The best way to test drive the new Kia Carnival people-mover is to put three or four people in it and let them figure out why global automotive research company WardsAuto called it one of the world’s 10 best interiors. That’s what Kia Motors NZ did this week with the launch of the third-generation model, a handsome, flexible carry-all penned by parent company president and design chief Peter Schreyer, the German stylist solely responsible for Kia’s rise as a mainstream competitor.Schreyer has done a crackerjack job with the Carnival’s eight-seat interior, something that WardsAuto seized upon. The outside is not bad either, with its raked windscreen and rear roof extension accentuating a sleek look that helps to hide what the Carnival and its rivals basically are: shoeboxes on wheels with three rows of seats. But it’s how the interior is packaged that separates one people-mover from another. This is where the Carnival gets the jump on rivals, helped by its wide-opening sliding doors and some clever touches. There’s another plus too, one that has more to do with the function of components under the vehicle than those inside – the way it drives. More on that further down the page. First, the new Carnival is lower by 20mm and shorter by 15mm than the outgoing model, but it has a 40mm-longer wheelbase, the result of which allowed Schreyer and his team to maximize both passenger and luggage space. It is also lighter but considerably stronger than before, with more high-strength steel in the architecture. Carnival is priced between $49,990 and $63,990. Three different spec levels are available – entry-level EX, mid-range Limited, top-range Premium – and two Euro5 engine choices, both driving the front wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox. There’s the 2.2-litre turbodiesel, a refined unit delivering 147kW at
3800rpm and 441Nm of torque between 1750-2750rpm. This engine is shared with the four-wheel-drive Sorrento SUV. An optional 3.3-litre petrol V6 develops 206kW at 6000rpm and 336Nm at 5300rpm. The classy cabin starts up front with the design of the dash and centre console, the functional assortment of controls (including three-way air-conditioning; an Eco mode for improved fuel use), and the variety of cup-holders, power points, and storage bins. The driving position in the top model comes with a powered seat that can be adjusted 12 ways.The middle seat in the second row isn’t as wide as those on either side and is more of a child seat. But it can be used as an armrest with cup holders, or removed altogether to open up the centre row. Removing it doesn’t inconvenience those sitting on either side – they have their own armrests. The third row can split and fold 60:40. With the third row in use, the deep boot can hold 883 litres of luggage. When the third row is folded into the floor, 2193 litres of luggage space is available. Folding the second row opens up almost 4000 litres. In short, Carnival does an equally good job of being a people-mover one minute and a removal van the next. But nothing in the way it drives resembles either. A couple of hours on roads south of Auckland showed up a particularly impressive ride/handling mix on 18-inch alloys, one perhaps more in keeping with a competent crossover than a people-mover. Body control was pretty well anchored at all times, the brakes were progressive and firm, the suspension set-up (MacPherson strut front, mutli-link rear and, along with shock spring rates, tuned by Kia for this part of the world) was spot-on. The steering has been tuned for right-hand-drive, too. Noise into the cabin from the road didn’t interrupt conversation between occupants in the first and second row of seats, but those in the third row had to cock an ear to hear what was being said. Nothing unusual about that in a 5m-long people-mover. It will be interesting to see how Carnival sells. It’s not a big segment by any means. Kia sold around one Carnival a week last year in a segment dominated by the $39,990 Dodge Journey. But this new Carnival is a revelation – I don’t know if there is a people-mover anywhere that drives as well as Kia’s new carry-all.