2019 Kia Carnival PE Si.
2019 Kia Carnival PE Si. Warren Kirby

Do you in fact need an unfashionably sexy wagon?

WANTS too often literally drive our needs.

Look no further than the popularity of SUVs for a fine example. Having eclipsed sales of sedans, hatches and wagons, these high-riders have become the dominant force on our roads.

The Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger dual cab utes were the top two selling vehicles in Australia last year.

While looking like off-roaders, the majority of SUVs cannot deliver when the going gets tough. The majority of SUVs never leave the bitumen...buyers have been romanced by the ride height and the pretence of additional cargo space.

Yet many of these popular modern high-riders have less space than dedicated station wagons, and in some cases the compact SUVs offer less cargo area than the hatches on which they are based.

Among the genres often overlooked by many is people-movers. Many see them as a sign children reign supreme, although once analysing the facts they become more compelling.

One of the best on the market is the Kia Carnival. This eight-seater offers near unrivalled seating flexibility and comes with two engine options - a four-cylinder diesel or a V6 petrol - with prices starting from $42,490.

The burning question remains, can a people-mover do a job straddling the uses of a ute and an SUV? We've put a Carnival on the long-term test fleet to answer the question.

2019 Kia Carnival PE S interior.
2019 Kia Carnival PE S interior. Warren Kirby

VALUE

Opt for the introductory Carnival, and it's relatively basic in terms of fit-out. Base models still come with a central touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital speedo along with aircon vents for all three rows.

For our test we've enlisted the Si derivative with a diesel engine, which sits one rung above base S models and starts from $50,490 plus on-roads. Equipment includes an eight-inch touchscreen (up from a seven), eight-speaker sound system, tri-zone climate control and 17-inch alloys.

Kia maintains the industry's best warranty at seven years and unlimited kilometres of coverage. Roadside assistance coverage is 12 months, which can last for eight years by continuing with dealer servicing.

Servicing is annual or every 15,000km, and each visit costs an average of $502 for the first five years. The diesel's maintenance is slightly more expensive than the petrol - $82 more over five years.

Only three colours are available in this grade: white, metal and silver. The latter two cost an extra $695.

The Kia Carnival Si under long term review analysis.
The Kia Carnival Si under long term review analysis. Grant Edwards

SAFETY

During an update last year all Carnivals gained autonomous emergency braking - technology which uses radars and cameras to avoid or reduce the severity of a crash from urban and highway speeds if the driver doesn't react quick enough.

Its five-star safety rating comes courtesy of testing in 2016, and it also has six airbags, forward collision warning, rear camera and lane departure warning. Rear parking sensors are also standard, but adding front guides is $750 dealer fitted.

Many of these features trump most dual cab utes on the market for a similar price, although the new Mitsubishi Triton has upped the benchmark with a strong contingent of safety gear.

The Kia Carnival Si under long term review analysis.
The Kia Carnival Si under long term review analysis. Grant Edwards

DRIVING

Petrol models are the most popular sellers due to hire car uptake, but for those that cover reasonable kilometres will find the diesel to be the best option.

Remaining strong under power and using a wider torque band to its advantage, it shifts through the eight gears smoothly.

The four-cylinder does a stellar job given the task. From grille to boot the Carnival measures 5115mm, which makes it a sizable vehicle.

When first getting behind the wheel you need to remember the length when cornering, and it can be challenging to park in tight spaces. Although with a short front overhang and using the rear camera, it's increasingly easy to drive following initial initiation.

With a turning circle of 11.7 metres it's tighter than most utes. It's better than the four-wheel drive Triton, Toyota HiLux (12.6m), Ford Ranger (12.7m) and VW's Amarok (12.95m). Large SUVs like the Subaru Outback (11), Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe (11.4m) have tighter abilities, but the Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series (11.8) are slightly larger.

The Kia Carnival Si under long term review analysis.
The Kia Carnival Si under long term review analysis. Grant Edwards

Where the Carnival shines is load space. With all seats in use there is 960 litres of space. With the third row folded flat it expands to 2220 litres.

That space saw us load four mountain bikes, the front wheel removed on three, with storage space in between for helmets. Loading the bikes is a slower process than over the back of a ute tailgate, but this has the benefit of being protected from the elements.

Some owners use the Carnival as a pseudo commercial van and remove the second row completely.

2019 Kia Carnival PE Si.
2019 Kia Carnival PE Si. Warren Kirby

ALTERNATIVES

HONDA ODYSSEY FROM $41,628 D/A

Powered exclusively by a 129kW/225Nm 2.4-litre 4cyl petrol engine. Lacks the internal smarts of the Kia, but drives well. It comes with powered sliding doors, and a seven-inch screen with satnav. The top spec version comes with the best safety spec which comes closer to the Kia, starting from $51,516 drive-away.

VW MULTIVAN COMFORTLINE $52,990 D/A

The entry level Comfortline has been at this price since last year and under the bonnet is a 103kW/340Nm 2.0-litre 4-cyl. There are only seven seats, and it too lacks the versatility of the Carnival's seating configuration.

The Kia Carnival Si under long term review analysis.
The Kia Carnival Si under long term review analysis. Grant Edwards

EARLY VERDICT

Fuel consumption is hovering around eight litres for every 100km, which is super thrifty. Tight parking spaces can be a challenge but taking a slightly wider approach to corners and making use of the rear camera improves daily duties. The rear flexibility is brilliant, those in the back just need to exercise some muscle when opening and closing the doors.

The Kia Carnival Si under long term review analysis.
The Kia Carnival Si under long term review analysis. Grant Edwards

AT A GLANCE

KIA CARNIVAL Si

PRICE $54,708 drive-away (good)

WARRANTY/SERVICING 7-yr unlim km w'ty (the best), capped services $2510 5-yrs (ok)

ENGINE 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel 147kW/440Nm, 8sp auto (solid)

SAFETY Five star, six airbags, smart cruise control, AEB, lane departure warning (strong for genre)

THIRST 7.6L/100km (impressive)

SPARE Space-saver (not great)

CARGO 960 litres (big) third row folded 2220 (massive)


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