The Unexpected Hybrid
If you're looking for some kind of MPV or minivan where you can “chillax” in a comfortable captain's seat in the back whilst a driver takes care of everything in traffic, chances are you're looking at a Toyota.
They have them in all sizes and budgets. If the sky is the limit, you can go for the LM350 from Lexus, which in itself is a more luxurious version of the Toyota Alphard. If you want something bigger, then there's the Super Grandia Elite. If you're looking for something that could take a beating on our bad roads, then the Innova V is there. We can even argue that the high-grade Avanza can be as comfortable with the center armrest in the middle row.
Kia, however, wants a piece of that success with the Carnival. And it's something of a hybrid. We'll explain why later on.
Last year, Kia Philippines at long last was able to launch the all-new Carnival. Historically, this has been one of the bigger sellers for the brand. In a market where 7 seats are just “adequate”, something like the Carnival in short or long wheelbase was bound to succeed. The problem though was that the model started to get expensive with the third generation model called Grand Carnival. It shows the aspirations of Kia in the market, even though arguably consumers may not have been ready yet to see Kia as a rival to Japanese brands like Toyota, Mitsubishi, Honda, Nissan, and so on and so forth.
Much has happened since then, and Kia has a new fourth-generation Carnival to take them forward.
Take note: it's Carnival, not Grand Carnival. That's actually something Kia is doing worldwide; they're unifying the naming convention for this model. Even in North America, this is no longer called Sedona; Carnival is the new name.
The new Carnival is perhaps the purest distillation of Kia's ambitions. This thing looks very premium. From the color, the shape, the details of the grille, the somewhat uncovered headlamps, and that R8-ish silver blade on the C-pillar. I can see this fitting in perfectly when it pulls up to a club, be it a country club for golf on a Saturday morning or the super club on a Friday night.
That's what I think Kia was going for: executive transport. I think they nailed the design which is something Kia has been known for in the past 10 or so years. It actually commands respect from the curb, so much so that I think they need to make one change. More on that later.
The Carnival is a 5-door. The two front doors swing out like any other door, but it does have dual power sliding doors for the rear passengers. The fifth is the power liftgate.
The cargo area is impressive, as there's a huge recess below that can fit a -uh- man. That lowered floor can be used to bring tall cargo items, but it's actually there to allow the third row of the Carnival to tuck in and create a flat load space in the back.
The dashboard is clean and very modern with a meaty steering wheel and a comfortable driver's seat. Of course, the eyes are drawn to the panoramic thingamabob that Kia has going on for the dashboard. Actually, I quite like this approach, as they have literally created a housing where the screens are somewhat centralized with the instrument cluster in front and the audio system on the right.
There really is a lot going on with the dashboard. There are a lot of features on this minivan like power-adjustable front seats with cooling, a three-zone climate system, wireless Apple Carplay, and Android Auto, wireless charging for your phone, cruise control, blind spot warning, forward collision warning, and so on, and so forth. This one also doesn't have one sunroof; it has two.
The Carnival is a very nice drive. The steering is just right, the suspension manners are nice, and the power is there from the 2.2-liter turbodiesel that has 202 PS and 440 Newton meters of torque. The 8-speed automatic does have a good response, and depending on what kind of driving you're doing, you can set it to behave efficiently, or aggressively, or let it decide based on how you're driving.
For such a wide and long vehicle, it's actually quite easy to maneuver. The visibility is excellent through the many windows, and you've got sensors to help if need be. Parking is easy with the rear camera, but for some reason, Kia didn't include a 360-degree system that is swaying customers to other brands.
But really, what you pay for is the rear seat; that's why these vehicles are so popular in the Philippine market. For one, the dual sliding doors makes getting in and out so easy, and the height of the floor and the grab handles on the B-pillars will be a welcome feature for the elderly.
You really can enjoy the comfort of the middle row seats with the power ottoman so you can rest your legs like a La-Z-Boy. The headrests also have these winglets similar to an airliner seat so you can doze off without tilting your head so much to one side.
The height of the ceiling could be improved though, as it would be nice to not have to crouch so low when getting in and out, especially for the third row. That's actually something we identified with the Carnival right away: getting in and out of the third row has to be done via the center aisle as the captain's seats in the middle don't slide forward or to the middle enough to make ingress and egress for the 3 rear passengers convenient.
The ride comfort from the middle seat is fantastic, as you're really in the middle of the wheelbase where the ride comfort is the best. In the third row, it's alright, but it can be slightly bouncy given the weight of the vehicle.
I like the Carnival, and what I see in it is what many customers in this class are looking for. But there are some things that they should improve. What I identified early on, regardless of where you're sitting, is the manner of the diesel engine and the transmission. Turbo-diesels typically do not have linear powerbands like a naturally aspirated gasoline engine; that means these engines are not as smooth as their petrol counterparts.
As such, the ride won't feel as smooth as an Alphard unless you have a really good driver that modulates his/her pedal pressure very well. But the fuel economy more than makes up for it: this can easily achieve 10 km/l in the city (solo driving, average 21 km/h) and 16 km/l on the highway (solo driving, average 78 km/h).
The Carnival SX is impressive, but I think it could be even more so had Kia put in some other features because we can't help but look at what other markets have. The equivalent in the US would be the Carnival SX with the Prestige seat package and that one has more options for leather seats. That version also has a cleaner-looking full-width touchscreen audio system instead of this one that still has the dials, buttons, and not-so-crisp screen. The gauge cluster also isn't the full digital kind, which is odd, and it doesn't come with features like adaptive cruise control or autonomous emergency braking.
Those decisions to omit certain specifications may have to do with the target market of the Carnival: the owners of these vehicles probably won't personally drive these vehicles unlike over in the US. They'll have a chauffeur or family driver take care of it. And that's where I think the Carnival SX will shine, even for its PHP 3 million price tag.
When I mentioned earlier that this was something of a hybrid, that's because I think it is... in principle. The new Carnival feels like a blend of two vehicles that were once sold in the Philippines: the American-made Honda Odyssey and the Japanese-made Honda Odyssey. This new Carnival has the size of the Odyssey from the US but has the interior executive configuration of the Odyssey from Japan. That sounds like an interesting formula for our market, especially if you're kind of bored with the usual Toyotas.
Honestly, though, I think Kia should change the name. Carnival doesn't roll off the tongue as well as Alphard or Grandia.