Family wagon winner: Kia Carnival SLi - 2016 Australia's Best Cars

By NRMA Motoring on 24 February 2017
2016 Kia Carnival

Winner: Kia Carnival SL
Second: Honda Odyssey VTi-L
Third: Kia Sorento SLi 2WD

Winner: Kia Carnival SL

Buying a family wagon is a decision that needs to be made far more with the head than with the heart, as functionality is the key to what this category is all about. It could be argued, however, that this year’s winner, Kia Carnival, takes the points over its competitors on both counts.

Carnival may still look a little more like a delivery van than some, but it is a well presented, purpose-built, family-friendly wagon, designed specifically to carry up to eight people in relative comfort. Almost car-like driving characteristics make it easy to live with, and there is a level of quality and refinement which most others in the class struggle to match.

Thanks to some important improvements in its safety credentials, Carnival has now achieved an excellent five-star ANCAP rating, which is a critical feature when transporting precious cargo such as your family.

Primarily family wagons are all about accommodation and the eight-seat Carnival is one of the most accommodating in the class. Being designed and built from the ground up as a people-mover, it is well proportioned and does not have some of the compromises you get with seven or eight-seat SUV wagons, which are trying to satisfy two masters.

The combination of comfort and space in all three rows is extremely high. This is especially noticeable in the third row, which can seat up to three adults in relative comfort, unlike most others which, with limited space and tiny seats, are only really suitable for carrying small children. Climbing in and out of the third row, however, is still a touch awkward. While the seat folding may not be perfect in every way, it does provide plenty of versatility. Once again it is still better than most. The lift-up tailgate and sliding rear doors are power operated on the SLi version, which helps make entry, exit and loading a little easier.

Even when carrying a fully complement of passengers, the sheer size of Carnival means there is still room for their luggage, a highly desirable feature that very few other family wagons can claim.

Australia’s Best Cars examines the best-selling version of each model line, and in Carnival – which has four trim levels in either diesel or petrol variants – that is the mid-spec SLi, with a 2.2 litre turbo-diesel engine coupled to a six-speed automatic. The SLi grade comes well dressed with leather trim, practically positioned controls and instrumentation, and a sensible range of standard features, including an excellent infotainment, navigation and connectivity package.

Kia’s 2.2 litre turbo-diesel engine is not the fastest in the class but its broad spread of strong mid-range torque, together with smooth-changing six-speed gearbox, delivers good performance for everyday driving, while still returning respectable fuel consumption.

For such a large van, Carnival handles surprisingly well and Kia’s local engineers have done a superb job with the ride comfort on all road surfaces.

The Carnival’s build quality is very good, while the value and peace of mind that Kia’s excellent seven-year unlimited-kilometre warranty and seven-year capped-price servicing program provides should not be ignored in the buying proposition.

Second: Honda Odyssey VTi-L


The family wagon class was an extremely close race with Honda Odyssey proving it has a lot to offer buyers in the areas that really count. Odyssey’s greatest appeal is ability to seat up to seven with an almost regal level of comfort, in all seating positions.

Odyssey, like Kia Carnival, was designed from the ground up as a people-mover. It looks, feels and drives like a large car-based station wagon. The cabin is thoughtfully laid out, from the clear, logically placed driver controls through to the easy access to all seats.

The top of the range VTi-L has a class- leading level of standard equipment, excellent build quality and five -star ANCAP safety. Its $50,339 drive-away pricing, while not cheap, still trumps the SLi Carnival. Honda’s three-year warranty, however, falls well short of the seven years offered by Kia.

Odyssey’s engine, with 129kW of power and 225 Nm of torque, does a respectable job as a daily drive but a bit more performance would be handy. The engine and transmission work hard when the vehicle is loaded or if you want rapid accelerating for safe passing and it becomes noticeably raucous.

Likewise the ride is comfortable when riding on good roads but it falls away on rough surfaces.

Third: Kia Sorento SLi 2WD


Buyers in this category sometimes prefer an SUV, and Kia’s seven-seater Sorento is an excellent option. Kia has managed to blend the things people love about a high-riding SUV with a people-mover’s functionality and versatility.

The 2WD variants are power by Kia’s 3.3-litre V6 petrol engine, coupled with a smooth-changing six-speed automatic. With a healthy 199kW of power and of 318Nm of torque on tap, it has plenty of strong performance when needed. The down side, though, is fuel consumption. For a vehicle of its size, Kia’s local engineers have done a good job in tuning the steering, handling and ride to suit Australian conditions.

Getting in and out is a bit more of a step up than the average family sedan, but once you’re there, comfort and space in the front and second row seats is good. The third row is useable but there are a few compromises. Access is a little awkward compared with the purpose-built people movers and the seating is close to the floor, meaning it is not as comfortable for long-legged people. Headroom is a bit tight and there’s not a lot of luggage space when all seats are occupied.

Sorento drives well, has a reassuring five-star safety rating and the SLi, which is the top-selling 2WD version, is relatively well equipped.

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