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2023 Kia Carnival S V6 review (video)

There was a time, not so long ago, when the words ‘minivan’ or MPV were synonymous with ‘Tarago’. Those days are long gone and the Tarago has been dead for a while, leaving space for another player to wrest the crown of no-nonsense people mover; the Kia Carnival.

In fact, year-to-date sales figures show that demand for the Kia Carnival has grown by a whopping 40.8 per cent to the end of October 2023 (VFACTS), shifting 9646 units in total compared with 6853 for the same period last year. None of its rivals shift beyond double figures on a monthly basis, so a significant portion of the people-mover segment’s resurgence can be attributed to the Carnival alone.

Now in its fourth-generation, Kia’s smartened-up new MPV is a far cry from the 1998 original, with styling designed to tempt buyers away from SUVs. Kia threw us the keys to the entry-level Carnival S, in petrol V6 guise, so we can find out what makes it appealing, as well as anything that might put off potential customers.

2023 Kia Carnival S V6: Specifications

Engine: 3.5-litre V6 petrol
Output: 216kW@6400rpm / 355Nm@5000rpm
Gearbox: Eight-speed auto
Drive type: Front-wheel drive
Wheels: F & R: 17×6.5, 235/65
ANCAP: Five stars
Tare weight: 2090kg
Power-to-weight: 9.67:1 (kg:kW)
Official consumption: 9.6L/100km
Our consumption: 9.9L/100km
Fuel tank/Fuel type: 72L/91 RON
Power efficiency: 22.5kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 4.21 seconds*
0-100km/h: 8.54 seconds*
60-110km/h: 5.69 seconds*
1/4 mile: 16.20 seconds at 146.2km/h*
Max acceleration: 0.602g*
100-0km/h braking: 43.79m in 3.23 seconds*
Max deceleration: -1.151g*
Decibel at idle (/sport mode): 36*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 84*
Starting price: $51,690

*Figures as tested by Driving Enthusiast on the day. Manufacturers’ claims may be different

2023 Kia Carnival S V6: How much does it cost?

At time of writing, the Carnival S starts at just a whisker over the $50k mark, at $51,690. Metallic paint adds a further $695 to the bottom line. Nevertheless, this undercuts two chief rivals: the base Hyundai Staria and the LDV MIFA Mode.

For $2000 more, you can have a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine instead, which offers an official combined average fuel consumption of 6.5L/100km versus 9.6 for this petrol S. The diesel engine is Hyundai Group’s trusty R-series unit, which is acceptably refined and durable. If you are reading from New Zealand, the choice is much simpler as the V6 is not available.

Should you buy the petrol or diesel Kia Carnival? Well, using the NSW Fuel Check app, we calculated the theoretical break-even point to be 50,000km, with the cheapest 91RON at the time of writing being $1.879/L and the cheapest diesel at $2.159. The fuel costs would be $9019 for the petrol and $7016 for the turbo-diesel.

Capped-price servicing for the petrol Carnival S totals $3638 over seven years/105,000km, varying between $329 and $754; with the diesel variant totalling $3816 – a negligible difference of under $200. However, the petrol V6 has more going for it than the figures portray, as we’ll discus below.

2023 Kia Carnival S V6: Interior & packaging

From a family hauler perspective, an MPV has more usable internal volume than a comparable SUV. Although the latest generation Carnival adopts a more cab-rearward, two-box style, the packaging advantages remain intact.

At 5155mm long, 1995mm wide and 1775mm tall, the Carnival S is a whole lot of car for the money and makes copious usage of its 3090mm wheelbase. Head, shoulder and leg room for all seven occupants is, as expected, outstanding with sliding seats and USB-A and USB-C ports throughout, as well as (cleverly) integrated into the front seat-backs.

Boot space varies from 1139L, while folding the seats liberates more volume, increasing that figure to a monstrous 2461L. Third-row seat stowage is reasonably well thought-out, but far from the most novel we’ve seen, with the folded items still consuming more space than expected.

In terms of decor, you won’t find auto-sliding doors on the S, leather seats or even digital climate control here. If you want more amenities, the $60,290 SLi or $67,990 Platinum are there to serve your needs. Being a base model, you could be forgiven for expecting the interior of the Carnival S to be a dull, rental-car-esque affair.

Surprisingly, this is not the case. A glitzy, stamped aluminium effect panel encapsulates the air vents, spanning horizontally across the dash. Additionally, a contrast of black upper and beige lower colour theme elevates the overall atmosphere. The only telltales of a base model are a vinyl steering wheel, (durable and well-executed) cloth seats and a stark HVAC panel with three circular knobs and separate controls for the rear. In our opinion, none of these detract from what we consider to be a pleasant environment – especially for a base model.

An 8.0-inch touch-screen incorporating Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard here, as opposed to the 12.3-inch item seen on the SLi and Platinum grades. You’ll also find a conventional gear shifter rather than the knurled rotary dial further up the range.

Ergonomically, it all works well. Everything is where you expect, with the conventional HVAC dials providing distraction-free operation. Reach-and-rake adjustable steering and supportive seats provide decent long-haul support. This is an object lesson in how user-friendly a more traditional and simple HMI can be, compared with some of the overly complex systems plaguing other modern cars.

How safe is the 2023 Kia Carnival? ANCAP has given it its full five-star rating, which you can read about here.

On the subject of safety, we are pleased that Kia has incorporated the most important ADAS systems into even the base Carnival. These include autonomous emergency braking (AEB), front and rear cross traffic alert, speed limit information with limiter and even adaptive cruise control.

Seven airbags encompass the passive safety package of the Carnival S, but it’s worth noting there is no centre airbag between front occupants, nor thorax airbags for the second and third rows. In fairness, curtain airbags are there to provide head protection in a side impact.

2023 Kia Carnival S V6: Powertrain & handling

The naturally-aspirated V6 is fast becoming an endangered species, so we at DE relish any chance to sample a new car with one – even if it is enveloped by a minivan. This particular unit is a 3.5-litre V6, developing 216kW and 355Nm. Attached to an eight-speed automatic, it is smooth, responsive and ready to sing its heart out and fry the front hoops and a moments notice.

In fact, it can be all a bit much for the 235/65 R17 front tyres, with overzealous ESP intervention stifling progress off the mark. While turning it off does introduce wheelspin, it has enough traction to bolt off the mark, on its way to a 0-100km/h time of 8.54, according to our tests with the Vbox.

Against an ADR 81/02 combined cycle figure of 9.6L/100km, we managed 9.9. This is all the more impressive considering we weren’t light on the right foot, spurred on by the V6’s surprisingly lusty growl and induction noise.

Dynamically, we never expected this to be a Stinger, but it held up very well (for a van). High-speed stability is good, and the brakes are responsive. Steering, while accurate and direct enough to inspire confidence around town, is a fraction too light and inert – including in Sport mode.

Lateral grip levels are decent, with the shrieking tyres eventually yielding into predictable understeer as the laws of physics inevitably come into play. This is at a much higher threshold than the average driver will experience, and with the electronic nannies turned off.

There is always a feeling of solidity from the chassis, but a mid-corner, off-camber bump can upset the composure of the rear suspension slightly. Nevertheless, when you consider the MO of the Carnival is to haul seven people and not to be a performance car, we think the engineers have picked a good balance.

Ride quality is supple at all times, with NVH well suppressed, save for a bit of wind noise expected from a bluff-fronted MPV. A facelifted model incorporating Kia’s new insectoid, EV-inspired design language is expected next year, which could mean there are deals to be had on this current model.

2023 Kia Carnival S V6: Key attractions/reasons to buy

  • Lots of space for not a lot of dosh: $51,690 is not a lot of money in 2023 for a conveyance of this vastness, with the usable interior volume that only comes with an MPV
  • Lusty V6 engine: This was our favourite ingredient of the Carnival S, providing an unexpected fun factor, with a willingness to light up the front hoops. The eight-speed automatic makes for a smooth companion and helps it return good fuel economy figures for its size.
  • Comfort and practicality: The space and versatility of this van is beyond question and arguably the main reason for the increased sales volume.
  • 7 year/unlimited km warranty: Although this is matched by other manufacturers, Kia was the first to implement this length and roadside package, which has arguably been a key tenet of its success.
  • ADAS systems: No corner-cutting here, we’re impressed by Carnival S’s full suite of active driver assistance systems for the outlay.

2023 Kia Carnival S V6: Key considerations before you buy

  • Diesel model cheaper in the long run: As mentioned above, the diesel will break-even at around the 50,000km mark, but you will miss out on the V6’s clean-revving responsiveness and surprisingly appealing engine note.
  • No front centre or thorax airbags for second, third rows: The Carnival was tested by ANCAP in 2021, but without these features, the incoming facelift might have to lift its game somewhat. Having said that, we don’t consider these to be major concerns, considering Carnival’s crash performance and well-calibrated ADAS systems.
  • Dynamics aren’t truly engaging: ..but then they’re not supposed to be. One should reasonably expect some compromises when shopping for this form of vehicle, and, to Kia’s credit, it’s more car-like than many rivals.

2023 Kia Carnival S V6: Video

How does it rate against its rivals?
  • Price
  • Quality look & feel
  • Interior tech
  • Powertrain performance
  • Ride & handling
  • X-factor (does it stand out in its class?)

Final word

The Kia Carnival continues to prove SUVs aren’t always the answer. This is very spacious, practical, and it looks great. Matched with a 216kW V6, it’s also surprisingly fun and exciting to drive. Our recommendation is to try and aim for the SLi, as you’ll get more features and sportier tyres.

Mitchell Jones

Eccentric car nut and just as enthused by roasting an egg on the air cleaner of an old Hemi as he is hunting the horizon in a space-age electric supercar, Mitchell's passion for motoring started at a young age. He soon developed a meticulous automotive obsession for obscure facts. He joins Driving Enthusiast as a features writer and car reviewer, following a near 10-year stint at PerformanceDrive.
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