Kia Carnival Limousine: First Drive Review
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For long, our benchmark for premium MPVs has been the Toyota Innova. That’s set to change.
Kia went from ‘kaun Kia?’ to ‘waah Kia!’ in a matter of days when the Seltos was launched. It didn't take long for the SUV to become the market leader -- beating the likes of the Hyundai Creta. Certainly, the expectation is much greater now, and so is the competition. Further raising the bar, the Carnival will be Kia’s flagship vehicle in India.
One look at the Carnival and you know it's not going to crack under pressure. It's not only big, but massive. It's not only premium, but luxurious. And it's not just spacious, it's a freaking condo on wheels for the entire family! What is this Kia Carnival and who is it for?
Forget the Toyota Innova. The Carnival is longer and wider than even the Toyota Fortuner and Ford Endeavour. And because it’s lower than the mentioned contenders, it gets an impressive stance on the road. This size is made more premium by the presence of LED projector headlamps, DRLs, and Seltos-like ‘ice-cube’ fog lamps. The large grille too gets an aluminium-like finish and looks classy.
From the side, the loooong wheelbase makes the Carnival look stretched -- like a limousine. The large windows create a floating roof effect, which helps the Carnival look stylish. Then comes the 18-inch (235/60 R18) wheels which, in this variant, get a ‘sputtering’ chrome finish. Kia claims this is a very expensive finish and will last on the wheels. But every scratch will tick out more than you’d want. There are roof rails as well helping the MPV look slightly taller than it is.
From the back, the design remains classy. It gets LED tail lamps and a subtle chrome strip almost connecting them. Overall, the Carnival looks stylish and very desirable for what is essentially a big van.
The Carnival we have driven is the Limousine variant and comes only with the VIP seven-seater arrangement. Hence, the carnival in this Carnival takes place in the second row. Press the button on the key, or on the door handle and it slides open automatically. The same can also be done by pulling the door handle for a more satisfactory experience. This MPV, unlike SUVs, is lower to the ground and hence, getting in is simple and elderly-friendly.
The captain seats in the Limousine variant are called VIP seats, and rightly so. They are big, cushiony and dressed in perforated Nappa Leather. The headrest is tasked to put you to sleep and the seats rightly complement it. You can not only slide them back to liberate more legroom, but can even slide them closer or further from the door. This is to avoid hitting the interior body-side panels when you want to slide it all the way back. Once done, you can enjoy the leg-rest on the seats, which can be extended to make a recliner-like arrangement. Incredibly comfortable!
However, there is a limitation to this scenario. Even with the second row all the way back and the front all the way in front, I still can't stretch my feet as it hits the front seats. This limits your use of the leg-rest. Fold the footrest back and this is probably the best captain seat under Rs 40 lakh.
From this seat, you can enjoy the view out of the large windows, which also open (unlike the V-Class which do not) and get a manual sunblind as well. Rear passengers get their own climate control, which can be operated from a panel on the top right of the cabin. To cool the massive cabin, Kia has given roof-mounted AC vents for all the rows.
You also get touchscreens for the second-row passengers. These are 10.1-inch screens and get multiple inputs like HDMI and AV-IN. You can also mirror your smartphone onto the screens. Audio outputs can either be sent to the car’s music system via Bluetooth or to a personal headphone via the 3.5mm jack. Both screens are independent so passengers can enjoy their favourites.
Naturally, because you will be depleting the battery of your smartphone while doing so, Kia has given not only a USB charger at the back, but also a 220V laptop charger -- a feature missing even in the Mercedes-Benz V-Class!
Overall, thanks to the array of features and recliner seats, the Carnival gives you the best second-row captain seat experience that you can get at this price.
Even the third row is one of the best when it comes to space and comfort. You can either slide the middle row or easily walk between the captain seats to reach the last bench. Even there, there is plenty of knee and headroom on offer. And because you can tuck your feet underneath the front seats, you won't be left complaining about that either. Individual headrest for all three passengers and a manual recline further makes things comfortable. The cabin width makes it usable not only for children, but adults as well.
In terms of features, you get your AC vents, sunblinds for the large glass windows and cup holders as well. You get a 12V socket here too so your devices stay juiced up. Look up and you get not one, but two sunroofs. And the one over the middle row is quite large.
With so much going on in the back seats, it's easy to lose focus on the driver. Luckily, that's not the case with the Carnival. Slide in the driver seat and you get a big car feel, not only in terms of size, but quality as well. The tall driving position and the massive glass area gives the driver fantastic visibility all around. The cabin is really wide and the driver sits quite some distance away from the passenger. The dashboard gets soft-touch materials and the steering and gear knob get a leather wrap. There are wooden accents on the dashboard and the doors as well. The seats, like all others, are well cushioned and will let the driver stay comfortable for long road trips.
In terms of features, you get ventilated driver seat, cruise control, three-zone climate control, and an auto day-night IRVM for the driver to feel like home on longer journeys. Ergonomics are sorted as well with a 10-way power-adjustable seat and a tilt and telescopic adjust steering. The one thing that feels a bit off here is the 8-inch touchscreen placement. While it is tilted towards the driver, it is a bit far away for the driver to reach with ease, which makes it difficult to operate on the move. Thankfully, the physical buttons for the infotainment are within reach.
It supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and is quite fluid to use as well. Kia also claims that it supports wireless Apple CarPlay vial the wireless phone charger, and that it will work once Apple enables the same on their devices. Speaking of wireless services, you also have the UVO connect features, which let you remotely start, switch on the AC, and lock/unlock the car. It also enables emergency and safety calls from the car to the emergency services.
The driver also gets tonnes of storage. There are large door pockets, a big centre armrest storage with sunglass holder, and cup holders in the centre console. Pretty much everything you are carrying can be stored with ease.
The 8-seater configuration is only available in the base variant. The last row here is the same as the 7-seater. The difference is in the middle row. The captain seats here are different, smaller and flatter at the seat base. In between them is a removable seat, which makes for a bench-like arrangement. These seats do not get the fancy leg rest or the side slide. Together, the seats are wide enough for three passengers to sit comfortably. And if you are seating just two there, the backrest for the middle seat can fold to become a large armrest with cupholders. And for easy ingress in the third row, the middle row doesn't tumble, but stands vertically with just a pull of a lever.
This is where most eyes will be glued in the commercial sector. You get smaller captain seats here, but there are four of them. These are lower to the ground and hence, not as comfortable as the other two configurations. The fourth row here is a bench (not the same as the seven and eight-seater), which is placed right at the back. Seating people in all the four rows is a big squeeze. Even if one of them is tall, there will be no kneeroom for fourth-row passengers.
However, fold the last row and it opens up a massive boot with a flat floor. With this, you can also slide the four captain seats back to liberate adequate kneeroom. And while that defeats the whole purpose of having a 9-seat MPV, it makes for a very comfortable 6-seater van with loads of luggage room.
It's deep. With the second row up, you get 540 litres of boot space, which is plenty for all kinds of luggage. The rear seats fold in two steps. Step one, the backrest folds down. Step two, the entire seat folds into the floor and you get a flat floor, which can take up to 1,624 litres.
And both these steps can be done in the 60:40 split. Also, while the second row is non-removable, unscrewing it gives you a massive 2,759 litres of space! That's enough to carry almost an entire house-worth stuff.
And if you are wondering about the spare wheel, that's tucked away underneath the floor, just behind the driver. It is a space saver and not a full-size alloy.
The Carnival is supposed to carry your entire family, and obviously, safety is a concern. Luckily, this Kia comes loaded. It gets six airbags, ISOFIX child seat anchors, ABS with EBD, Brake Assist and Electronic Stability Control. You also get Roll Over Mitigation, Hill-Start Assist, and Cornering Brake Control.
Engine and performance
The Kia Carnival is available with just one diesel engine, mated to an automatic transmission and unlike its rivals is front-wheel driven. There are no plans for a petrol or a manual. The 2.2L unit deployed here is BS6-compliant from day one. It makes 200PS of power and 440Nm of torque. The engine feels refined and remains rather quiet, even while going hard on the throttle. It's easy to drive in the city and the power delivery is smooth and jerk-free.
There is ample torque for city overtakes and it all comes in gradually -- not surprising the driver or the passenger. Even under hard acceleration, the engine and gearbox remain surprisingly smooth, which makes driving the Carnival a relaxing experience. The brakes feel spongy and not sharp. This could have been done so that there is no jerk in the cabin under braking as well. And while it's acceptable in the city, it is a thing to be mindful of on the highways.
Don't get me wrong -- there is ample power and torque here for even the highways but it’s sedated for a smooth drive experience. At 100kmph, the engine holds about 1500rpm and this car can munch miles all day long. The 8-speed torque converter gearbox is mighty smooth as well. It's not particularly quick but the shifts are seamless. It's better than what we have experienced with the Innova and the Fortuner, and on par with the one on the Endeavour.
Ride and handling
An MPV of this stature needs to have a comfortable ride to impress its masters, and the Carnival does that with relative ease. There is independent suspension on all four corners (McPherson strut in front and multi-link at the back) to cushion you well over the usual speed breakers and broken patched in tarmac. There is an initial firmness to the setup, which can be expected for a car weighing possibly over two tonnes but it never gets uncomfortable. Even on highways, the ride doesn’t feel bouncy and it can keep the occupants comfortable over long journeys.
Visibility from the driver’s seat is improved by the front quarter glass. It helps to keep an eye on the sides so you don't miss anything accidentally. The size only becomes a bother when you try and get into tight parking spots. However, the Carnival gets a handy turning radius and can make turns sharply. The steering though feels a bit heavy while making low-speed u-turns. The reverse camera and the front parking sensors help you avoid scratching the expensive paint finish of the car.
Let's get one thing straight -- this is a big car and needs to be driven like one. The front is pretty flat and stable while going through corners. The steering is on the heavier side, which keeps the confidence up. But, as expected, there is body roll. However, it's surprising how controlled it is. Change a lane like a good citizen and it is hardly felt in the cabin. Even on twisty roads, the cabin remains pretty stable and the body roll isn’t as bad as its tall body would suggest.
In our brief drive, the Kia Carnival has proven to be a brilliant family car. Not just because it can accommodate seven passengers, but because it does that with ease, comfort, and a hint of luxury. The practicality, with innovative engineering solutions, makes the cabin effortlessly versatile. It’s very easy to drive as well and the highway manners will be largely appreciated by long-distance commuters. But, while it is easy to manoeuvre, its size is something you will need to be mindful of while parking in tight spots.
For all of this, Kia will ask close to Rs 30 lakh (ex-showroom) and it will remain the brand’s flagship in India for the near future. Hence, the Carnival is for those looking for a no-compromise family car -- loaded with features, luxury and comfort -- rather than a premium SUV. If you’re one of them, it’s time to measure that parking space.