Home is where the heart is. For some, this place is made of bricks and mortar, but for South African families who love exploring our gorgeous country, ‘home’ can also be on the road. We recently embarked on a journey to Mpumalanga in the Kia Carnival to discover why this MPV is the ideal luxury family home-on-wheels.

The ever-increasing popularity of the SUV all but signalled the end of the multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) in the last decade or so. Instead of fading into oblivion, the MPV has been reinvented as a family-friendly luxury alternative for those who value space and practicality over unnecessarily high ground clearance and go-anywhere ability that, let’s face it, most families simply don’t need.

For good reason, Kia’s evergreen Carnival (previously known as the Grand Sedona) is one of South Africa’s favourite MPVs. At over five metres long and a touch under 1.8 metres tall, it offers similar space and practicality to its closest rivals (Mercedes-Benz Vito, Opel Zafira Life, and Hyundai Staria), but with sleek SUV-inspired looks that keep things oh so stylish.


Our weekend journey in a Snow White Pearl Carnival 2.2CRDi EX+ began around lunchtime from Pretoria, and headed east on the N4 towards Nelspruit. As one of the busiest highways in the country, it’s best to allow ample time – especially at the route’s toll roads – if you’re travelling on a Friday afternoon as we did.

Although more compact than its rivals, the eight-seater Carnival EX+ boasts 1,139 litres of available boot space, even with all seats in place. With the second and third rows folded flat, the available cargo area balloons to an enormous 4,110 litres, which we, with two couples and their luggage onboard, never came close to needing.

Taking leave of the N4 highway, we headed north on the R36 via Schoemanskloof and the Lowveld hamlet of Sabie towards our destination for the first evening, Hoyohoyo Angel’s View Hotel overlooking the Graskop Gorge, where, the next day, we would also take leave of our senses and zipline across the gorge at the Graskop Lift Company.


This part of the Lowveld – aptly called the ‘Panorama Route’ – is undoubtedly one of the most scenic in the country. While I have been to Graskop before, our visit to the Graskop Gorge Lift Company (a stone’s throw from Hoyohoyo Angel’s View) was my first to the gorge, where its 68-meter ‘Big Swing’ freefall dive is one of the world’s highest. The 135-meter-high zipline is a must for the slightly less adventurous, or you can opt for a leisurely descent to the bottom of the gorge in the specially designed gorge lift.

Impressive as it is, the Graskop Gorge is not the only attraction in these parts. On route to our next destination, Kapama Private Game Reserve near Hoedspruit, we also passed God’s Window and the scenic Three Rondavels, where we stopped to admire the breathtaking view from a unique vantage point across the Blyde River Canyon.

The Three Rondavels viewing point is a 50-minute drive on the twisty R532 from Graskop, where the Carnival’s lower centre of gravity and exemplary driving dynamics made light work of the meandering road. 

Built on the same third-generation ‘N3’ platform as the Kia Sorento, the Carnival’s expanded use of hot-stamped parts and ultra-high-strength steel for increased average tensile strength and torsional stiffness, markedly improve its driving dynamics on the often unpredictable Mpumalanga backroads towards our second overnight stop in the Kapama Private Game Reserve.


While the Carnival’s advanced suspension managed the task with aplomb, the mid-tier Carnival’s 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine (that it shares with all models in the range) never skipped a beat. With 148 kW and 440 Nm on tap, sent to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox, the Carnival is as powerful as it is capable and easily outshines its competitors while keeping visits to the pump to the absolute minimum. Those familiar with this area will know how undulating the roads here, are. Yet, despite the terrain and being four up with enough luggage for six, the nimble people-mover averaged a mere 7.5 l/100 km during our trip to the luxurious oasis at Kapama River Lodge.

Speaking of luxury, even with the lure of spa treatments and luxurious pampering at one of the country’s most sought-after luxury escapes, leaving the Kia’s well-appointed cabin behind – even if just for the night – wasn’t easy at all.

Kia specifically selected the EX+ grade Carnival for our journey to highlight the excellent value offered at its R949,995 price point. Yes, there are several differences between the EX+ and higher grades SX Limited and SXL, but none so significant that it made our journey any less fun, or comfortable. 

The EX+ is well-specced, to be sure, and shares many standard appointments with its pricier siblings, including seven USB points (3+2+2) dotted throughout the cabin, automatic climate control for the second-row passengers, shift-by-wire transmission with paddle shifters, powered dual sliding doors and power tailgate. It does, however, swap the higher grades’ 12.3’ infotainment and driver displays for an 8” infotainment and 4.2” supervision cluster, while retaining Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality and a crisp six-speaker sound system. 

To keep the family safe, the Carnival ticks all the boxes with kit such as daytime running lamps, ABS, an electric parking brake, hill-start assist control, traction and stability control, seven airbags, attention assist, cruise control, child locks, Isofix seats, front and rear park distance control, and a rearview camera.

Being the only eight-seater in the Carnival line-up, the EX+ is the most versatile in the range, especially for larger families. There is tonnes of storage and usable surfaces at the front and rear, while the second and third-row seats can be configured for your needs. For example, by lowering the third seat backrest between the second row’s ‘captains’ chairs, you get a perfectly usable table with cupholders. This row can also be swivelled to face the third row of seats to create a lounge effect.


Day three of our Kia adventure was arguably the toughest. Not for the long drive back home from Hoedspruit via Tzaneen (trust us, this is the best route back to Gauteng), but for the thought of leaving the serenity of the Lowveld and the fun of piloting the Carnival behind. Few others in its class come close to the space and convenience the Kia Carnival offers, while its frugal nature and keen driveability add even more reasons to consider making an MPV part of your next voyage.

(kW @ r/min)
(Nm @ r/min)
0-100 KM/H
(l/100 km)
Kia Carnival 2.2CRDi EX+In-line 4-cyl; 2,151 cc turbodiesel148 @ 3,800440 @ 1,750-2,75019010.76.8R949,995


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