Many of us came into the business of being automotive journalists to drive Evos and STIs. And that's fine; heck, that's what I thought when I started just over 11 years ago.
So what the heck am I doing driving the Kia Grand Carnival? And, more importantly, why am I enjoying it?
As you may know, the Carnival has been Kia's effort at making one of the most American of automobiles: the minivan. It's been around a while; in fact, this model you see here is the third generation of a nameplate, one that has a history that goes back nearly 2 decades.
The Carnival has been quite successful for the company, cementing their place as a family-oriented car company, particularly in the United States where the Carnival is known as the Sedona. Locally, this version is called the Grand Carnival, moving right along from the second gen model.
Those who have owned or have driven the previous model would know that there were two distinct versions: the version with the shorter wheelbase (2890mm) and the long wheelbase (3020mm). This 3rd gen Grand Carnival has only one wheelbase variation: 3060mm. That means this minivan (though marketed as an MPV) measures in at well over 5 meters long, but still slightly shorter than the older LWB version.
The first thing that is clear when I picked up the car, err minivan, was its looks: the Grand Carnival is handsome in a category where the word is very rarely used, if at all. This style is a result of the design revolution that the former Volkswagen and Audi designer, Peter Schreyer, initiated when he joined the Korean automaker in 2006.
The front end is quite interesting; there's an SUV-ness about the Grand Carnival, something unsurprising given that it shares a lot with the Sorento SUV. The intricate headlamps sweep around to the fenders, but it is the grill that is the most striking. There's a very subtle application of the tiger nose design element, but if anything, it looks like something you'd find on a Chrysler. No, not the Town & Country. Think 300C with the Startech grill.
I like the way the rooflines and the beltlines all continuously run from the grill all the way to the back. Kia's design team even found a way to make the greenhouse of the Grand Carnival interesting by adding a kink past the C-pillars, and blacking out all the posts after the A-pillars to create a floating roof effect. Yes, it sounds odd to say a minivan's design is interesting, but I can tell they spent a good amount of time and effort to making this happen, especially since the class has had quite a few duds. Remember the old Stavic?
The inside of the Grand Carnival is likewise interesting and impressive. The dash is busy but straightforward; everything you need is clearly visible, intuitively positioned, and within easy reach. There's a quality feel about the controls and the interior panels; you really are getting your money's worth when it comes to build consistency. From the driver's point of view, there's an impressive degree of visibility all around; that will be very handy when maneuvering this long, wide, and heavy vehicle around urban roads with their 90-degree corners and unforgiving kerbs.
There are three rows which can seat two in front (driver and passenger), two in the middle, and three in the back. There's a big compartment in the back that's recessed into the floor for luggage. For maximum cargo space, however, the rear seats can tuck in there and generate a fully flat surface for large items. Like washing machines.
Unlike the typical American minivan like the Honda Odyssey (not the Japanese one we have in the market now) which is meant for families, this Grand Carnival's configuration appears to have been intended to fulfill the role of executive transport. The reason for that is the presence of two captain's seats in the middle instead of the typical bench-type seat that you would buckle the kids in. Being that it appears to be more of a corporate limousine than a family hauler, Kia could have done something more upscale when ticking options on the spec sheet, like a different hue for leather. Black or darker terra cotta leather would do wonders for what is effectively an executive limousine.
At the heart of this Grand Carnival is a rather big engine by our standards: a 3.3-liter gasoline V6 engine, and it's bolted onto a 6-speed automatic gearbox driving the front wheels. This engine is actually a derivative of the motor we enjoyed in the Hyundai Azera (given that Kia is part of the Hyundai/Kia family), one that we noted for its smoothness and performance. This V6 is the improved version, giving the Grand Carnival 270 horsepower (metric) and 317 Newton meters of torque; plenty then.
Despite being a very big and heavy vehicle, the Grand Carnival moves with a surprisingly gracious sense of ease. No, it's not a diesel (even though there's a diesel variant) but the engine does have a good deal of torque from the get go. And more importantly, like the engine in the Azera, the Grand Carnival's acceleration and cruising manners are silky smooth.
Cruising around town is nice with the Grand Carnival. The rough stuff is kept away from the cabin very nicely, soaked up no doubt by the suspension. Even outside ambient noise is kept well in check, and wind noise isn't a problem even when you're cruising at 100 km/h. But what's surprising is the decent handling the engineers were able to dial into the suspension; no, you won't be carving corners in this, but it manages its weight very well. It's not lairy to drive with a fair bit of speed around bends; just don't push it too hard or you'll be see the stability control indicator blink away.
And as for safety, this one gets pretty much everything on the list. Six airbags are standard for this variant, along with anti-lock brakes and stability control. But this Grand Carnival also comes with a front and rear sensors, a blind spot warning system and a cross traffic alert system; all very useful for negotiating such a massive vehicle in urban traffic and mall parking lots on weekends.
The Grand Carnival is good, but the driving manners and the features can't mask the fact that the Grand Carnival is quite thirsty; in bad urban traffic where you're averaging 15-20 kilometers an hour, don't expect more than 4.5 kilometers to a liter. On the highway there's an improvement to 9.9 km/l, but that was with just two persons in the Grand Carnival, meaning it will go down significantly with a full cabin.
But I did like my time with the Grand Carnival; but it would be even better if I had a driver because the best seats in the house are in the middle. Given the target market of this PhP 2.8 million model from Kia, the thirst won't be so much of an issue as it prides comfort and smoothness above all. Unfortunately, this version is no longer available from Kia as they've discontinued it. Not surprising, especially since the 2.2-liter diesel engine is really that good, and clearly a better match for the big Grand Carnival.