2021 Kia Carnival Platinum Review: MPVs Aren’t Dead
Price & Equipment7.1
Performance & Fuel Economy7
Ride & Handling8
Interior & Practicality9
Service & Warranty9
What we like:
  • A new look and a new attitude
  • Insanely practical and spacious
  • Gusty turbo diesel preferable to the petrol V6
What we don't like:
  • A V6 diesel would be even better
  • Lacking some kit
  • No longer a $30k bargain
8DiscoverAuto Rating:

In our modern age of food delivery around the clock, spending our lives glued to streaming services and driving almost nothing but SUVs, the role of the people mover (aka MPV) has diminished. Thanks to larger SUVs offering seven or eight seats, as well as offering the raised driving position that’s so in vogue at the moment and plenty of creature comforts, MPV sales have declined significantly, so much so that various offerings – including the long-running Toyota Tarago – became no longer viable and have left the market. But one MPV has remained with reasonably strong sales: enter the 2021 Kia Carnival Platinum.

Based on the same platform as the new generation Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe, the new Carnival has been referred to as a ‘GUV’ – a grand utility vehicle. Kia has styled the new Carnival to look more like an SUV thanks to some off-road styling cues such as the skid plates and some tougher looking bumpers. In our time with the car, a few people did comment that it resembled an SUV, so perhaps the company’s effort has paid off. But don’t let the SUV styling fool you: this is still an extremely practical MPV that is perfect for family life.

Price & Equipment: 7/10

While pricing for the 2021 Kia Carnival kicks off at $50,890 drive away for the entry-level S, we tested the top-spec Carnival Platinum that’s priced from $68,490 drive away (the diesel engine adds $2,000 to all models). That’s a serious amount of cash, though the Carnival is well equipped for the money.

Standard kit includes black painted 19-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED lighting, leather upholstery, electric front seats with driver’s memory, heated and cooled front seats, heated second row seats, a heated steering wheel, a 10.25-inch touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, inbuilt satellite navigation with live traffic reports, digital radio, tri-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, keyless start, heated and auto-folding mirrors, electric-sliding side doors, an electric tailgate with kick-to-open functionality, dual sunroofs, ambient lighting, a 12-speaker Bose sound system and wireless phone charging.

Safety kit includes seven airbags, auto emergency braking (AEB) with car, pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keep assist, blind-spot warning and prevention with rear cross-traffic alert with braking, intelligent speed limit assist, safe exit warning, driver attention alert, rear occupant alert, auto high beam, adaptive cruise control, lane follow assist, a 360-degree parking camera and front and rear parking sensors.

Is the Carnival Platinum missing anything? Strangely, automatic wipers are not featured on any model in the entire range – same with the digital driver’s display with the blind-spot camera that features in the US-spec car. However, word on the street is that those features are to be added later this year, so watch this space. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto would be nice as well.

We also think that while the Carnival Platinum isn’t the best value Carnival in the range – that would be the lower-spec SLi, which is a full $8,000 less expensive. Compared with the Platinum, the SLi only misses out on the Bose sound system, wireless phone charger, heated and ventilated seats, black wheels and sunroofs. Yet it still offers keyless entry with remote start, leather seats, a 360-degree camera, auto rear braking, electric sliding doors and the full safety kit list. While the Platinum offers a lot of kit in the want category, the SLi has more than enough needs for most buyers.

Optional extras are down to which colour you’d like – ‘Ceramic Silver’ is the only no cost colour option, while ‘Aurora Black’, ‘Deep Chroma Blue’, ‘Astra Blue’, ‘Panthera Metal’, ‘Silky Silver’ and ‘Pearl White’ are all $695 more. Offering a cheaper price is a good thing as the 2021 Kia Carnival Platinum is no longer the sub-$30k bargain it once was. Of course, it’s significantly more advanced than even two generations ago, but even so, $70,490 drive away is a pretty big price to swallow.

Unlike in the US, where MPVs still sell well, competitors to the Kia Carnival are getting thinner on the ground in Australia. The Honda Odyssey, LDV G10, Volkswagen Caravelle and incoming Hyundai Starex are the main competition to the Carnival.

Performance & Fuel Economy: 7/10

For Australia, there are two engine choices for the 2021 Kia Carnival Platinum: a 216kW/355Nm 3.5-litre petrol V6 or the engine we tested, a 148kW/440Nm 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel. Both are front-wheel drive only, and both are mated to eight-speed automatic transmissions. Make no mistake here: the diesel is the engine to buy as the V6 feels not only sluggish at low revs by comparison, but its fuel consumption will be a lot more as well.

The 2.2-litre diesel is the same engine that’s used in the Kia Sorento SUV, and despite the Carnival’s heavy 2,143kg kerb weight, it motivates the Carnival just fine. Its peak 440Nm torque hits at 1,750rpm, and this is enough to make the Carnival feel plenty quick enough, especially around town. On the open road, revs sit very low thanks to the eight-speed auto’s wide ratios and it’s an excellent grand tourer. It’s certainly not the quickest, but offers more than enough grunt for most people – especially around town, where its good slug of low-down torque is handy.

Having said that, the larger 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel from the Genesis GV80 would be a perfect match to the Carnival’s awesome touring ability. Combining it with all-wheel drive would make for an excellent vehicle to the snowy regions of Australia. Alas, that would likely push the Carnival’s pricing even higher, but we can dream.

The eight-speed automatic transmission – not a dual-clutch unit, unlike the Sorento – is smooth as silk as well. It’s always in the right gear, and if you want more control, the Carnival features paddle shifters. We’re not mad on the circular shifter, though – the traditional shifter in lower-spec Carnivals would be easier to use. Because the circular gear knob is an electric shift-by-wire system, the Carnival Platinum is equipped with smart park assist, which allows it to be moved in and out of a parking spot from the key.

Fuel consumption for the Carnival diesel is rated at just 6.5L/100km combined, and we achieved 8.7L/100km in a week skewed towards urban driving. It features a 72-litre tank, and based on our consumption, a range of 825km is possible – do more highway work and over 1,200km is achievable too.

Ride & Handling: 8/10

Thanks to the adoption of the new Sorento’s platform, the 2021 Kia Sorento Platinum rides and handles better than the previous generation of the car. Why does that matter to people using it as a family bus? Well, your kids will be much happier without feeling the bumps of our terrible roads. On the flip side, it doesn’t roll about in corners either and thanks to the brand’s local tuning efforts, the ride and handling balance is great for a large MPV.

The ride itself is well damped and the body control is reasonable as well. It’s also quiet behind the wheel thanks to excellent sound insulation – the engine is particularly well hushed thanks to the new platform. One aspect not locally tuned is the steering, which was left behind thanks to a certain global pandemic – we didn’t really notice much difference to other Australian-tuned Kia products, but rumoured update later in the year will include an Australian-tuned steering system to make it feel more natural behind the wheel.

Measuring 5,155mm long, 1,995mm wide, 1,775mm tall and with a 3,090mm-long wheelbase, the 2021 Kia Carnival Platinum is a pretty large car that does take getting used to when maneuvering into parking spaces and so on. Thankfully its excellent 360-degree parking camera helps, as do the plethora of safety systems.

Interior & Practicality: 9/10

Inside the cabin of the 2021 Kia Carnival Platinum is a world away from the old generation of the car thanks to a more premium feel, a new range of materials and even a higher-scale appearance. There’s also a lot more available technology this time around such as a huge 10.25-inch touchscreen and kit such as wireless charging. Although it’s not quite as practical as the previous model – we miss the huge centre bin that you could literally lose bottles in – it’s more stylish and more modern.

Thanks to the use of higher-quality materials such as soft touch dashboard and door tops, as well as more soft leather on every seat, the quality inside the 2021 Kia Carnival Platinum is pretty good. Even the harder plastics used for most of the cabin are nicer to the touch this time around and will stand up to the worst that your kids can throw at it. But with a lovely leather steering wheel, there’s also something for the driver too. We do wish the lighter coloured plastics pictured here were darker as kids will definitely mark them – and where’s the tan colouring from the US-spec car?

While the cabin did lose its big central storage box, the 2021 Kia Carnival is still an intensely practical vehicle with several cupholders, places to store items and even USB charging ports everywhere to keep your kids happy.

Centre of the cabin is a 10.25-inch touchscreen that’s fully featured with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite navigation with live traffic, digital radio and even features such as the sound of nature, which projects available sounds to give off a more relaxing environment. The system itself is used in a plethora of other Hyundai Kia cars and it’s very easy to use, the screen quality is great and overall, it’s an excellent system. The sound from the 12-speaker Bose audio system isn’t bad either.

No matter which row you’re seated in, the Carnival provides more than enough space for its occupants. Even in the third row, we were able to sit more than comfortably behind ourselves with knee-, head- and legroom to spare. The second row also tilts forward for easy access to the rear. There are air vents in each row – the whole rear zone of the car features its own climate zone – and window shades as well. It’s this amount of available space that really shows just how much more practical MPVs are for families than SUVs – especially when the Carnival doesn’t feature a rear differential to take up space.

Behind the third row of seating lies a huge 627-litres of space, which is more than all the mid-size SUVs on the market. Fold that row into the floor, which is extremely easy to do, and that opens a humungous 2,785L of space – way more than that SUV you were considering. The second row of seats does not fold into the floor or anything clever though – they just tilt forward and slide up against the front seats – but with such a huge amount of space on offer, we’re not sure they need to.

Service & Warranty: 9/10

Like all other Kia products in Australia, the Carnival comes with a seven-year/unlimited km warranty, which was only just recently eclipsed by Mitsubishi’s 10-year offering, but it’s still excellent. Roadside assistance is offered for a single year upfront and servicing at Kia extends this by up to eight years in total.

Servicing the Carnival is not cheap, however as five years/75,000km of servicing costs $2,573 ($514 per service) – but it’s both cheaper and more convenient than servicing the Honda Odyssey, which has short 10,000km/six-monthly intervals and a total cost of $2,778 over 70,000km. The Honda also has a lesser five-year warranty.

The 2021 Kia Carnival Platinum DiscoverAuto Rating: 8/10

We think that the 2021 Kia Carnival Platinum comfortably demonstrates that there is a lot of life left in the MPV. Thanks to its long list of attributes such as a wonderfully practical and spacious cabin, a whole host of standard equipment, solid driving dynamics and a grunty turbo-diesel engine, there are many reasons to buy the Carnival if a family-first motoring purchase is required.

Unlike the Carnivals of old, it’s not a sub-$30,000 purchase any longer. And there are some features unfortunately left out of Australian-spec cars for now. But on the whole, it’s obvious how superior the MPV is to the SUV, especially when carting a car full of kids around. And for now, we think the 2021 Kia Carnival Platinum is the best of the breed – though make sure to consider the cheaper SLi too.

About The Author

Jake is the veteran automotive journalist in the DiscoverAuto team having been in the industry for more than three years. His first word was ‘Volvo’, he nitpicks every piece of design and has an unhealthy obsession for cars that feature rain-activated headlights.

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