2021 Kia Carnival review

Kia shakes up the Carnival people-mover, making it more like an SUV.

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The 2021 Kia Carnival is a bit of a shake-up on the people-mover concept. Essentially, it's like an SUV that rides lower, but with the same blocky body shape you'd expect from a 4x4. Plus, there's room for eight. Until recently, you'd have to look at vehicles like the Toyota LandCruiser or Nissan Patrol to tick all those boxes.

Who would the 2021 Kia Carnival suit?

Kia's updated Carnival people-mover is well suited for:

  • Those who need to carry eight passengers (including the driver).
  • Those who like the styling of an SUV, but don't need higher ground clearance and serious off-road capabilities.
  • Those wanting an alternative to van-based people-movers like the Hyundai iMax, the Toyota Granvia, Volkswagen's Multivan and the LDV G10.
  • Drivers who want a people-mover packed full of modern tech and safety assists.

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Fourth-generation Kia Carnival

The Kia Carnival is now in its fourth generation. First launched in Australia in 1999, it has consistently proven a popular people-mover with Australia buyers at several points in its lifespan. Round the world, the Carnival also goes by names like Sedona and Grand Sedona. The fourth-gen model runs on the Hyundai-Kia N3 platform, a modular architecture also found under the skin of the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Kia Sorento.

Kia Motors Australia's chief operating officer Damien Meredith said that the Carnival had always reliably delivered "practicality, comfort, space and power".

Meredith explained how the fourth-generation Carnival was a step forward:

"The all new Carnival still provides these essentials but adds on class leading features, with an outstanding design and driving features similar to a SUV. The appeal has increased, possibly to shoppers looking at the Upper Large SUV less than $100,000 segment."

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2021 Kia Carnival rear view

Key 2021 Kia Carnival specs

Engine3.5-litre petrol V62.2-litre diesel
TransmissionEight-speed automaticEight-speed automatic
Max power216kW @ 6,400rpm148kW @ 3,800rpm
Max torque355Nm @ 5,000rpm440Nm @ 1,750-2,750rpm
Combined fuel economy9.6L/100km7.6L/100km

2021 Kia Carnival infotainment system

What we're looking forward to

Here's what's interesting about the all-new Kia Carnival:

  • Styling. The design of the Kia Carnival is radically different to the previous generation. In the press photos, it looks good. A bit like a slammed SUV, but it works. We're looking forward to seeing one in the flesh and deciding if the Carnival pulls it off or not.
  • Room for eight. The Carnival was designed with the mantra of "Spatial Talents" at the forefront of the stylist's mind. This a car where you can likely socially distance yourself from the third-row passengers. It'll be nice to have so much space to stretch out in. Plus, the dimensions have seemingly universally increased, meaning there should be more room for everyone than before, especially those in the back row. With the third-row seats folded down, there's a massive 2,785-litres of space for luggage!
  • Incidental storage. Showing how tuned in Kia is to its target audience, the Carnival has more storage cubbies than many inner-city apartments. In total, there are four bottle holders, nine cup holders, four phone holders, two map pockets, two front seatback pockets, two coat hooks, accessory pockets in the front doors, a glovebox, a centre console storage bin and a shopping bag hook. We're looking forward to being in the car and not having to worry about where to put the stuff you have in your pockets. It seems like there's a place for everything, from your phone to your house keys and any loose change you have, as well as the tall maple iced latte you bought from your local coffee shop.
  • Equipment. Looking at the specs sheet, the Carnival has a fairly lengthy list of standard tech. Fold-down tables were always a favourite when we were younger, but the Carnival also has things like heated exterior mirrors, roof rails, a 4.2-inch driver's instrument cluster, an 8-inch infotainment screen (only on the entry-level S line, every other trim has a 12.3-inch display), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, steering wheel controls, – I could go on. We're also eager to check out the invisible rear windscreen wiper, which is hidden when not in use.
  • Safety. Being safe is something that many of us no longer take for granted after last year, so it'll be nice to be in the Carnival with the following doing their best to look out for you:
    • 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 & night rearview 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

And that's just the standard S spec. Higher grade models will receive features like front parking sensors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, LED projector lights (on the Platinum Carnival), LED front fog lights, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist and a 360-degree around view monitor.

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What we're keen to test

  • Handling. There's no getting around the fact that the Kia Carnival is a large car. With all the suspension and geometry changes Kia engineers have made, will the Carnival's handling be up to par? We want to see if things like body roll, in particular, are under control and if the steering responds more like a physically smaller vehicle.
  • Top-spec. We want to test the top-spec Kia Carnival, with its numerous luxury passenger comforts and conveniences. It sounds like the ideal car for a business doing airport runs or luxury travel. Plus, it comes in well under $100,000. We'll be scrutinising the Carnival's value for money closely.
  • Fit and finish. The quality of assembly is a hugely important test point for us. We like to sense that everything is well-engineered, designed and assembled. We want doors that close with a satisfying thunk and trim pieces that don't squeak against each other when driving on pot-holed roads. We're keen to listen to the Carnival, to see how effective the noise and vibration improvements are on real-world roads.
  • Parking. The Carnival is a big vehicle, so we want to test how easy it is to manoeuvre into a space. Does it respond like a cruise ship, or is it more agile?
  • Engines. Some online are suggesting the power output of the V6 is a bit underwhelming, so is it lacking punch? Will the diesel be the best engine option for modern drivers?
  • Seating space. It's okay to say that there are eight seats, but can you fit eight humans (and their stuff) in the car comfortably? Will it be more like a six or seven-seater in reality? What's it like on long journeys for all occupants?

We'll bring you more thoughts once we've had a chance to get some hands-on time with the Carnival and put some solid kilometres under its wheels.

2021 Kia Carnival pricing

GradeRecommended retail priceDrive away pricing from
S 3.5 V6 automatic$46,880$50,390
S 2.2 diesel automatic$48,880$52,390
Si 3.5 V6 automatic$52,380$55,790
Si 2.2 diesel automatic$54,380$57,790
SLi 3.5 V6 automatic$56,880$60,290
SLi 2.2 diesel automatic$58,880$62,290
Platinum 3.5 V6 automatic$64,680$67,990
Platinum 2.2 diesel automatic$66,680$69,990

Kia Carnival launch

When will the all-new Kia Carnival launch in Australia? Rumours circulating online seem to indicate that it'll be very soon, perhaps even this month (January). We'll update this as soon as we hear anything.

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