2020 Kia Carnival first drive review

Tuhin Guha Updated: January 21, 2020, 06:00 PM IST

How does Kia Motors India make an impact after the Seltos? Their first offering has been a massive success. Hardly has a carmaker become so dominant, so quickly. But the Korean carmaker's strategy is quite clear when they say they'll launch a new car every six months here over the next few years. They seem to want to get right to the top and cover every kind of customer along the way.

On cue, we now find ourselves behind the wheel of the Kia Carnival. It's an MPV, a package, unlike anything you've seen before at this price point. It'll launch at the Auto Expo 2020 with Kia hinting at a price above the Innova, around Rs 30 to 35 lakhs, ex-showroom.

Should I be interested?

Yes you should. The Carnival is over five metres long, just under two metres wide and almost as tall. And all of this space, aft of the front wheels are at the disposal of the occupants in one continuous section with a completely flat floor. On that floor you could opt for 7, 8 or 9-seats which makes the Carnival the most versatile seating MPV in the country today. And then there are the sliding doors, which is the best thing to have happened to MPV's. Imagine getting into a narrow parking space, and not having enough room to swing your doors open wide enough for third-row passengers to step out without having to contort themselves painfully. Now think of the Carnival, simply press a button, and the doors slide open alongside the rear body panel with enough room to step in and out of the cabin easily. There are other highlights as well.

The Carnival's simple, upright shape further helps it manage interior space optimally. We drove the Carnival in its top Limousine trim with seven seats. Our version came with the VIP second-row captain seats. These chairs are widely adjustable with a neat set of footrests. Combined with the generous angle of recline, second-row passengers can travel almost fully flat. The seats themselves are also very comfortable, with good back and thigh support. Aside from a generous range of adjustment front to back, these chairs also slide sideways! No manufacturer in the MPV space in the country does that. Seats that slide sideways is unheard of.


This is a thoughtful and easy adjustment and makes access to the third row easy. The third row is a regular bench seat. Even with the second row furthest back, there is a good amount of legroom. We would have liked a more comfortable seatback angle and better under-thigh support. But again, there's more ingenuity here. This 60:40 bench can be stowed away completely via an easy two-step process that can be completed one-handed. In another smart move, Kia has placed the spare wheel under the body just below the right sliding door. This gives you 540 litres of boot space with all rows up, via a deep boot floor, which is as much as if not more than, several large sedans. With the third row folded away, this increases to a humongous 1,626 litres, all of it easily accessible thanks to a low loading lip.

Third-row passengers are not short of amenities. You get sun-blinds like the second-row, a power socket and dedicated vents.

The VIP trim that we drove had some specials, for instance, the front seats are impressive. They are large and supportive and for the few times that owners of the Carnival take to the driver's seat, Kia has given special treatment to this chair. It gets eight-way adjustment with lumbar support and a ventilation function. All the seats in this trim also come exclusively decked in Nappa leather.

Other amenities tie this impressive setting together further. You sit high in the driver's seat, with a good view of the road ahead thanks to the large windscreen and windows. We expected to be blindsided by the large A-pillars but they don't affect visibility, neither do the outside rearview mirrors which are paced on stalks away from the A-pillar. The large upright windows, even the small quarter glass panels and the dual sunroof add to the airy and spacious feel of the interiors.

The well-finished switchgear that we saw in the Seltos makes its way here too. You get the same heft and damped operation in the controls and the knurled finish feels just as good

There's an eight-speaker, crisp Harman/Kardon sound system which pairs with an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment screen in the front, and two individual 10.1-inch touchscreen screens for the second row (exclusively on the top end Limousine trim). These connect via Bluetooth and also play content via USB/HDMI. The Smart Air purifier from the Seltos makes its way here too, but it has been optimised for this larger vehicle and can even disperse odour by using fragrances. Overall cabin quality with the soft-touch upholstery, fit/finish and materials quality is up to levels we now expect of Korean brands. The dash layout is a further exercise in good design, it is laid out with large, easy to read buttons and an overhead panel that also allows the driver to control the powered sliding doors. The UVO suite of connected-car features makes it's way here too.

Aside from this button, the powered doors can also be controlled through the key-fob and via a panel around the inner rear-view mirror

The Carnival has been around internationally since 2015, and signs of this are visible in the touchscreen being a generation behind what you get on the Seltos and an MID screen that could have been more feature-rich. We also thought the front passengers could have been better catered to, with no seat ventilation or powered controls.


The three- zone climate control provides cooling to all three rows, with the driver able to control the climate in each row. Additional controls for the air-con system can also be found just above the second row on the roof. There's vents for all passengers and numerous USB and 12V sockets are littered throughout the cabin. The second row even gets a 220V plug-point to power electronics like laptops, again something we haven't seen in other value-based and practical cars.

Should I care about how it drives?

Yes, because the Carnival's demeanour on the move is a nice complement to how it feels inside. The large MPV wafts along almost like a full-size luxury sedan or SUV might and handles our rough roads very well. Most bumps are dealt with by the wide, high profile 18-inch tyres and independent suspension all around, only the largest potholes might creep in but it's never uncomfortable. Ground clearance on international models is 171mm though Kia haven't released figures for this yet. Nonetheless we drove the Carnival over some very large speed breakers and despite the nearly 3 metres separating the front and rear axle, the Carnival never scraped its underbelly.

The 200 PS and 440 Nm 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged BSVI compliant diesel motor is refined for the most part, linear in power delivery and has a nice swell of mid-range torque. We like how the Carnival gets up to highway cruising speeds quite deceptively quickly. The in-house developed eight-speed torque convertor also has a hand at this. You barely notice it work, which is a good thing. It seems to keep the MPV in the right gear at most times and isn't over eager to switch to a higher gear as quickly as possible.

The Carnival's Limousine trim gets safety tech that is good but not redefining for its price. It gets six-airbags, ESC with Hill Start Assist, Roll Over Mitigation and Cornering Brake Control and TPMS.

One aspect we felt is lacking is steering feel. The large wide tyres add heft to the wheel at low speed. This fades away the faster you go and you're left with a lightness, throughout, that shouldn't exist. This is exactly the opposite of what should have been happening. In urban conditions, the steering feels heavy, and at speed, on the highways, it lightened up which is something that needs correction. We also missed the 360-degree cameras from the Seltos, especially the turn camera's that would have made managing the Carnival's size just that bit easier in tight urban situations.

The looks?

The Carnival's styling is a departure from what we've seen with the Seltos. There are similar elements like yet another interpretation of the 'Tiger Nose' grille and the ice-cube LED foglamps, but the sharp aggressive lines and striking design elements have been replaced by something much more subdued which is in line with what MPV's have been designed like. This is no bad thing, the overall result is a car that finds the right balance between form and function, well in line with what it's meant to offer as a package. Having said that the Carnival isn't a good looker by any measure, what will grab attention is its size, especially the length. The full LED lighting on the top trims is well detailed (but could have done with more effectiveness) and the front has just the right amount of chrome and aggressive cuts to grab attention.

The Carnival makes its heft felt the most while braking. There could have been better feel through the pedal but the effect is progressive ad something drivers will get used to overtime

The 235/60 R18 wheels and tyres in the Limousine trim fill the wheel wells nicely and this gives the overall design a completeness. Kia claimed that the whel and tyre sizes stay the same across variants which is good and there is a choice of alloy wheels both of which look good. The rear is attractive to look at dominated by the powered tailgate and some sharp angular edges to add some visual relief.

Should I pick this over an SUV?

This is the Carnival's biggest challenge, but one that it is equipped to handle quite well. It's expected to be priced in line with some big seven-seater SUVs that meet a similar brief as itself. But it offers more, the Carnival has 8 and 9-seat options as well. If you aren't the kind of owner that goes off-roading looking for the next big adventure, but are more enthused by space, luxury and practicality, the Carnival meets your expectations. However, you may want the butch, masculine and overpowering styling of an SUV to either complement or compensate! In which case the Kia isn't going to service your needs.

Also, unlike with the Seltos, where Kia took a trusted formula for success in India and then built on it with thoughtful execution, the Carnival adds a whole new dimension to a fairly popular segment. It has no direct rivals as of now, the V-Class and soon-to-be-launched Vellfire are dimensionally similar but twice as expensive. So the pieces for the Carnival's success have been set. It has a strong road presence, a premium-feel and thoughtfulness throughout, coupled with genuine comfort and practicality. Add to this the list of features and competent mechanicals, and there's no reason why someone looking for a large comfortable three-row or even four-row car might not find everything they want in the Carnival.

The challenge we believe is the size of the market Kia is after, its small and niche. So while Kia may have the right tool for the job, does the market need it? We can only wait and watch.

One For Everyone

The Kia Carnival will be available in three trim levels, Premium (7-seater and 8-seater), Prestige (7-seater and 9-seater) and Limousine (7-seater VIP).

The regular seven-seater features simple captain seats in the second row and the slick stowable third-row bench, the second is a VIP version that gets the highly adjustable second-row captain chairs as seen on our tester. The eight-seater option gives passengers a bench in the second row, the centre part of which can be folded down to make a wide armrest. Finally, the nine-seat versions get two rows of smaller captain seats and a straightforward last row bench seat.

The VIP seats give you a generous angle of recline, but lifting the footrest fully means your feet will likely touch the front seat

All trims come well equipped with even the base trim getting the eight-speed auto, rear camera, auto headlamps and powered mirrors. This means that the Carnival will appeal to a wide audience with a varying focus on luxury and utility.

Also see: Kia Carnival | First Drive

Images by Anis Shaikh

Price (Ex-Delhi)
Starts Rs 24.95 Lakhs
Max Power(ps)
Max Torque(Nm)

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