HomeWhy KiaAn unconventional adventure with the Kia Carnival

An unconventional adventure with the Kia Carnival

Buckle up, folks! We’re about to take you on a wild ride in the 8-seater Kia Carnival, and trust us, this isn’t your average car review. Join journalist Melinda Ferguson as she shares her unique adventure in the Daily Maverick.

But before she dives into the details of her experience, let’s introduce you to the furry character that sets the stage – Joe, the pup with a story as touching as they come.

In this whirlwind of emotions, we’ll show you how the Carnival EX+ (Link to Carnival) proved that it’s not just a vehicle; it’s an invitation to adventure, to connect, with a whole lot of heart.

The magic of movement in the frugal 8-seater Kia Carnival

On a recent weekend away in Kia’s award-winning people-mover, the company’s tagline – ‘movement that inspires’ – was put to the test.

Before I start telling you about my recent weekend away in the Kia Carnival EX+, the mid-range 8-seater MPV, I need to take a slight detour and tell you about my dog, Joe.

During the second year of lockdown, as I was scrolling through Facebook, a picture of the sweetest puppy needing a home appeared on my timeline. I was zapped by two pleading eyes and an ear that cocked mischievously as if to say, “Hey you, please take me.”

Kia Carnival

It felt like I had no choice but to contact the rescue organisation to find out more about this tiny boy who was clearly desperate for a home. He’d been found on a rubbish heap in Elsies River, along with his brother and sister, when they were only a couple of days old. (Bear with me, there is a motoring connection to this story.)

The three furry siblings had been named after motorbikes: Joe was Ducati, his sister was Suzuki and their brother had been christened Honda.

To cut a long story short, my boyfriend Mat and I then picked up the 12-week-old pup in Stellenbosch from a couple of students who were fostering him. On the spot, I changed his name to Joe. I just couldn’t picture myself chasing a puppy and calling, “Doocaatiiii”.

It was love at first sight and an intense dog-mance ensued.

When Kia invited me and Mat on a weekend away, I was torn. While I was dying to get away in the new Carnival, an MPV that has all the luxury and comfort of an SUV, to explore uncharted terrains, what was going to happen to our boy? Over the past two-and-a-half years, Joe had not been left alone for a single night on his own.

Kia Carnival

After much googling, I found a place that looked suitable: The Collar Club. Cute name. I spoke to the owner for hours – poor guy – and did due diligence by paying the place a visit last week so that Joe could smell and mark his territory for his weekend getaway. There I met a young man called Vaughn who reassured me that he would take the greatest care of our beloved boy.

Dropping Joe off on the Friday afternoon was much harder than waving my two sons goodbye on their first day of nursery school. As Joe howled, I wrenched myself away, fighting back tears. Vaughn reassured me that he’d send updates. I felt like a real abandoner as Mat and I drove off to meet our hosts at Kia Somerset West.

On arrival, I wiped my smudgy mascara and tried hard to focus on the gleaming Carnival that awaited us for our road trip adventure.

From Sedona to Carnival

Released globally in 1998, this MPV was first known as the Kia Sedona. It was pretty inconspicuous until 2010, which is when Kia’s then-design wunderkind, Peter Schreyer, introduced the iconic “Tiger Nose” grille to Kia products and transformed the rather utilitarian-looking Sedona into a looker.

By the time Kia’s fourth-generation people-mover was released globally in 2020, not only had it undergone a name change, but the world had also just been put on pause due to the Covid lockdown. With all the delays that ensued, South Africans only got a taste of the Carnival in 2022. I was on that launch and it was clear a lot had changed looks-wise since those Sedona days.

Kia Carnival

That stand-out Tiger Nose grille had been accentuated, adding substantial width to the vehicle’s face, further enhanced by hi-tech LED headlamps. To make it more SUV than MPV, a rear skid plate was added along with a choice of 18- or 19-inch aluminium alloy wheels, model-dependent.

In what I believe to be a clever move, right off the bat, Kia SA decided to offer just one engine in the fourth generation Carnival – a 2.2l four-cylinder turbocharged diesel motor, coupled with an 8-speed auto transmission.

Using Hyundai-Kia’s latest mid-size platform, the Carnival is good for 148kW and 440Nm, but the real payoff of the diesel engine is incredibly good fuel returns of around 6.5-7.5 litres/100km.

Impressive interior capacity

I must have checked my phone at least 10 times for Joe updates during the hour-long trip to La Cotte Farm in Franschhoek. By this stage, my mind was a cacophony of anxiety. What if another dog had attacked our boy? What if he was still yowling?

Despite its length of 5.1555m, parking the Carnival with my smudgy eyes was, fortunately, easier than I imagined thanks to its handy rearview camera system and proximity beep-emitting warnings.

As we unpacked our luggage, I tried hard to forget the dog and concentrate on the generous boot space and clever seating configuration. There’s a lot of room. It can be transformed with ease from an eight-seater by uprooting seats from their rails to make way for cargo – up to 4,110 litres of it. One can turn the second row of seats to face backwards so that occupants can chat face-to-face – even the middle seat can be flipped to make a little table. Joe would have loved that.

Once we’d checked into La Cotte, I did some googling to discover that the farm dates back to 1698 – it was the first of eleven farms granted to the French Huguenots who had fled their mother country in search of religious freedom.

Unable to contain myself any longer, I finally sent a WhatsApp to Vaughan. “How’s Joe?” A flurry of photos ensued. Joe barking, Joe sniffing, Joe drinking water, Joe chasing a ball, Joe taking a pee. Gosh, he seemed to be quite at home. Not a single sign of longing in his eyes.

After an excellent night’s sleep, I and my three co-pilots headed off over the Franschhoek Pass towards the Barrydale area, into the Klein Karoo, to a place called Sanbona Wildlife Reserve. We all took turns to drive.

Kia Carnival

Despite its size, the Carnival sailed with ease over the challenging, twisty pass. On open roads, the performance was punchy. Due to improved insulation, there was very little road noise throughout our trip. The high-res infotainment system was intuitive and uncluttered and when it was time to kick back as a passenger in the comfy second row, I was thrilled to find two USB charging ports integrated into the sides of the front pair of seats.

With an impressive range of 950km, after three hours of driving, the tank dial had hardly moved. I understood why the Carnival has recently been named “Family Vehicle of the Year” by US-based AutoGuide, due to its “impressive interior capacity, extensive safety features, and modern design”.

Movement that inspires

There are four trim levels in the Carnival lineup – the EX, EX+, the SX Limited and SXL. As mentioned, we were in the mid-range EX+, which has a whole lot of standard kit on offer, including drive mode select, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, leather trim throughout, seven airbags, powered sliding side doors, rear sunshade blinds, paddle shifters and 7 USB ports.

As we neared Sanbona, set deep in the Little Karoo, the Carnival’s pliant suspension felt quite at home on deeply rutted gravel.

Once we arrived, an otherworldly magical experience unfolded. In 2015, a Swiss non-profit organisation called the Caleo Foundation purchased the 54,000-hectare reserve. Right from the outset, its primary goal has been to protect threatened ecosystems, endangered wildlife and indigenous vegetation.

Our game ranger spoke highly of Caleo founder, Carmen Elvira Ellinger, a Swiss national now well into her 90s, whose passion for preserving the area’s precious wildlife and biodiversity has transformed the reserve into one of the most successful conservation projects in the world.

Animals like the endangered black rhino, the rare cheetah, and the Cape Mountain zebra are closely monitored and protected, but in the end, it was the stories of the riverine rabbit that I was particularly drawn to. (Rabbits drive Joe demented.)

With an estimate of just 250 adults scattered across the Groot and Klein Karoo, Sanbona is the only reserve in South Africa monitoring the highly elusive and endangered rabbit. In recent years, there have been several rare sightings, especially on windless, new moon nights.

As journos, we’re often asked by manufacturers to use hashtags, which I find kind of irritating because these one-liners often feel like they come out of nowhere and that we are just being manipulated to regurgitate marketing speak. At the end of this weekend, it felt like no effort at all to tag my pics on Instagram with Kia’s #movementthatinspires.

Joe was deliriously happy to see us, but only for a couple of seconds. He’s definitely going to be going for more collar clubbing.


EX – R869,995.
EX+ – R949,995.
SX Limited – R1,069,995.
SXL – R1,094,995.
Maintenance Plan: 6-year/90,000 km. DM

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