Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the used Kia Carnival 1999-2003, its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when you are buying it.
Transport has always been a problem for parents of large families. Sedans were usually too small to carry the kids and their cargo and while wagons were better they couldn’t accommodate more than three kids either. Peoplemovers provided an answer, but they were usually financially out of reach for anyone paying to keep a tribe of kids clothed and fed.
Not surprisingly it was a Korean carmaker that came to the rescue when Kia launched its Carnival peoplemover in 1999. With a price tag many thousands of dollars below other peoplemovers at the time it was an instant hit.
There was nothing remarkable about the Carnival, except for the price of course. With a base price under $30,000 it was $5000-$6000 less than its nearest rival. No wonder it proved popular.
The Carnival’s styling was nothing to write home about. Where other peoplemovers made some pretence of style the Kia could best be described as pleasantly plain, but functional.
It had four doors for access to the passenger zone and a lift-up hatch to get to the cargo zone behind the rear seat.
Seating was provided for seven in three rows with reasonable space behind the rear seat for carrying the things a large family needs when on the move. The second and third rows could be removed for more cargo space, with extra flexibility delivered with the ability to split and fold the rear row.
A 2.5-litre double overhead camshaft V6 provided ample power, able to punch out 132 kW at 6000 revs and 220 Nm at 4000 revs, which was transmitted to the front wheels through either a five-speed manual gearbox or four-speed auto.
Underneath the Carnival was conventional with MacPherson Struts up front and a solid axle slung from coil springs down back.
There was nothing particularly spectacular about the brakes either with discs at the front and drums at the rear, and no option of ABS.
At first Kia offered one level of Carnival, the Wagon, and you drove away with air-conditioning, power windows, tilt adjustable steering column, AM-FM sound and central locking.
In 2000 a model upgrade delivered an airbag for the driver and a CD player, plus a new higher spec model, the Classic.
When you ticked the Classic box you got everything that came with the base model plus leather trim, dual airbags, a power driver’s seat, remote central locking and alloy wheels.
A further upgrade in 2001 saw the Wagon and Classic badges replaced by new ones in the form of LS and LE.
There was a long list of standard features in the LS, including dual-zone air-conditioning, six-speaker CD sound, while the LE also boasted alloys and leather trimmed seats and doors.
ON THE LOT
Early Carnivals can be had for as little as $15,000 in either manual or auto form, the auto being a much better choice come time to resell. To move up to the 2000/01 Classic pay $17,000, add $1000 for the auto.
For the better equipped and more desirable post-2001 LS models you’ll need to pay $20,000 to $23,000, the latter getting you a 2003 model. Add $2500 for the LE.
IN THE SHOP
The pity of the Carnival is that the low price came home to roost when the V6 began to meltdown. It suffered a number of head gasket failures, which Kia fixed by replacing the engine rather than rebuilding problem engines.
Models built between the September 1999 release dates and March 2002 were said by Kia to be the ones that were prone to the problem.
The problem showed up as a gradual loss of power over a period of time, and according the Kia it is not possible to detect before it actually occurs.
Quiz sellers on the car’s history and specifically ask about the head gasket issue and whether the one you’ve got your heart set on has had the problem.
Check the body work for bumps and scrapes from the daily grind of a family hack that’s often not particularly well treated. Look carefully at the interior for stains and marks caused by heavy traffic and kids misbehaving.
IN A CRASH
Safety is paramount when it’s the family transport we’re talking about so it’s best to go for the post-2000 models equipped with airbags, which offer the best secondary safety protection.
ABS wasn’t available which detracts from the Carnival’s primary safety picture.
Bernie Kern is on his second Carnival and says he has been very happy with both. His first suffered a head gasket failure at 53,000 km, but Kia fixed the problem under warranty. Apart from that he says the factory radio has been a problem on both cars, being replaced five times with none working correctly.
Ed and Shelley McDowell bought a 2001 Carnival in May of 2003 because they thought they were a reasonably priced peoplemover. It was still under warranty and had only done 56,000 km. Everything was fine until it blew a head gasket, which was fixed by Kia under warranty, but unfortunately it blew again just seven weeks later leaving them feeling like they’d bought a lemon.
• bumps and scrapes on the body
• interior stains and marks
• roomy and flexible interior
• well equipped
• go for later airbag equipped models
• signs of engine overheating
• service record
• Honda Odyssey – 1996-2003 – $16,500-$32,000
• Mitsubishi Nimbus – 1998-2003 – $17,000-$27,000
• Chrysler Voyager – 1997-2003 – $23,000-$40,000
Cheap and cheerful family wagon, but has a poor history of head gasket failures.