Kia Carnival Review: Making space where there was none

The Korean carmaker goes premium with a luxury MPV that will make you question your priorities


Kia showed us their new MPV, the Carnival, at a hotel that used to be the residence of the (apparently) once wealthiest man in the world. An unsubtle suggestion to what direction they’d like the narrative to go. I don’t think they had to try this hard; the Carnival has the chops to make an entry-luxury buyer think twice.

The Carnival is Kia’s second product in the Indian marketplace and whatever lessons they learned with the Seltos, they’ve applied here. The Carnival launch and drive was large, comfortable, raised a lot of questions and answered some. Chief among them — and we must get this out of the way — is that yes, it is larger than the Innova Crysta and while it is more expensive, you do get an entirely different segment of vehicle for the money. After experiencing the vehicle, I will not begrudge Kia for pricing the Carnival as they have.

 Kia Carnival Review: Making space where there was none

The Carnival is Kia’s second product in the Indian marketplace and whatever lessons they learned with the Seltos, they’ve applied here.

Be seated, pleased

Like the Seltos before it, the Carnival is available in a myriad configurations (though not the ridiculous 18 we counted last time). You can have it in 7, 8 or 9-seated configurations, and the flexibility of those seats will boggle your mind. This is a multi-cuisine fine dine that’s actually good! The 9-seater variant manages to accommodate that many passengers in four rows, which is more minibus than MPV, but it is unique.

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Like the Seltos before it, the Carnival is available in a myriad configurations.

We sampled the ‘Limousine’ variant — the top end model — with seven seats, and it delivers what it says on the tin. The second row of seats are ‘captain’ seats that adjust fore and aft, recline as well as shift side to side to make room in the aisle for third row passengers to get around. Ingress and egress does not require any calisthenic movements, thanks to the generous ride height and powered sliding doors. One simply walks into the Carnival with minimal creasing of garments. The seats themselves are comfortable, if a bit narrow. The variant at hand had Nappa leather upholstery, though the colour combination of tan/black felt more premium economy than business class. It also felt somewhat strange to have multiple latches to lift to manipulate the rear seats — where the sahibs will sit — while the driver gets powered controls.

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The sunroof is a giant, 2-panel affair, and everything you touch feels like quality, right from when you enter the cabin.

The interior is a very nice place to be. The sheer volume of the vehicle makes things feel roomy, and there’s plenty of glass area for natural light. The sunroof is a giant, 2-panel affair, and everything you touch feels like quality, right from when you enter the cabin. In fact, the moment I closed the front passenger door, I half-expected a powered closure, as in some luxury cars. The sheet metal feels heavy and coated with many layers of high-quality paint.

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The sheer volume of the vehicle makes things feel roomy, and there’s plenty of glass area for natural light.

The top-end model gets many, many conveniences, including a 220v laptop charging point, powered tailgate and sunshade curtains. The infotainment system is unremarkable, but solid with Android and Apple compatibility.

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Kia Carnival comes with a facility of using smartwatch to operate certain functions remotely.

Every surface I caressed or punched seemed solid and well-built. Kia has included their UVO connected suite for three years, with the added facility of using a smartwatch to operate certain functions remotely. Standard features include items we’re becoming used to — geofencing, security alerts, remote AC activation and the like.

When it’s go time

There is only one engine option available for the Kia Carnival — a 2.2-litre 4-cylinder BS6 diesel that generates 200PS and 440Nm of torque. That doesn’t sound like much to propel a vehicle that weighs 2.2 tonnes, but the 8-speed automatic transmission makes it work very well. Progress is smooth and the pace is acceptable. There is some engine noise, but every other sound intrusion feels well-controlled. The focus is clearly comfort, and the Carnival does not disappoint with its ride quality. It’s plush and controlled, and while there is body roll, it does not stay in the mind.

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There is some engine noise, but every other sound intrusion feels well-controlled.

The driver will notice the heavy steering, which is hydraulic, not electronic — a necessity for this size of vehicle. The Carnival feels long-legged and capable of comfortable trips over interstate highways. We did not have the opportunity to try it on bad roads, but in the urban clutter of Hyderabad around our hotel, the behemoth was quite manageable. The long-wheelbase did not cause any problems over speed breakers either.

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The Carnival feels long-legged and capable of comfortable trips over interstate highways.

About the only complaint we had was the significant engine noise when overtaking at high speed. Once you’re up to speed and back off a bit, the transmission gets back into cruise mode and things are quieter.

Thought experiment

Here’s a question: if you were in the market for an entry-level luxury car, would you be tempted away by the Kia Carnival?

I sure would, but I’m at least one fintech/delivery/dating/AI app away from that tax bracket. Starting at Rs 24.95 lac and going all the way up to 33.95 lac, the Kia is certainly priced a segment above the Toyota Innova Crysta, and feels like you’re getting more for your money.

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Kia Carnival comes with a host of luxuries and conveniences, and would work well for families and those who need to be driven long distances for work.

But in the mid-thirties on road, it offers way more than you’re likely to get in an entry-level luxury brand, which will still cost significantly more. Other options will include the Skoda Kodiaq, VW Tiguan and the Ford Endeavour, each of which offer their own interpretation of luxury and sensibility. Comparatively, I think the Kia Carnival holds its own. It comes with a host of luxuries and conveniences, and would work well for families and those who need to be driven long distances for work. However, people-movers are not “sexy”, so I imagine we’ll see a lot of Carnival 5-star hotel cabs.

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