The underlying objective of a large MPV is to maximise space for its occupants and their belongings. It’s no surprise that they tend to end up as glamourised window vans with rounded edges, riding on a nice set of alloys, but good to look at and good to drive they certainly aren’t.
No, Kia has not reinvented the MPV with the all-new Carnival and going by their early efforts that were dull and short on quality (yeah, we are talking about you too, Naza Ria), you wouldn’t expect them to. But something clicked with the last one – the YP-generation Carnival was way easier on the eyes, the build quality improved notably and it was widely praised for its diesel powertrain.
If you were to park the all-new Carnival next to the previous one, it’s clear that Kia has gravitated towards the looks of an SUV with beefier fenders, roof rails and generous application of lower body cladding…but due to the Carnival’s increased length and overhangs, you’ll also see more than a hint of station-wagon-ness about its proportions.
While the width and height are roughly the same, the new Carnival bears a much sportier stance and looks noticeably less upright than before. The striking front grille, bearing chrome ‘tiles’, runs the width of the vehicle and neatly integrates the headlamps and intricately drawn daytime running lights. It’s a bold look, but it does give the Carnival a distinct identity unlike the faceless Carnivals of the past.
In fact, the exterior of the Carnival is simply chock-full of little touches which lend it the aura of a premium product; the chrome blade (with diamond motif) on the C-pillar is a clever ploy in breaking up the otherwise lengthy greenhouse of the vehicle, while the darked-out pillars do make the roof appear as if it’s ‘floating’, finished off with a trendy tail-light bar that stretches the width of the tailgate.
An MPV that drives well
The attributes of a large MPV – boxy profile, high centre of gravity and a suspension typically tuned for passenger comfort – are not the building blocks of a fun-driving vehicle. Kia hadn’t defied physics here nor turned the Carnival into a 3-Series beater, but you know what, this is a large MPV that won’t annoy those who love to drive.
For something that tips the scales at just over two tonnes, the Carnival is surprisingly receptive to inputs through its lightly-weighted steering, unlike most large MPVs that tend to lose their poise when asked to change direction, even at modest cornering speeds, the Carnival fends off body roll capably. And for vehicle this long (5,155mm in length, the wheelbase is 3,090mm), the Kia is surprisingly manoeuvrable in city confines, and comes across no larger than a D-segment sedan.
While the firmer suspension set up of the Carnival — front Macpherson struts with rear multi-links — does trade some pliancy for a higher degree of control, the ride of the Carnival is never harsh and is able to soak up the gnarly surfaces of Malaysian roads, which also suggests that its body rigidity is up there with the best, even if rolling noise isn’t as well contained when cruising at triple-digit speeds.
Interestingly, one would have expected the Carnival’s diesel engine to be the biggest contributor to the NVH tally, yet the updated Smartstream 2.2-litre four-cylinder (with 199hp and 440Nm) is well behaved; its refinement and linear response across the rev range is impressive, as is the smooth 8-speed automatic which it is mated to.
Getting the Carnival up to speed is simply a case of engaging ‘D’ (via a cool rotary knob) and letting it do its thing, forward progress is effortless and you won’t even need to fiddle with the gearshift paddles or tinker with any of the drive modes, that’s what 440Nm does for you.
Can fit the starting eleven
Given that the last generation Carnival sold in numbers as an eight-seater, the decision by the new distributor of Kia in Malaysia to offer only the 11-seater raised eyebrows. However, that doesn’t mean that the 8-seat variant won’t be made available some time down the road, but for now, it’s the 11-seater or nothing. So is this a dealbreaker?
A four-row Carnival (2-3-3-3 seating) offers operators of tour or school buses, maybe even hotel shuttles an attractive option, the fact that the diesel engine returns strong fuel mileage makes the Carnival commercially feasible, though it must be stressed that with all seats erected, there’s no space left to stow any luggage.
The Carnival is probably happiest as a three-row family MPV with ample cargo room for flatpacks, bicycles, golf bags, canines or whichever hobby you might indulge in. In this configuration, legroom isn’t an issue but if all four rows are deployed, you’ll need to aggregate space judiciously to keep everyone satisfied.
The drawbacks of the 11-seater are reduced cargo space (the fourth row needs room when stowed way) and lap belts on the two flip-up ‘jump’ seats and the rearmost middle seat. The new Carnival meets all safety mandates for the class of vehicles which it was homologated under, but two-point lap belts just don’t offer the same level of passive safety as three-point harnesses, so bear that in mind. And despite offering blind spot warning, rear cross traffic assist and the full plethora of passenger airbags, autonomous emergency braking is curiously absent.
The best seat in the house
Conventional wisdom dictates that the best seats in an MPV are aft of the driver, I’m not so sure if this is true with the new Carnival. There’s much to admire when seated behind the steering wheel of the Kia; from the well-made and stylish dual-tone dashboard to the logical ratio and placement of physical and capacitive switches, even the novel rotary gear selector looks at home and only takes a few moments to work out. There’s real quality in the execution.
For those who never considered a MPV because of how they look and drive, even if they are considerably better at accommodating passengers compared to large three-row SUVs, this new Kia might just change your mind. The Carnival ticks all the boxes in terms of fulfilling its MPV duties, but it does so while looking super cool and being genuinely pleasant to drive – the best compliments a large MPV can possibly earn.
Likes: Cool styling, pleasant to drive, refined diesel engine
Dislikes: Lap belts in 2022, no autonomous emergency braking
Kia Carnival 2.2D
Price: RM326,943.19 (w/ 100% SST exemption) Engine: 2.0-litre diesel turbo 4-cyl inline, FWD Output: 199p and 440Nm Transmission: 8-speed auto Performance: 0-100km/h in 12 seconds (approx.); top speed 190km/h Wheels/tyres: 235/60 R18 Safety: 7 airbags, Blind Spot Warning, RCTA Warranty: 5-year/100,000km