Kia Carnival First Drive Review: Moving people in luxury
The Kia Carnival is set to be Kia Motors’ second product for India. We find out if the Innova Crysta needs to be worried
The Kia Carnival is all set to be Kia’s second product in India, with its launch slated for Auto Expo 2020. A versatile MPV, it will be sold with multiple seating layouts and will rival other people-movers like the Toyota Innova Crysta. The Carnival one-ups the Crysta in a lot of areas, and one look at the amount of kit on offer indicates it will be more expensive as well. Does the Crysta need to be worried, though? We get behind the wheel and in to the backseat to find out.
The Kia Carnival is a smart looking MPV. The front-end features Kia’s signature Tiger Nose grille in black with chrome accents, and the face with its projector headlamps and fog lamps is imposing. There’s just enough chrome to make it look sharp, but it isn’t too overdone. On the side, you can tell that this is a really long MPV. Its almost a foot longer than the Innova, in fact. There’s a bit of chrome speckled here along the windows too, and it gets large electric sliding doors. At the back, the designers have focussed on making the Carnival look wide, which is why you see a lot of horizontal elements like the LED tail amps and the chrome strip between them. To my eye, the Carnival looks really handsome. It is well proportioned and the styling details like the lights and the grille add plenty of flair to the design. It looks particularly nice in black (the other colour options available are a white, and silver) where the few chrome elements really stand out. Kia is really serious about their design, and it shows. The Carnival also has a lot of road presence. Its sheer mass is evident on our roads filled with dinky hatchbacks. It is long and wide — and you’ll know it every time you see one on the road.
Check out our detailed video review here:-
Taking the back seat
The first thing that strikes you is the amount of space everywhere. Between your knees and the seat in front of you, your elbows from the elbows of the dude sitting next to you, your (bald in my case) head and the roof of the car. Everything is roomy and airy, helped in no small measure by the large glass area and the two sunroofs (both retractable) above the first two row of seats. I know, we normally start our reviews from the driver’s seat but the Kia Carnival is a different beast. It is all about the passengers. And so, I’m lounging in what Kia calls a ‘VIP seat’, which is basically a fancy captain seat with a leg rest in this 7-seat version of the Carnival, marvelling at how well packaged the MPV is.
For starters, it is versatile. Apart from the 7-seat layout, you can also have it in an 8-seat or a 9-seat layout. The last row in all these variants are sinking seats, i.e.. they sit flush with the floor when folded. You have got to manually unfold them but it isn’t too strenuous a task. Again, space at the back is impressive. The third row can fit an adult fairly comfortably, with the only issue here being the lack of under-thigh support due to how close the seats are to the floor — in fact the knee room is more than the third rows of the Crysta or even Audi Q7. With all three rows in use, the Carnival still manages to have 540 litres of boot space. With the last row folded, it goes up to 1624 litres. The VIP seats are wide and comfortable, and have loads of adjustability. Plenty of you asked us on social media about the 9-seat option, however, we didn’t have one at the first drive and I wouldn’t be able to comment. An informed guess would be that legroom would obviously be compromised to squeeze in the extra row, though I cannot say by how much.
Apart from the roominess that the Carnival has to offer, there are plenty of gizmos to make travelling (note how i didn’t say driving? I’m still in the back seat!) more pleasurable. This top-spec variant of the Carnival is called the ‘Limousine’ and it stays true to its name. Seats upholstered in Nappa leather aside, it gets two 10.1-inch entertainment screens for the rear passengers. These screens have a number of input options, including HDMI, USB, regular AV input and also include screen mirroring (individual for each screen) and can stream from the internet. Not only is there a USB charger in the back seat, but also a 220V socket to charge a gadget like a laptop. Or in our case, the rechargeable batteries that we use in our microphones. There are sunblinds for both the second and third rows, an air-purifier like we saw first in the Seltos and here it can also diffuse perfume in to the cabin. There’s plenty of storage in the doors, cupholders for both the second and third row, and even a USB charger in the third row. If there is something missing from the second row, it is a parcel tray that would allow you to work on the laptop you are charging or eat off of. The Carnival gets three zone climate control, allowing the rear passengers to control the AC themselves but strangely, these controls are located above the right side passenger window, making it a stretch for a passenger in the left captain seat.
Behind the wheel
Phew. I think I covered everything there. Now coming to the driving, the Carnival continues to impress. Honestly, I don’t know how many Carnival owners are actually going to get behind the ’wheel when the second row is so lavish, but I guess it’s bound to happen some time or the other. So I’m going to go ahead and tell you what it is like.Under the hood is a 2.2-litre diesel engine that puts out 187bhp and 440Nm, and is mated to an 8-speed torque converter automatic. The big highlight here has to be the refinement. The engine is extremely smooth, and not too much of its noise enters the cabin. Cabin insulation has no small part to play here, with it cutting out road noise and wind noise rather capably. As for performance, it does rather well here too. It doesn’t feel as punchy as, say, the 3.2 Endeavour, but it does have what it takes to do well. It gets the Carnival up to highway speeds with relative ease, and allows for the overtakes at these speeds. I would have really liked it if it had paddles. The gearbox is sometimes a tad bit slow to react and tapping it down a gear before an overtake would have made it a breeze.
Another factor of the Carnival that does well to keep the occupants cocooned comfortably is the ride quality. Kia has definitely prioritised ride quality, and five minutes in the Carnival (back seat or front) will make that very apparent. It is set up soft, but not to a point where it is unwieldily. At low speeds, it takes on bad roads with confidence. There’s no thudding and thumping of the suspension, and you feel genuinely isolated from the road below. As you pick up speed, and on the highway where the Carnival will probably spend a lot of its time, you find that the Carnival has very good manners. It doesn’t wallow and pitch, and remains very composed at high speed. Even when the road undulates, it doesn’t get unsettled and feels rather tied down. There’s none of that uncomfortable bouncy-ness that you generally associate with a car that is set up soft, keeping those backseat occupants plenty happy.
But the Carnival can’t bend physics and on a twisty road you are reminded of its size. Handling was never going to be a strong suit of the Carnival, owing to its mass, but then again, that is the nature of the segment. The steering is direct, but dead and the bigger issue here is the body roll. This Carnival isn’t a car you wanting to be pushing around corners, rather one that you take it easy when the road turns to keep the people at the back comfortable.
In addition to the driving, the layout of the dash is logical and intuitive. There’s a 8-inch touchscreen for the infotainment along with physical button controls and knobs for the three zone climate control. There are plenty of storage spaces like cupholders, bottle holders and a massive cubby-hole under the centre armrest and large door pockets. There’s even a cooled driver’s seat, though, the passengers miss out on this feature. You sit high up, but you don’t feel like you’re sitting right on top of the engine bay like in the Mercedes-Benz V-Class. You have a good view out of the front — but have to remember how long a car this is when you’re making sharp turns or overtakes on the highway.
The Kia Carnival is set to be Kia’s second product for India, and Kia has a very specific agenda for it. Brand building. It will use the Carnival to position itself as a brand that resonates with luxury, and premium-ness. Yes, its closest rival in terms of size, features and layout is the Innova Crysta. But where the Crysta plays a dual role of a fleet vehicle, and a private one, Kia intends to keep the Seltos exclusively for private ownership. Is that an indication of what their pricing strategy will be? Maybe. There’s a possibility that it won’t be as competitive as we want it to be. Though, in my opinion, if a fully kitted out Carnival comes at a Rs 5 lakh premium to the top-end Innova Crysta, it should be received well.
The Carnival’s strengths have to be its space, the comfort and luxury it promises the rear passengers. Ride quality is good too and overall, it makes for a great car to cover long distances in. It has its quirks — little things like the AC controls that are out of reach and the lack of cooled passenger seats — but it is very hard to fault otherwise. There’s a good chance you will be seeing a lot of these on our roads.