Comfortable Ipoh drive in the latest Kia Carnival

By Lee Pang Seng @ Leeps

KIA is making a calculated move on its ‘return’ to the Malaysian market under a new umbrella. Instead of focusing on the mass appeal range, this Korean carmaker is looking at re-establishing its presence at the more premium sector.

This saw to the recent introduction of the latest Carnival, which is more MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) rather than SUV (sports utility vehicle), to appeal to those desiring premium people movers with magnanimous size, good feaures and attractive price to boot.

Although there might seem to be a clash for similar buyers under the new umbrella group that it operates from, it is reasoned that brand loyalty might decide who buys what. Nevertheless, the new Carnival has many attributes that might just persuade other brand loyalists to give it more than a second look.

We were fully convinced that the latest Carnival has more to impress after a drive and ride experience from Glenmarie to Ipoh and back. Kia has given the Carnival the premium package to make driving and passenger comfort enjoyable, and this quality is often a significant one that swing sales.

Before we delve into our delightful experience as a driver and passenger in the new Carnival, let’s introduce to you the pleasant character of this Kia MPV. In choosing a two-box body design with an extended nose rather than usual monobox design commonly applied, the Carnival impressed us to be a large and tall stationwagon.

Kerb appeal is good with the unusual ‘lightning’ daytime running lights and dual LED (light emitting diode) headlamps enhancing its ‘tiger’ face. The rear lights are bulb units though. The body profile looks nicely windswept to boost aerodynamics and the Carnival comes with a full suite of passive and active safety systems.

But dimensional expanse is what the Carnival is all about. If you were put it alongside the Toyota Alphard or Vellfire, you might get a perspective of how much bigger the Carnival is. At 5155mm in overall length with a 3090mm wheelbase and 1995mm in width, the Carnival is visibly bigger. If it has to lose out anywhere, it is in overall height where it lacks a bit of ‘altitude’ at 1775mm.

Of course, the supremo in this people mover body size department is still the Hyundai Staria, a more exclusive seven-seater MPV that we had a brief preview of late last year. It wins hands down with a 5253mm body length, 1997mm overall width, 1990mm vehicle height and a 3273mm wheelbase.

The Carnival is obviously targeted at the customer with a big family with its 11-seater arrangement. With all seats taken, there is absolutely no luggage room and that’s where the standard roof rails would come in handy as it could serve a mounting base for a sizeable roof luggage compartment.

With the flexi-seat interior arrangement, the Carnival could be transformed into an MPV with lots of space to move newly bought furniture items from Ikea. During our Glenmarie-Ipoh drive, we chose to fold the fourth-row seats down to create some semblance of luggage room. Besides, the fourth-row bench seats appear best for kids with the rather limited legroom.

The second and third rows, sectioned 40:20:40, are similar in layout in that the middle seat could be easily folded to one side for a walk-through convenience. It could also be used as a centre tray with cupholders while on the move. There are seven USB ports that should give most onboard the opportunity to charge their handphones on long journeys.

Power-wise, the Carnival has what Kia calls its ‘Smartstream’ common rail direct injection (CRDi) turbodiesel 2.2-litre engine with aluminium block that also powers the Staria. This 2151cc engine is undersquare in configuration with an 83.0mm bore and long 99.4mm stroke. Kia has developed the engine to deliver a higher output than that in the Staria – 146kW (199hp) at 3800rpm and 440Nm from 1750 to 2750rpm.

It delivers the engine output to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission that works on a shift-by-wire basis. Yes, that means there are no linkages from a gearshift to the transmission and an electronic control takes over in engaging the automatic gearbox as per the selection made via a rotary knob on the centre console. Again, this is similar to that in the Staria.

The Drive & Ride

We were assigned four to a vehicle, which gave each of us ample room to observe the SOP (standard operating procedure) that we had to follow during this pandemic period inside the Carnival. We started out as the front seat passenger for the highway section to Tanjung Malim. Electronic seat adjustments are similar to that for the driver, except that there is no two-way lumbar support that the driver enjoys.

When a latecomer wanted to get in before the flag-off, he couldn’t open the sliding door to get into the rear passenger compartment. We learnt that as long as the vehicle’s transmission is not in Park mode, the doors would not open as a safety measure. It also applies for passengers wanting to get out.

These sliding doors are ‘smart’ too as they could detect an approaching vehicle and would not open until the vehicle has passed. This is practical for those getting out on the far side of the vehicle as that is a busier section of the road.

From our front passenger perspective, we could feel that Carnival got going easily with the strong torque developing early, especially for an MPV weighing more than two tonnes (2008kg kerb) and with four people on board. Selecting the transmission couldn’t be simpler with the rotary knob; merely turn it accordingly to Reverse, Neutral or Drive. If we wanted to play with the gears for a more engaging drive, the steering wheel paddle shifts were there to do our bidding.

We also noted how quiet the Carnival was with wind noise and road roar nicely suppressed at 110-120km/h. The variances in pitch in the road noise over the different road surfaces was noted but hardly something one would look out for because of the low decibels. There was a bit of a rustle from the door mirrors at higher highway speeds but it wasn’t intrusive and this added to the comfort of travelling in this Kia MPV.

When our turn to drive came, we rather let the Carnival’s eight-speed automatic do all the work on the secondary road from Tanjung Malim to Bidor. It wasn’t a tight and winding stretch that would require some manual gearchanges but a gently meandering one that the automatic transmission could easily handle with its selection of gears.

At one of the traffic light junctions, we decided to floor the accelerator pedal to get a feel of its turbodiesel power and was pretty impressed with the strong acceleration. The Carnival just up and went, taking us to more than 100km/h in pretty decent time. The engine torque is so good that we could cruise at legal highway speeds at 2000rpm. If the engine speed goes above that, we were definitely on a roll, albeit briefly, and praying that we wouldn’t run into any speed cameras. Kia says the Carnival would do a top speed of 190km/h.

Another positive note was the good fuel economy of the turbodiesel engine, something that was expected as such power units are often frugal on fuel consumption, based on our drive experience with pick-ups that used them. On our return from Ipoh, the fuel tank indicator was above the half way mark and we had already covered more than 450km. This took into consideration the rather robust driving the Carnival was put through. And the remaining fuel in the tank was good for another 400-plus kilometres!

The suspension seemed to soak up the uneven and bumpy secondary road well, thanks to the well-tuned MacPherson strut suspension in front and the multi-link design at the rear. Sturdy anti-roll bars also checked the vehicle body lean when we drove the Carnival at good speeds through the many sweepers along the way. Perhaps, the best testimony to this MPV’s comfortable dynamics were the snores of our two passengers in the second and third rows.

When we took our turns at being rear-seat passenger we could appreciate the ride comfort too while taking forty winks, whether it was on the second or third row. The suspension is definitely nicely tuned to soften and absorb road impacts, whether they be potholes, speed bumps or rumble strips. The Carnival is fitted with Continental CrossContact 235/60 R18 tyres that complemented the vehicle suspension well.

Being a 11-seater, there wasn’t the same luxury of space that we enoyed in the Staria whatwith the tighter legroom and limited elbow space. It was a good thing that there were only four of us on board and as such, we could slide and adjust the seats to suit our comfort demands. The seat squabs might have been a bit short but that didn’t affect our overall ride comfort.

There are window screens to keep the sun out for a less glaring drive and ample air vents on the roof to keep rear passengers cool. A slight hitch is the placement of the air vent control for the rear; it is located on the roof but it could only be reached by the second-row passengers.

This ride comfort experience might not be totally reflective of what a full load one would be but we believe it wouldn’t be far off. The leatherette seats offer good back support for long drives and the second and third rows have back rest recline convenience. Only the fourth-row bench type unit has fixed back support.

Given the positive impression thus far, this new Carnival certainly has a lot going for it in the targeted market that it is aimed at. And at under RM200,000 on the road without insurance, it is definitely very competitively priced especially for an imported MPV, thanks to the current sales tax exemption. For sure, it has set a benchmark for others to follow.

Link here – Price List
Link here - Specifications