Car ReviewsFirst Drive

2015 Kia Carnival Si review

Paul Murrell’s 2015 Kia Carnival Si review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety verdict and rating.


IN A NUTSHELL: Once again, Kia surprises with a good value, well-specified entrant into a small segment.

Editor's Rating

Our first thoughts of the Kia Carnival Si
PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS: People movers deserve better sales, and the Kia Carnival is just the vehicle to tempt buyers away from SUVs.


PRICE from $47,990 (3.3-litre petrol from $41,490, plus ORC) WARRANTY seven-year, unlimited kilometres SAFETY RATING four-star ANCAP ENGINE 2.2-litre DOHC turbo intercooled diesel engine, 147kW @ 3800rpm, 440Nm; TRANSMISSION sports automatic BODY 5.12m (L); 1.99m (W); 1.76m (H) WEIGHT 2150kg THIRST 7.7L/100km (diesel, combined)

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LET’S FACE IT, Australian buyers are hardly overwhelmed with choice when it comes to full-sized people movers. If you’re looking for a diesel, the choice is even more limited. Of course, many will opt for an SUV with seven seats, but for many that’s a compromise too far.

We spent a week in the mid-spec Carnival Si diesel (with a price range for the new Carnival that starts at $41,490+ORC and stretches to $59,990+ORC, the Si diesel at $47,990+ORC sits right in the middle).

It steps up to the plate against the excellent Honda Odyssey and Hyundai iMax, but the Honda is hampered by not being able to offer a diesel variant, and with the amount of shuttling of rugrats that parents have to do these days, a diesel powerplant under the bonnet makes eminently good sense on longer runs. For comparison, we’ve stuck with diesel engines and auto gearboxes, which flatters the Carnival even further because the diesel engine is the pick of the range and the V6 petrol variants are not notably economical.

2015 Kia Carnival Si car review

For quite some time, the Chrysler Grand Voyager was selling strongly in this category, but it’s getting a little long in the tooth and the price is the highest in the class ($57,500+ORC for the LX diesel) – a Chrysler spokesperson told us that a facelifted Grand Voyager will go on-sale next year, although there are no plans to bring it to Australia, which leaves us wondering if the current model will soldier on or be delisted.

The closest competitor for the Kia is, as you’d expect, Hyundai’s excellent iMax for just $43,990+ORC (TQ-W diesel). Well worth considering also is Volkswagen’s Multivan at $49,990+ORC (TDI Comfortline diesel) and Mercedes-Benz throws a well-dressed cat in amongst the pigeons with its sharply-priced Valente at $54,490+ORC. If budget is a major consideration, take a look at the SsangYong Stavic from $31,990+ORC.

2015 Kia Carnival Si car review

Okay, let’s clear the elephant from the room: the styling of the Carnival is pretty typical of the class. There’s a short bonnet, a high roofline and a few detailing features to give it at least a touch of character. More importantly, the new Carnival is 75% more rigid (a major factor in reducing road noise, improving handling and making the vehicle safer). And there’s more interior space than before, despite the overall length being slightly reduced, but compensated for by the longer wheelbase. The family “dogbone” grille works well on the Kia MPV, partly because it’s less extreme; different treatments of the grille define the specification level (S, Si, SLi and Platinum). Most people won’t immediately pick the Carnival as a Kia.

2015 Kia Carnival Si car review

Inside, the Kia presents very well indeed, even in this mid-spec Si model. There are the usual two seats up front with individual armrests, three in the centre row (the two on the sides are slightly larger than the centre seat and the backrest of the centre seat can be folded down to form a useful table or removed altogether). Practicality is enhanced with the centre row able to be folded away with the seatback sitting vertically over the seat base, which is also vertical, delivering extra length for the luggage. Moving to the rearmost row of seats, there are three and they can be folded 60:40. Worth noting is that they fold completely flat. The second and third rows can be completely removed if desired.

Access to the second and third rows is fairly typical for the class. As usual, the third-row is a little tight for space, but no worse than most others. Up front, there is stretch-limo-like legroom and space. All eight seats get three-point seatbelts. Even with all seats in the upright position, luggage space is 960 litres, rising to 2220 litres with the back seats removed, and a huge 4022 litres with both rows stowed. ISOFIX child seat mounting points are fitted on each of the outer central seats and one of the rear seats (where there is insufficient space to fit two child seats, making two sets of ISOFIX redundant). Parents will appreciate the little wide-angle mirror that allows them to keep an eye on rear seat passengers.

2015 Kia Carnival Si car review

One annoyance remains unaddressed, and we’re sure Kia would like to have changed it too, since it was partly responsible for the Carnival scoring an unexpected four-star ANCAP rating when five stars were anticipated. The foot-operated parking brake is one of those American features most reviewers hate. It’s far too easy to drive off with it still engaged (why, I don’t know – perhaps it’s a psychological thing) and in the changeover from left-hand drive to right-hand drive, it’s location up against the transmission tunnel contributed to a lower score than required for five stars. Despite the considerable cost of re-testing, we understand Kia will remedy the problem and present the Carnival for further crash testing.

The parking brake and offset crash testing didn’t come up to five-star standards, but the Carnival is remarkably comprehensively equipped for safety, with six airbags, brake and traction control, and a reversing camera and sensors in all models.

2015 Kia Carnival Si car review

While the entry-level S is aimed squarely at the fleet market, the Si gets leather on the steering wheel, tri-zone climate control, DVD player and sat nav. We didn’t feel like we were making any unacceptable compromises. The SLi adds leather seats, power rear doors and tailgate, chilled glove box, power-operated driver’s seat and push button start. The Platinum model, as with all Kia Platinum-badged models, is very well fitted out with sunshade blinds, heated steering wheel, both front seats power operated and some additional safety items such as smart cruise control.

2015 Kia Carnival Si car review

The objective with people movers, as with SUVs, is to come as close as possible to sedan-car levels of ride and handling. Obviously, zero to 100 times are of little relevance. The S gets 17-inch steel wheels, while the Si we tested had 17-inch alloys (the SLi sits on 18-inch alloys and the Platinum on 19s). Unladen, the big Kia managed to feel a little light on its toes, transmitting the impact from some impressive potholes (we tried to miss them, honest!) into the cabin.

2015 Kia Carnival Si car review

On most occasions, the suspension did an excellent job of suppressing road irregularities and even allowed a reasonable degree of spirited driving, although it does feel odd to throw such a large and boxy vehicle around. Adding passengers to the Kia had it sitting far better on the road. Once again, the Kia suspension people have done an admirable job in tailoring the Carnival to Australian conditions. Plaudits too for a cruise control that will hold the Carnival to a set speed on a long downhill run rather than letting it creep up and leave you open to a speeding fine (something that happened to me in another brand recently despite having cruise set to the speed limit – there goes another $163 plus $60 victims of crime levy for a minuscule infringement).

The Si, like all models, is fitted with a six-speed auto transmission, complete with “Eco” mode and t-bar shifter that permits manual changes. The 3.3-litre petrol V6, as mentioned earlier, is a fairly thirsty unit, with a claimed consumption of 11.6L/100km. The 147kW/440Nm 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel is by far the preferable choice; the torque of the engine is well matched to the transmission and fuel consumption is a claimed 7.7L/100km, remarkably close to the 7.9L/100km we achieved.

As always, Kia’s generous (and market-leading) seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty is a huge bonus. Worth checking with some of the competitors is the service interval – the Kia needs attention every 15,000km. The VW is a standout with services required once every 22,500km, some others will be back to the dealer every 10,000km. The Kia wins the fuel economy challenge (in diesel format) and delivers much more torque than the competitors (the Hyundai iMax puts out a solitary extra Newton-metre at 441).

All in all, the Kia Carnival is another tour de force from Kia at a price that represents excellent value.

2015 Kia Carnival Si car review



Paul Murrell

Paul Murrell

Paul’s mother knew he was a car nut when, aged three, he could identify oncoming cars from their engine note alone. By 10, he had decided what his first car would be and begun negotiations with a bank to arrange finance, the first of many expensive automotive mistakes. These days, he is happy to drive other people’s cars (on the road, off the road or on the track) and write up what’s good about them and what isn’t.