Kia Carnival review, test drive

    Could the Kia Carnival be the luxury MPV we’ve always longed for?

    Published on Jan 20, 2020 06:00:00 PM


    Make : Kia
    Model : Carnival

    What is it?

    First things first. The Kia Carnival is not a like-for-like rival to the Toyota Innova Crysta. Yes, the Innova Crysta will be the reference point for many buyers interested in a Carnival, but that’s really down to the fact that the Toyota has long been the only premium MPV option in India. In reality, the Kia Carnival is a significantly larger, more powerful and more luxurious MPV. There will be no overlap in prices either, meaning the Carnival will start where the Innova range tops off. In essence, the Carnival is an MPV meant for buyers who want something luxurious but have had to settle for an Innova for lack of choice.  

    With that out of the way, let’s talk of some of the Carnival’s distinguishing elements. While there’s only one size, buyers will have the option of choosing from 7-, 8- or 9-seats. The 7-seater seats occupants in a 2+2+3 layout, the 8-seater in a 2+3+3 layout, while the 9- seater is unique for its four-row (2+2+2+3) layout. The Carnival 7-seater will be available in all three trims (Premium, Prestige and Limousine), with the 8- and 9-seat versions solely available in Premium and Prestige, respectively. There’s only one engine-gearbox for India – a 2.2-litre BS6 diesel mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox.  

    What’s it like on the outside?

    The first thing that gets you about this luxury MPV is its size. Measuring 5,115mm long, 1,985mm wide and 1,755mm tall, the Kia Carnival is huge. What the dimensions also reveal is that the Carnival is more Mercedes-Benz V-Class (5,140/1,928/1,880mm) than Toyota Innova Crysta (4,735/1,830/1,795mm) in size.

    And it’s not just the size that distinguishes it from the other MPVs on sale in India. Sure, the silhouette is traditional MPV, but the well-defined front end, with that imposing grille and large headlamps, help establish the Carnival as something premium. The sculpted front bumper, unique ice cube-like fog lights and a skid plate add some character too. 


    A pronounced shoulder line, pinched effect for the third-row windows and sleek 18-inch alloy wheels uplift the Carnival’s profile, even if the massive 3,060mm wheelbase remains the focal point at the sides. The long rear overhang leads into an upright tail that's embellished with a roof spoiler, smart-looking tail-lamps and a skid plate at the base of the bumper.

    An important point to bring in is that the Kia Carnival uses the space-efficient combination of monocoque construction and a front-wheel drive layout. The Innova Crysta, for reference, is a body-on-frame, rear-wheel-drive MPV.  

    What’s it like on the inside?

    For an MPV so large, you’d expect the Carnival to be roomy inside. It is, and how. There’s considerable room between the two front seats, and the large windshield and glasshouse accentuates the feeling of space still. The good outside visibility also plays a part to help better the experience behind the wheel. What also makes an immediate impression is the overall quality in the cabin. The padded finish of the dashboard, the chrome details and knurled knobs are German car good, and that’s saying something. The Carnival’s dashboard doesn’t break the mould but it’s smartly laid out and user-friendly. The high-set, 8.0-inch touchscreen and centre console buttons are easy to reach and access. Front-seat comfort is also good, and occupants will also find it easy to get into and out of position.


    Access to the rear section of the cabin is via standard-fit powered sliding rear doors. These doors can be operated via the door handles, overhead controls at the front and the key fob. While the doors open wide, getting to the second, third and/or fourth rows entail a bit of a climb up. The grab handle on the B-pillar does help but older occupants might find it most convenient to sit on the second-row seat first and then swivel their legs in.      


    The middle-row captain’s seats on the 7-seat Carnival Limousine in focus here get reclinable backrests, can be slid back to maximise legroom and also feature fold-out leg rests. Suffice to say, the Nappa leather-upholstered seats are as plush as they look. Kia has also equipped the top-spec Carnival with dual 10.1-inch rear touchscreens with screen mirroring, HDMI and internet (via mobile hotspot), allowing you to catch up with your favourite shows on the ride back home. A 220V 2-pin plug point at the rear console (a feature that is exclusive on the India-spec model) also makes it possible to connect other heavy-duty devices.


    Couple all the goodies with the sheer room on offer and what you get is a genuinely luxurious experience. However, we did find that with the leg rests at full extension, our feet inevitably touched the seats in front. It’s not a biggie but it does highlight the absence of a ‘Boss mode’ or a one- touch mechanism to take the front passenger seat forward from the back. Armrests with a wider range of motion would also be part of our wishlist.


    Interestingly, the path to the third and/or fourth row seats depends on the version of the Carnival you opt for. 7-and 8-seat Carnivals in Premium spec and 7-seat Carnivals in Prestige-spec get what Kia calls ‘stand-up’ second-row seats – ones that fold upright to create a large cavity you can walk through. 9-seat Carnival Prestiges and the range-topping 7-seat Carnival Limousine require rear-seat occupants to walk to their seats via the passage between the second-row captain’s chairs. However, the Limousine trim does make life easier with the unique option to move the middle-row captain’s chairs sideways. Moving the seats inwards puts you closer to your fellow passenger, while moving them outwards frees up more room for rearmost occupants to pass through. Fact is, reaching the last row is fairly convenient.


    The Limousine’s third row can be slid back and forth to balance legroom and luggage room, and also feature reclinable backrests. However, the seating position is a bit knees-up, and headroom is adequate but no more. There is, however, no shortage of kneeroom and there’s also enough shoulder room for three average-sized adults to sit in relative comfort.  

    With all seats in place and the third row at its rearmost setting, the 7-seat Carnival has enough luggage room to comfortably hold two large suitcases positioned upright; the large cavity at the base of the luggage area equals lots of room. You can create more space by taking the seats forward. But to convert the MPV to cargo van, you need to fold the 60:40 split third-row seats. The superbly executed mechanism folds the seats flush with the floor. You’ll be surprised by how much luggage the Kia Carnival can swallow. In case you are wondering, the spare wheel is a space-saver positioned under the body at the B-pillar.  


    We also spent some time in the 9-seat Carnival. While this version’s second- and third-row captain’s chairs also get reclinable backrests, adjustable armrests, and can be also slid back and forth, they aren’t quite as luxurious or supportive as the ones on the 7-seat Limousine. The third-row seating position, in particular, is a bit too knees-up, even if it’s possible to find a reasonable knee-room compromise. The fourth row, however, is best relegated to occasional use. You are sat low, kneeroom is tight and headroom is inadequate for adults too. The proximity of the rearmost seats to the rear windscreen is another cause for concern. As it is, with all four rows up, there’s virtually no space for luggage. Folding the single-piece last row, however, does make enough space for a holiday’s worth of suitcases.

    Elsewhere, the Kia Carnival scores well on practicality. Up front, the main glovebox is supplemented by a small storage bay higher up, the door pockets can hold a bottle each, and there’s also a large bay under the centre armrest that's also home to USB and 12V power sockets. There are cupholders for each of the seats at the back, as well as a 12V outlet at the boot.   

    What features does it get?

    As mentioned, the Carnival will be available in three trims. The Premium (available in 7-seat and 8-seat versions) comes with dual airbags, rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, projector headlamps, auto headlights and cruise control. Power-sliding rear doors, three-zone climate control (with roof-mounted vents for the second and third rows), keyless entry and go are also standard fit. The infotainment system comprises a nice-to-use 8.0-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.


    The mid-spec Prestige trim (available in 7-seat and 9-seat versions) bundles in the added safety of ESC, hill start assist, front parking sensors and side and curtain airbags. LED head- and tail-lights, dual sunroofs, a hands-free tailgate, a 220V laptop charger and sunblinds for the second and third-row windows are the other features onboard. The driver’s seat also gets 2-way electric lumbar support adjust, though leatherette seats are exclusive to the 9 seat Prestige version only.


    Range-topping Limousine trim versions, available solely as 7-seaters, go the distance when it comes to features. In addition to the Nappa leather-upholstered ‘VIP seats’ and slick rear-seat entertainment system, Limousine trim versions also add in onboard navigation, a sweet-sounding 8-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, and Kia’s UVO e-SIM-based connected tech. The Carnival gets 37 connected features and the cool bit is you can operate certain features via a new smartwatch app. While the app functions only when the linked phone is close by, it’s nice that you can remotely switch on and pre-cool your car via a few taps on your wrist. Also unique to the Limousine versions is an onboard air purifier. Drivers don’t have it bad either; there's a 10-way powered seat, seat ventilation, wireless phone charging and the convenience of an electronic parking brake.       

    What’s it like to drive?

    You wouldn’t be alone if you’re impressed by the Carnival’s engine specifications. Its BS6-compliant 2.2-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel makes 200hp (at 3,800rpm) and 440Nm (at 1,500-2,750rpm). While the headline numbers are impressive, you need to see them in light of the Carnival’s weight. The Carnival Limousine tips the scales at a portly 2.2 tonnes, which means its power-to-weight and torque-to-weight ratios are in the same band as the now-discontinued Innova Crysta 2.8.


    The Carnival’s engine is easy-going and likeable. You get a steady stream of power and getting up to speed is undramatic. Throttle responses are good at all speeds and the impression is that there’s always a reserve of power on call. Still, the engine is not what you’d call punchy. Also, when you want a quick burst of power, you’ll note that the 8-speed torque converter auto is not lightning quick. There’s a mild pause in kickdown acceleration, but is that reason to complain? Not really. In the everyday grind or at gentle cruising speeds, you’ll find the engine and gearbox are well in tune with your needs. The gearbox is smooth and does well to shift up on time to keep revs, and by extension, noise levels in check. There’s a mild buzz at 2,000rpm or so, but, on the whole, engine refinement is really impressive. Adding to the sense of calm is the low road noise; the 235/60 R18 MRF Wanderers don’t throw up that typical tyre roar and the relatively tall sidewalls do a good job of filtering out sharp edges and ruts.

    Buyers who frequent highways will also find the Kia Carnival’s high-speed manners safe and secure. It drives with confidence and you get a good sense of control at the steering wheel – essential in a vehicle this large. That said, the Kia Carnival is expectedly not a vehicle that likes quick changes in direction. Turn quick and you’ll be reminded that there’s a lot of MPV behind you.


    On wavy surfaces, you’ll also note the softness to the Carnival’s suspension setup, especially at the rear. The ride isn’t floaty per se, but rear passengers will move around a wee bit every now and then. And the dampers could do with a firmer ‘rebound’ stroke. On the plus side, the low-speed bump absorption is really good with the suspension successfully filtering out the worst of our roads. What is a concern, however, is the Carnival’s ramp breakover angle. The 3m-plus wheelbase and 180mm (unladen) ground clearance could result in some unwanted belly rubs on speedbreakers when fully loaded.

    The Carnival’s sheer size could also be a point of contention for many, especially for those who reside in congested cities like Mumbai. A 5.8m turning radius means manoeuvering the Kia into a tight parking spot isn’t the easiest of tasks. For its part, the steering is easy enough to twirl and you also get the added assistance of parking sensors.    

    Should I buy one?

    With the Carnival, Kia is addressing well-heeled buyers who so far had to opt for an Innova Crysta for the lack of other options slightly higher up the price ladder. The Carnival’s not a hardy workhorse like the Innova Crysta but it differentiates itself by delivering a premium and upmarket experience that many will be happy to pay for. Even ‘base’ Premium versions get enough by way of features, while top-spec Limousine trim Carnivals are seriously loaded. 

    The Carnival excels as an MPV too. The 9-seaters will be of interest to buyers with large families, but we’d recommend the three-row versions that best balance practicality and comfort. That the Carnival is pleasant to drive is an added plus. How the lowly 13.9kpl ARAI fuel economy translates to real-world numbers remains to be seen, however.


    Kia will announce the Carnival prices at Auto Expo 2020 in early February. Buzz is that the Korean carmaker will launch it with an aggressive price tag in the Rs 26-35 lakh (estimated, ex-showroom) band.

    Practical, plush and powerful, the Kia Carnival could just be the all-in-one luxury MPV you’ve always longed for.

    Tech Specs

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