LIFE with children can be a whirlwind. Often when you have a brood, it can feel cyclonic.
It was perhaps appropriate that Cyclone Marcia had arrived with full force to welcome Kia's all-new eight-seat Carnival.
There was nothing easy about this launch. And just like new parents, the people-mover was given no respite - a baptism of teeming rain.
No longer in the bargain basement with a starting price of $41,490, the Carnival is still available with a choice of diesel and petrol engines across four trim levels, but has lost the "Grand" from its name and also abandoned its gawky looks.
Little has changed in the space department - despite being slightly shorter and lower than the old model.
The wheelbase has been lengthened (40mm), and you still get impressive head, leg, knee and shoulder room across all three rows. Actually, the head room has improved for those in the last pew.
This is a genuine eight-seater, and even the third row isn't restricted to kids. Fitting three adults across the second and third rows would require hip bumping but it's not unachievable.
Getting into the back seat is easier, with wider door openings and improved movement of the second row that also has a flip function where the seat base rolls forward and the seat "stands up".
Base models come with stain-resistant cloth trim, although we spent all our time in up-spec SLi, which gets leather and a two-tone grey cabin colour palette.
Buttons are well labelled and easy to find, and there are plentiful storage options and 10 cup holders along with door bottle accommodation big enough to handle wine (always handy for parents at day's end).
On the road
Tried and tested powerplants are at the heart of the Carnival: a 3.3-litre V6 petrol and a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel.
Both are serviceable units, getting the job done without fanfare. The bent six is smoother at idle and low speeds, but we especially liked the diesel for its mid-range torque, which showed a nice turn of speed when required while laden with the family.
Steering is light and sometimes lifeless at highway speeds, despite the carnival having hydraulics instead of the electric system most often used nowadays. But that should actually be appreciated by Carnival buyers - it's easy to manoeuvre despite being more than five metres long.
When at slower speeds and parking, the steering gets heavier. The parking sensors combined with the rear camera are extremely useful given the Carnival's length.
Yet most impressive was the people-mover's composure in the conditions. Despite the hammering rain, it stayed well planted on the road, and was outstandingly quiet, which can be attributed to the soundproofing material around the engine bay and wheel arches, while new under-floor panels have reduced wind noise.
This carnival is a far more rigid unit, too, with a massive improvement in bodyshell and chassis stiffness, mainly due to the increased use of ultra-high-tensile steel.
What do you get?
Base S models are really the target of hire car and government buyers, with 17-inch steel wheels, 10.1cm colour touch-screen, rear parking sensors and camera, cruise control, six-speaker CD stereo with Bluetooth phone connectivity and air-con.
After that is where the private buyers should really start shopping. The Si adds alloys, sat-nav with a 20.3cm touch-screen that is also DVD-capable when stationary, tri-zone air-con and leather-wrapped steering wheel, along with LED rear lamps and positioning lights up front.
Getting into the SLi adds leather trim, power sliding side doors and rear tailgate, push-button start, power eight-way driver's seat, front parking sensors, cooled glovebox and slicker-looking 18-inch alloys.
Then comes the Platinum, which gets everything thrown in, such as chrome 19-inch alloys, sunshade blinds in the second and third rows, 17.7cm TFT cluster for the driver, wood/leather steering wheel, electric seat adjustment for the front passenger (both front chairs also get lumbar alterations), as well as a full safety suite incorporating blind-spot warning, radar cruise control and a forward collision warning that can help the driver avoid accidents.
While the Carnival gets an array of safety equipment, it does miss out on a five-star safety rating due to being without seatbelt warnings for the second row - something Kia expects to soon rectify. That said, no other vehicles in this genre have the functionality. ANCAP continually raises the safety bar, and had the Carnival arrived before the end of 2014, it would have received five stars.
You will struggle to find better in this genre. Having travelled regularly with four adults, two kids, accompanying luggage and a bike, the Carnival proved more comfortable than the Mercedes-Benz Viano and Hyundai iMax.
The good news is boot space is even bigger, with 960 litres behind the third row (an improvement of 77). That third row can also fold flat into the floor by the pull of a strap and handle. The area then grows to 2220 litres behind the second row and 4022 litres when all rear seats are stowed.
There are four top-tether links for kids' seats, and three Isofix points.
With a seven-year warranty and capped-price servicing available over the same period, there is ample peace of mind with the Kia brand. Capped servicing prices are now attached to the vehicle at time of production, with dealers unable to raise prices to meet higher costs in the future.
The petrol is thirstier at the pump and would probably drink about 13 litres/100km in the real world, while the oil-burner should achieve just under nine.
Kias have taken the next step in design, and now turn heads for good looks rather than price alone. The Carnival is no different. Kia wants this vehicle to be desired for its attractive lines and not just because it's dictated by a large brood. It certainly has that ability, with a front-end looking more like an SUV and a rear which manages to defy boxy dimensions.
The Carnival is available in five colours - black, blue, grey, graphite and white. Everything other than the latter is metallic, which costs an extra $695.
Kia has done a stellar job of making a people-mover look like a slick wagon, and in doing so, has pimped the parents' ride.
What matters most
What we liked: Still outstanding internal space and flexibility, improved looks.
What we'd like to see: More controlled feel through the steering wheel, rear seat DVD system.
Warranty and servicing: Seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty and roadside assist (as long as you maintain dealer servicing) with capped price servicing. Services are annual or every 15,000km, average price for petrol is $507 while diesel is $528. Free map upgrades for two years.
Verdict: 4 stars
Model: Kia Carnival.
Details: Five-door eight-seat front-wheel drive people-mover.
Engines: 3.3-litre V6 petrol generating maximum power of 206kW at 6000rpm and peak torque of 336Nm a 5200rpm; 2.2-litre turbo diesel 147kW @ 3800rpm and 440Nm @ 1750-2750rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual mode.
Consumption: Petrol - 11.6 litres/100km (combined average). Diesel - 7.7L/100km.
Bottom line: Petrol - S $41,490, Si $45,490, SLi $49,990 Platinum $57,490. Diesel - S $43,990, Si $47,990, SLi $52,490, Platinum $59,990.
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