Kia Carnival SLi
Indicative drive away price: $57,126
Buying a family wagon is a decision that needs to be made far more with the head than with the heart, as functionality is the key to what this category is all about.
It could be argued, however, that this year’s winner, Kia Carnival, takes the points over its competitors on both counts.
Carnival may still look a little more like a delivery van than some, but it is a well presented, purpose-built, family-friendly wagon, designed specifically to carry up to eight people in relative comfort. Almost car-like driving characteristics make it easy to live with, and there is a level of quality and refinement which most others in the class struggle to match.
Thanks to some important improvements in its safety credentials, Carnival has now achieved an excellent five-star ANCAP rating, which is a critical feature when transporting precious cargo such as your family. Primarily family wagons are all about accommodation and the eight-seat Carnival is one of the most accommodating in the class. Being designed and built from the ground up as a people-mover, it is well proportioned and does not have some of the compromises you get with seven or eight-seat SUV wagons, which are trying to satisfy two masters.
The combination of comfort and space in all three rows is extremely high. This is especially noticeable in the third row, which can seat up to three adults in relative comfort, unlike most others which, with limited space and tiny seats are only really suitable for carrying small children. Climbing in and out of the third row, however, is still a touch awkward. While the seat folding may not be perfect in every way, it does provide plenty of versatility. Once again it is still better than most.
The lift-up tailgate and sliding rear doors are power operated on the SLi version, which helps make entry, exit and loading a little easier. Even when carrying a fully complement of passengers, the sheer size of Carnival means there is still room for their luggage, a highly desirable feature that very few other family wagons can claim.
Australia’s Best Cars examines the top-selling version of each model line, and in Carnival – which has four trim levels in either diesel or petrol variants – that is the mid-spec SLi, with a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine coupled to a six-speed automatic. The SLi grade comes well dressed with leather trim, practically positioned controls and instrumentation, and a sensible range of standard features, including an excellent infotainment, navigation and connectivity package.
Kia’s engine is not the fastest in the class but its broad spread of strong mid-range torque, together with smooth-changing six-speed gearbox, delivers good performance for everyday driving, while still returning respectable fuel consumption.
For such a large van, Carnival handles surprisingly well and Kia’s local engineers have done a superb job with the ride comfort on all road surfaces. The Carnival’s build quality is very good, while the value and peace of mind that Kia’s excellent seven-year unlimited-kilometre warranty and seven-year capped-price servicing program provides should not be ignored in the buying proposition.
1ST: KIA CARNIVAL SLi, 850
2nd: HONDA ODYSSEY VTi-L, 840
3rd: KIA SORENTO SLi, 828