In keeping with our heritage theme this month, we celebrated a quarter century of the popular Carnival people-mover from Kia by reacquainting the latest model with the original version at Carnival City Casino and Hotel, also celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Traditionally, carnival time – typically involving public celebrations such as parades, public street parties and circus-type entertainment with elaborate costumes and masks – occurs around February to early March, during the pre-Lent period as defined by early Western Christianity.

For Kia, however, Carnival time started in September 1998, when the first generation of the mid-size minivan was introduced as a late answer from the South Korean manufacturer to the Chrysler Voyager, Dodge Caravan, and Renault Espace.

The original Carnival, available only as a short wheelbase version, was manufactured and marketed differently for specific regions, including under a joint venture in the Chinese market with Dongfeng Yueda Kia and the Naza Ria in Malaysia. 


The minivan was also marketed globally under various nameplates – prominently as the Sedona (in Indonesia and the Philippines, both the Carnival and Sedona names were used) – and it arrived in South Africa in 1999, complementing the Pride, Sephia, Shuma, Sportage, and Ceres model ranges.

Locally, the original Carnival was available with either a (not so reliable) 2.5-litre V6 engine (based on the Rover KV6 mill) delivering 121 kW and 222 Nm of torque, with either a five-speed manual transmission or four-speed auto, or a 2.9-litre four-cylinder common-rail turbodiesel producing 93 kW and 331 Nm of torque, mated to a four-speed auto gearbox.

The original model was distinguished by a grille with curved slots, and the diesel model had an air intake on the hood. It lacked features such as power sliding doors and power liftgate, fold-flat third-row seats, a navigation system, a rear-view camera, and reverse sensors.

However, the top model came with interior and exterior chrome accents, interior wood grain, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear lever, alloy wheels and optional leather seats, a sunroof, and a DVD player. A facelifted model was released in South Korea in 2001 as the Carnival II. Although this model retained the Carnival name in most markets, it was renamed Sedona locally.

Left-hand drive versions of this model received a redesigned dashboard and door trim, while right-hand drive models retained the previous dashboard and door trim from the pre-facelift model, and this model (similar in spec to the 2005 2.9-litre CRDi turbodiesel model used in our photoshoot, courtesy of Motordeal Premium from Vanderbijlpark) was introduced here in 2003.


The second-generation model, available in short and long-wheelbase variants, was introduced in Korea in 2006. When it reached local shores the following year, the long-wheelbase version was called Grand Sedona. Early in 2010, this model received updated equipment, including the corporate “tiger nose” grille, introduced by its then-new design chief, Peter Schreyer. 

The third-generation Carnival/Sedona was introduced overseas in 2014, solely in a long-wheelbase format, and landed here the following year, still with the Grand Sedona nameplate. The fourth-generation minibus was introduced globally in 2020 and arrived in South Africa last year.

Given its size (it’s 40 mm longer, 10 mm wider, and 35 mm higher than the outgoing Grand Sedona, yet only 14 kg heavier) and the level of luxury of the newcomer, it deserves the title Grand Carnival, but it seems Kia has at last settled for the original moniker globally.

Standing next to the original 2005 model year Carnival minivan, with the colourful Big Top building of Carnival City Casino and Hotel in the background, it was also clear the newcomer can now, in terms of design, stake a claim on the unoccupied space between SUVs and people-movers.

Besides offering seven or eight-passenger flexibility, the new Carnival is roomy, with 1,139 litres of luggage space with all seats upright. It increases to a massive 4,110 litres with the second row removed, and the third stowed flush with the floor – but it’s no match for the size and capacity of Carnival City.

The complex – which incidentally opened its doors to the public in December 1998 with 500 coinless slot machines in the temporary casino – was Sun International’s first casino and entertainment world in Gauteng, and its expansive 5,000-seater Big Top Arena has provided the stage for numerous local and international acts.

The Big Top Arena stands nine metres high and covers an area of 4,465 square metres. Over its 25-year history, Carnival City has – much like its automotive counterpart – become renowned for delivering a variety of action-packed entertainment for families under one roof.

 The Carnival now conveys the same visual language as Kia’s range of SUVs, and inside, the vehicle delivers a high level of refinement, savvy technology, and flexibility with features like hands-free electric sliding side doors and a Smart Power Liftgate with auto-closing.

Built on the same platform as the new Sorento, it uses the same 2.2-litre ‘Smartstream’ CRDi turbodiesel engine delivering 148 kW and 440 Nm of torque, coupled with an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission delivering imperceptible shifts to ensure a comfortable, smooth ride.


Astute and surprisingly lithe handling, as well as its well-balanced dynamics and roominess, makes the Carnival (with retail prices ranging from R824,995 to R1,049,995) an attractive proposition for larger families, and with a comprehensive list of safety features, it’s clear that with the latest model, the time for fun and festivities is far from over.

Report by FERDI DE VOS | Images © JAY GROAT

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