Kia Grand Carnival SLi CRDi
RRP (manufacturer's list price, excluding on-road costs and dealer delivery): $50,190
Options fitted to test car (not included in above price): Nil
Crash rating: Four-star (ANCAP)
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 8.1
CO2 emissions (g/km): 213
Also consider: Hyundai iMax, Toyota Tarago, Honda Odyssey
It wasn't that long ago that your motoring.com.au correspondent was 'frying' the front tyres of Kia's feisty, petrol-powered Grand Carnival; Kia's very popular eight seater that with its enticing blend of price, performance and family-friendly features, has been Australia's best selling peoplemover for years.
Not resting on its laurels, though, Kia recently announced some important changes to the Grand Carnival range, including (finally!) the addition of the company's very impressive 2.2-litre diesel engine to the line-up.
Kia has also dropped the entry-level, short-wheel base Carnival, along with the base 2.7-litre petrol V6.
"The fact is we were selling about five of those a month; nobody wanted them," explained Kia Australia spokesperson, Kevin Hepworth. "And part of the reason was in the short wheelbase, it's fine for eight passengers, but don't try and put any luggage in it.
"People who need that car for more than five people on a regular basis, go on holidays. They want the longer wheelbase for the extra space," Hepworth advised.
For the revised range, the new entry-level model is the Grand Carnival with 3.5-litre petrol and manual transmission. The best news though, is the introduction of Kia's 2.2-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine, which puts out 143kW/429Nm compared to the previous 2.9-litre diesel's 136kW/343Nm.
First seen in Australia in the 2009 Sorento, it's an impressively smooth and torquey mill that when matched with the Grand Carnival's six-speed auto, finally gives the big Kia the right ingredients for efficient hauling of passengers and cargo.
Our first taste of the new diesel engine was in the Grand Carnival CRDi SLi. Priced from $50,190 ($1600 more than the previous diesel equivalent), the SLi spec delivers a decent amount of kit including bigger 17-inch wheels (with 235/60 R17 tyres), rear view camera, electric sliding slide doors, leather wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, and leather seats.
What you miss out on are rear parking sensors, electric tailgate, electrically adjustable driver's seat, six-CD stacker, and tri-zone climate control. For these goodies you'll need to fork out another $6000 for the top-spec Platinum version.
Having previously driven the lower-spec Si variant, the extra features in the SLi were appreciated, including the easier-to-clean leather seats and rear view camera. The Grand Carnival's hefty, van-like sliding doors can be a touch awkward when opened manually, so the addition of push button, electric-sliding doors in the SLi was a bonus, and should be especially appreciated by less muscular types.
Kia has added Bluetooth phone and iPod streaming across the range with the upgrade. Although we had to consult the manual in order to work out how to 'pair' our iPhone, the system worked nicely once up and running.
One gripe we continue to have with Kia's peoplemover, though, is the lack of adjustability when it comes to steering wheel reach, which meant with my long legs, I was positioned a tad too far from the wheel.
But it's the on-road performance and fuel efficiency of the new diesel that really impresses. One of the biggest complaints of the previous, truck-like 2.9-litre diesel was turbo lag, but there's little evidence of this with the new one. With 86 more Newton-metres available from 2000rpm, it pulls strongly and steadily from the lights and even with a full load of passengers onboard, accelerated smoothly and willingly up a long, steep incline in top gear.
Unlike the rev-happy (and thirsty) petrol V6, the 2.2-litre diesel doesn't often need to be pushed beyond 3000rpm to achieve good around town performance, and even when pressed the engine remains refined and relatively muted. It's also quiet on the highway, with just a hint of tyre and wind noise.
The Grand Carnival still doesn't handle as sweetly as the Honda Odyssey, but then the Kia's more comfortable ride and superior interior space and functionality are arguably more important in a peoplemover anyway.
For our money, the SLi diesel makes sense despite its significant $4000 premium over the petrol version. The vast difference in fuel consumption (in our experience) makes a strong case on fuel savings alone, at least over the long term. Over almost 500km of freeway and city driving, we recorded 9.5L/100km for the new diesel, whereas the V6 petrol Si we drove recently, achieved close to double that (17.0L/100km).
The only other issue could be getting your hands on one, with the new diesel likely to increase demand compared to the previous 2.9-litre (we believe it sold in very small numbers). Then there's the general issue of limited supply of Kia's 2.2-litre engine due to worldwide demand, so be prepared for an extended delivery.
"Availability as it is with diesels is going to be the problem," confirmed Kia's Kevin Hepworth.
"If [a Kia dealer is] selling a diesel Grand Carnival, you're basically taking it out of a Sorento [or other model]. There's only a certain amount of 2.2 diesels available [for Australia] across the range."
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