Speed limit information function
  • Intelligent speed assist
  • Blind spot collision-avoidance assist
  • Rear cross-traffic alert
  • Lane-keeping assist with lane change assist
  • Lane following assist
  • Lane departure warning system
  • Advanced smart cruise control (with steering wheel-mounted controls)
  • Manual speed limit assist
  • Autonomous emergency braking, with detection for cars, pedestrians, cyclist and junctions
  • Driver attention alert (with lead vehicle departure)
  • Safe exit warning
  • 5 x ISOFIX child seat restraints
  • Up to 11 airbags
  • Headlight escort function
  • Remote central locking with keyless entry and tailgate opening

As we had the higher spec SLi model, we also had the following:

  • Front parking sensors
  • Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
  • LED front fog lights
  • Rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist
  • 360° monitor

2021 Kia Carnival ownership

Each Carnival comes with a 7-year unlimited-kilometre warranty, and according to the Kia website, 7 years of capped-price servicing. When checking online, the following servicing schedule was shown for the diesel:

1 year or 15,000 km

$349.00

2 years or 30,000 km

$610.00

3 years or 45,000 km

$423.00

4 years or 60,000 km

$798.00

5 years or 75,000 km

$393.00

6 years or 90,000 km

$777.00

7 years or 105,000 km

$417.00

The verdict

The humble people-mover has never really been a desirable car, hence consumers moving to larger SUVs. But with the latest iteration of the Kia Carnival, I think the South Korean brand has done enough to make buyers take a second look.

It offers up more passenger space than SUVs, it now looks rather handsome, rides comfortably and with the diesel power plant is quite frugal and eager.

If I were a travelling musician, I think the Carnival would make a decent tour bus. Likewise, for large families, the Carnival is a great way of moving everyone, young and old, around in comfort and style.

If you have a need for 7 (or more) seats, you should definitely take a look at the 2021 Kia Carnival. 

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