THE race to provide a spacious and accommodating family mover is reaching fever pitch as more brands enter the market with mouth-watering products that are competitively priced.
A recent example is the resurgent Kia registering its strong comeback here this year with a highly potent product in the latest Carnival that is bound to give all and sundry in this premium family mover sector a superb run for the money.
If we were impressed by the concept-looking Staria from Hyundai, a sister company of Kia, we were equally blown away by the Carnival, for almost matching the expansive dimensions of the former.
Unlike the more exclusive and pricier Staria, you could buy the Carnival immediately to serve as your family mover role in grand style at a far lower price.
Currently, the imported Carnival is a steal at RM196,340 on-the-road without insurance, thanks to the partial exemption of taxes until mid-year.
Kia has chosen a two-box styling for this premium multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), or what the Korean carmaker has dubbed the ‘Grand Utility Vehicle’ (GUV), forgoing the monobox design common to such vehicles.
This is where the distinction between MPV and SUV (sports utility vehicle) or crossover is somewhat blurred in the desire to stand out from the others.
From the side, the new Carnival looks like a tall station wagon (or estate in the preferred European speak) that the older folks would remember from the 1980s and earlier.
Its modern status is established somewhat with a key fob that you could use to open both sliding doors on the side and the tailgate.
You could also use it to start the engine to cool down the large interior before you get in; something useful during this current blistering hot season.
The Carnival shares the same power unit as the Staria in the 2.2-litre turbodiesel but tuned differently by Kia to serve its GUV needs with higher outputs – 199hp and 440Nm of torque.
Likewise, the transmission is also similar coming from the same family background, with this being the shift-by-wire (called E-Shift) eight-speed automatic.
If we had any doubt about the improved 2.2-litre turbodiesel’s capacity to move a large people mover tipping the scales at slightly above two tonnes, our drive experience dispelled any misgivings.
We had four on board the 11-seater (unlike the Staria that is only made available as a seven-seater) and there was no lack of oomph when we floored the accelerator to pull quickly from the traffic lights.
On the highways, a slight dab on the accelerator saw to a rather seamless downshift to tap on the strong peak torque and power build-up to pick up the pace quickly for confident passing manoeuvres.
There are steering wheel paddle shifts for those wanting to select the gears for a more physically engaging drive.
And we like the quiet way in which the Carnival cruised at a quick canter on the highways; the road noise in particular was nicely subdued, likewise the wind noise, comparable to luxurious people movers.
This comfortable travel for all board – and we gauged this from different seating perspectives during the Glenmarie-Ipoh drive – is definitely a strong plus factor.
Kia attributes this appreciable ride comfort and improved noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) control to the enhanced body structure rigidity and additional sound insulation.
Complementing this aspect fully is the Carnival’s good dynamic qualities with an improved suspension system – front MacPherson struts and rear multi-link – along with thick anti-roll bars.
The ride quality is good, even when we were on the third-row seats, and this was best gauged on secondary roads from Tanjung Malim to Bidor. Rumble strips, road dips and minor potholes were all taken with a minor jarring note that hardly stirred some of our passengers from their siesta.
We could also take the Carnival through sweepers and mild corners with minimal body roll, which is another positive note on its dynamic balance for a heavyweight!
Being an 11-seater, the interior space quality couldn’t be compared to the seven-seater Staria but the Carnival could still accommodate comfortably with fewer people om board, which was our case during the drive experience.
Tighter legroom might be a slight bane with a full load; besides the fourth-row seats are more suitable to children with the limited leg space.
The positive note is that there is a USB charging point for almost everyone on board and the flexible centre seats on the second and third rows could be folded for walk-through convenience or to serve as a central console with cupholders.
Many roof air vents ensured cool air being well circulated to keep passengers comfortable although the rear vent controls are accessible only from the second-row seats.
In getting acquainted with the new Carnival, we found that if someone wanted to get in, he couldn’t open the sliding doors if the transmission was not in Park mode.
Similarly, the sliding doors wouldn’t open either if we wanted to get out if the Carnival detected a vehicle approaching from the rear.
To engage the transmission – Reverse, Neutral and Drive – you use a rotary knob on the centre console that one in our group wasn’t too fond of using, preferring the conventional gearshift.
In performance, Kia says the new Carnival could do a top of 190kph and a mileage of 6.5 litres per 100km; for the latter, we arrived back at Glenmarie with slightly more than half tank and total mileage of above 450km.
This was pretty good given the rather robust speeds that we took turns in driving the Carnival on the highway and secondary roads.
The vehicle system indicated that we could still cover another 400km with the remaining fuel in the 72-litre tank and if that is not economical for a heavyweight, we don’t know what is.
There are a lot more positives to this latest version of Carnival than we could cover and this should make for an endearing experience on first impression for most, if not all.