FIRST DRIVE | 2022 Kia Carnival and Sorento go upmarket

26 January 2022 - 11:18
By Brenwin Naidu
Electrically-operated doors are standard in the Carnival SX Limited.
Image: Supplied, Electrically-operated doors are standard in the Carnival SX Limited.

The evolution undergone by Kia over the past two decades has been nothing short of remarkable.    

Its South African custodians are of the view their marque is no longer fighting for a seat at the main players’ table — they have already earned it.    

Even if you are a but a casual observer of the industry, it is easy to agree: this South Korean carmaker lays claim to a number of compelling offerings across the segments in which it competes.    

Most recent, from our perspective, is the Sonet 1.5 LX we evaluated over a month during the festive season. At R285,995 it is competitively priced and offers quality and equipment levels that are a touch above equivalent entry-level counterparts on the B-segment sport-utility vehicle market. But Kia is equally adept at wares beyond the mainstream bread-and-butter realm.    

They can do upmarket rather convincingly too. Consider the Kia and related Hyundai stable has a fully-fledged luxury stable from which to draw on expertise. The Genesis division, whose products are lauded in American and European markets, has successfully taken the fight to the established German rivals.    

A vehicle that makes light work of long-distance touring.
Image: Supplied A vehicle that makes light work of long-distance touring.

Locally, Kia has flagship models in the form of the Sorento and Carnival, the latest versions of which were revealed to us at an event over the weekend. Abroad, the Telluride sits at the top of the Kia sport-utility vehicle hierarchy. As it is manufactured in left-hand drive only, it seems unlikely the model will be launched here.    

Our exposure to the newest duo from Kia began with the Carnival over a drive from Gqeberha in Eastern Cape to Plettenberg Bay in neighbouring Western Cape. On landing in the sweltering Friendly City, the fleet of test vehicles were at the ready, with their climate control systems set to the lowest temperature to deal with the sweltering conditions.    

Carnival is a nameplate that featured on the local market before being replaced by the Sedona moniker. Kia has opted to revert to the former title. From a visual standpoint, there is no denying the handsomeness of the model, with its proportions uncharacteristically muscular for a multi-purpose vehicle.    

The Carnival is longer (40mm), wider (10mm) and higher (35mm) than the outgoing Grand Sedona. It is approximately 14kg heavier.

The luxurious rear quarters.
Image: Supplied The luxurious rear quarters.

Whereas the rivals Kia is targeting began life as commercial vehicles, this one was designed from the outset as a plush tourer. The brand has contenders such as the Volkswagen Caravelle and Mercedes-Benz V-Class in its sights.    

You might be sceptical about that ambition, but when you look at the standard specifications sheet of the high-grade, seven-seater SX Limited model, it becomes clear their positioning of the Carnival as a genuine luxury people-mover holds truth.  

The moment you open one of its electronically operating sliding doors, its premium interior aura shines through. Passengers will delight in novelties like two sunroofs, seven USB ports and separate climate control settings for occupants behind the first row. High-quality leather upholstery as well as soft-texture materials abound, in addition to conveniences like rear sunshade blinds. Those in the front get heated and ventilated seats.

Even the lesser EX+ version does not skimp on niceties. It benefits from power sliding doors, for example. The basic EX boasts leather upholstery, but foregoes the garnishes of its grander siblings. An SXL model joins in March. It ups the ante of the SX Limited, with a 12.3-inch digitised instrument cluster and a Bose audio system.  

The new Sorento has a self-assured look.
Image: Supplied The new Sorento has a self-assured look.

Among the drawcards of the SX Limited is a comprehensive suite of driver assistance functions, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping and steering intervention systems. This enables an impressive degree of semi-autonomous driving capability.    

The setup in the Carnival ranks among some of the best we have experienced, inspiring focus with its ability to track steadily between the lines. It certainly makes long-distance driving a tad less fatiguing, freeing up a little more mental capacity to take in the scenery and converse with passengers. Power comes from a 2.2-litre, turbocharged-diesel, four-cylinder engine that has served in a number of Kia (and Hyundai) products.

In its latest iteration, the unit has been revised, with a lighter aluminium block which brings gains in efficiency. Output is quoted at 148kW and 440Nm, with delivery that feels as stout as the numbers suggest. It is a strong motor, aided superbly by an eight-speed, torque-converter automatic transmission. The Carnival is a smooth operator on the road, with a sense of composure, agility even, its van-based peers could aspire to.

Next up, we transferred our luggage into the Sorento for a drive to Cape Town via Mossel Bay. Early in 2021 we had a turn in a pre-production version of the model, which also offered insight into the Hyundai Santa Fe ahead of its launch. Both share an architecture and powertrain.

The crisp and attractive rear features wraparound taillights.
Image: Supplied The crisp and attractive rear features wraparound taillights.

Although the Kia brings a less divisive styling approach to the mix, taking on a flavour not unlike certain American sport-utility vehicles not sold locally. The Sorento generated a fair bit of interest as we cruised past small towns in the province.

In terms of rivalry, the Sorento is positioned as an alternative to two camps. First is the premium, medium-sized sport-utility vehicle set. Think Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class. Then there are the pick-up-based offerings, like the Ford Everest, Isuzu MU-X and Toyota Fortuner.

Like the Carnival, the interior of the Sorento features a sophisticated overall design, with high-grade materials throughout. There are three grades: EX+ followed by SX, with the SXL at the top of the pile. The basic EX+ can be had with two-wheel drive, while the rest are all-wheel drive by default. We spent our time with the SXL.

The all-wheel drive versions feature dedicated driving modes for mud, snow and sand terrains, linked to the electronic stability programme. The new model is 10mm wider than the third-generation vehicle with a wheelbase 35mm longer. Its platform has allowed for shorter front and rear overhangs, maximising cabin space between the two axles. With the third row of seats folded, luggage space is 821l. With the third row up, that shrinks to 187l, which Kia claims is 32% greater than what was offered by the predecessor. Power comes from the same unit that does duty in the Carnival, but in this application the eight-speed automatic transmission is of the dual-clutch variety.

The Sorento scores top marks for interior quality.
Image: Supplied The Sorento scores top marks for interior quality.

As expected, the top-tier SXL is fully-loaded with just about every amenity conceivable to the average buyer looking to spend nearly R1m on a new motor vehicle. That includes a panoramic sunroof, head-up display, Bose audio with a dozen speakers, a heated steering wheel, around-view camera and more. It is also equipped with the same level of autonomous capability as the Carnival. Our test vehicle, being an early production model, omitted the adaptive cruise control function – it was just regular cruise control in this case, sans the automatic braking and acceleration. Our Sorento also sported the previous-generation Kia emblem, unlike the Carnival, which bore the latest font.

A spokesperson said these two issues were limited to the vehicles in the press fleet. Customer cars will feature the new logo and adaptive cruise control.     

The Sorento chomps the kilometres with utter ease, connecting provinces in a comfortable, stress-free environment. As temperatures soared outside, the ventilated seat function earned its keep. Overtaking punch is easily summoned: the dual-clutch drops a cog or two and a steady wave of torque is dispatched in a very assured manner.

One of the concerns voiced by Kia executives was the potential knee-jerk reaction to the pricing of the upper-tier Carnival and Sorento models. In the case of the former, it exceeds the million mark.    

With the second and third row seating folded flat the Sorento offers impressive load-hauling ability.
Image: Supplied With the second and third row seating folded flat the Sorento offers impressive load-hauling ability.

Anyone doing their homework at this pricing point is likely to see the kind of value represented by the duo. The unrelenting rate of inflation means R1m in 2022 is not as spectacular a sum as it was a decade ago. The price is par for the course in most premium segments — even hot hatchbacks cross the threshold.

The Carnival and Sorento, with their high levels of equipment, premium interior attributes and classy exterior presences, are products that certainly make their occupants feel like a million bucks.    


2.2 CRDi EX+ 2WD 8DCT: R809,995 

2.2 CRDi EX+ AWD 8DCT: R849,995 

2.2 CRDi SX AWD 8DCT: R914,995 

2.2 CRDi SXL AWD 8DCT: R988,995


2.2 CRDi EX 8AT 7-seater: R799,995 

2.2 CRDi EX+ 8AT 8-Seater: R879,995 

2.2 CRDi SX Limited 8AT 7-seater: R999,995 

2.2 CRDi SXL 8AT 7-seater: R1,024,995   

Both models are standard with an unlimited-kilometre, five-year warranty (inclusive of roadside assistance), as well as a six-year/90,000 km maintenance plan.