Our reigning people mover of the year – the Kia Carnival – has its work cut out to retain the crown in the face of all-new competition. Carnival has already seen off Granvia, and next in line is the new Hyundai Staria, a thoroughly modern replacement for the popular iMax. Trent Nikolic and Justin Narayan take a look at a heavyweight family clash.
People movers – even the mere mention of the term makes mothers (and fathers) around Australia cringe. I don’t want sliding doors! I don’t want to drive a bus! They look ugly! I don’t want to look like an airport chauffeur driver! And yet, despite this, the much more SUV-like Kia Carnival has really started to cut through with Australian buyers. The idea of cramming kids into the third row of a heavily compromised SUV is starting to wear a little thin it seems.
In the last 12 months, the best thing that has happened to the people-mover segment is the arrival of new alternatives. Gone is the ancient Toyota Tarago, replaced by Granvia, and now we have the iMax replacement, the all-new, modern, and undeniably interesting, Staria. What these new alternatives mean is a proper shootout with our segment favourite, the Kia Carnival.
Carnival has already shown Granvia the door – a mixture of driving engagement, value for money and comfort ensuring the Kia remained atop the pile. Things might be a little different with the Staria, though. Yes, it looks more van-like than the SUV styling the Carnival possesses, but it’s so modern and interesting, it’s hard not to have a second look at one when you see it out in the wild.
The question is whether Hyundai’s all-new people mover – which is based on an SUV platform – has the ride and handling prowess, practicality, and driving enjoyment to match or beat the Kia Carnival? Let’s find out.
Meet the family shuttle inspired by a spaceship that turns more heads than a Ferrari (though not always in a good way). It’s called the 2022 Hyundai Staria, the new name for the successor to the Hyundai iMax eight-seat family freighter.
It arrives in Australian showrooms this month after a brief blackout with the previous model. As before, the new Hyundai Staria is also available as a delivery van (now renamed Hyundai Staria Load rather than Hyundai iLoad).
While the original Hyundai iLoad and iMax twins were based on heavy-duty commercial vehicle underpinnings, the new-generation Hyundai Staria and Staria Load are based on the same underpinnings as the latest Hyundai Santa Fe SUV. In other words, this is a ground-up redesign. But you probably figured that out just by looking at it.
The changes under the skin bring many advantages (namely in terms of safety and technology). However, as we would discover, it’s not quite as polished as we were expecting. More on that shortly.
There are three models in the range – Staria, Staria Elite, and Staria Highlander. All three model grades are available with a choice of turbo diesel all-wheel drive or V6 petrol front-drive power.
Prices range from $48,500 plus on-road costs to $66,500 plus on-road costs, an increase of up to $16,000 as Hyundai stretches the new model upmarket. As this article was published, Hyundai’s website showed drive-away prices ranged from $53,000 to $72,600.
The previous Hyundai iMax was priced from $44,930 to $49,480 plus on-road costs and was a diesel-only proposition by the end of its model cycle.
Rivals include the Kia Carnival (Australia’s top-selling people mover for 16 of the past 17 years), and people-mover variants of Mercedes and Volkswagen delivery vans.
The Hyundai Staria is closer in size and philosophy to the Mercedes and Volkswagen vans; however, the sleeker new-generation Kia Carnival serves the same purpose with more car-like driving characteristics.
The Kia Carnival has become the quintessential people mover and inherited the rather undesirable title after the well-loved Toyota Tarago was discontinued back in 2019. Making its Australian debut in 2021, the all-new fourth-generation Carnival looks to shake off those daggy legacy stigmas strongly associated with the segment, however.
The 2021 Kia Carnival maintains the same model structure as the previous model. The four same trims are offered, with either choice of petrol or diesel running gear. Opting for the oiler adds $2000 to the petrol vehicle’s cost regardless of the trim.
The range starts with the entry-level S model offered with a V6 petrol for $50,890 or four-cylinder turbo diesel for $52,890 drive-away. Up from here sits the Si at $56,290 and $58,290, and SLi $60,790 and $62,790, respectively.
The model line-up is topped by the Platinum trim level. A petrol costs $68,490 and the diesel $70,490 – making our test car the most expensive Kia Carnival on sale in Australia.
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It is also in the most expensive possible configuration, too, being dressed in Deep Chrome Blue paintwork for an extra $695. A metallic silver comes for free, but the six other colours want for the extra charge.
In all, our 2021 Kia Carnival Platinum diesel costs $71,270 drive-away.
|Key details||2022 Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel||Kia Carnival Platinum diesel|
|Price (MSRP)||$66,500 plus on-road costs||$66,680 plus on-road costs|
|Colour of test car||Abyss Black mica||Deep Chrome Blue|
|Options||Tan leather interior ($295)||Premium paint ($695)|
|Price as tested||$66,795 plus on-road costs||$67,375 plus on-road costs|
The cabin of the 2022 Hyundai Staria is huge, and the futuristic styling continues inside on the flagship Highlander model tested here.
Large 10.25-inch digital displays for the driving instruments and infotainment system, as well as mood lighting around the cabin’s ‘waistline’, give the interior ambience a lift.
However, the beauty is only skin-deep. While the Hyundai Staria looks good in brochures and has plenty of showroom appeal, the plastics are hard to the touch and the vehicle’s dual purpose as a commercial vehicle starts to become apparent.
All versions of the Hyundai Staria are eight-seaters initially; however, a six-seat (2-2-2) Lounge Edition may follow. Only the second-row seating has top tethers (three) and ISOFIX attachment points (two) for child restraints.
With all seat positions occupied, there is still ample space for luggage – one of the many advantages of a people mover that’s the same size as a delivery van. All seating positions have a lap-sash seatbelt and adjustable headrests.
The top two model grades have leather upholstery (black, light tan or dark blue on the Highlander, or plain black on the Elite).
There are sliding doors on both sides of the vehicle (power-operated on the top two model grades). A power-operated tailgate is also included on the top two grades.
Visibility is excellent for drivers and passengers thanks to the massive glass area and low window line.
There are three tiers of storage pockets in the front doors, a massive centre console, and ample cubbies in the dash. You’ll never find your phone again – unless you remember to use the wireless charging pad that’s standard on all three model grades.
All models come with six USB ports (two up front and two each for second- and third-row seats), one 12V socket up front, and 16 cupholders – all of which should be enough to keep everyone charged and hydrated.
The top of the range also comes with dual panoramic sunroofs, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and LED interior lighting.
As the segment suggests, people moving is the name of the Kia Carnival’s game.
Starting with the first row, the first thing that becomes evident is the amount of space on offer. Things like a chunky armrest lid help give scale to the cabin’s width, as it could easily home all 10 elbows from a family of five.
The first-row seating position is high and upright, providing an excellent vantage point to peer through the large surrounding glasshouse. Our Platinum model features leatherette seating trim, which feels far more luxurious than it sounds. As a bonus, the material is easy enough to wipe clean with water and a soft cloth.
Both front seats are electric, with the driver’s side featuring electrically height-adjustable lumbar support. Despite the black seat trim and overall dark theme throughout, a pair of independently operated sunroofs help by bathing things in natural light.
Storage is another big part of any parent’s requirements, especially if you’re nurturing a small army bearing your family name. As mentioned, a large centre armrest tops a cubby big enough to home a small bag and sits in front of myriad other storage spots. Directly in front lies a small, uncovered tray suitable for a card wallet. Beyond are a pair of cupholders big enough for a small water bottle – and complete with a smartphone holder.
Underneath the large 12.3-inch infotainment screen sit another two cubbies: one with wireless charging, and another looking ready to be thrown your keys. In the same area, you will also locate three of the many USB ports peppered throughout the passenger area.
Ingress and egress from the second row are made easy via huge door apertures and electric sliding doors. If you like the idea of swift drop-offs at school, then opt for either the SLi or Platinum trim, and these are the only two trims benefitting from motorised exit ways.
Overall passenger room is huge, with fully grown adults being able to walk around, albeit slightly crouched, in the second-row footwell. At 183cm tall, and sitting behind my own driving position, I had well over 8cm of knee room, seemingly endless foot room and plenty of head room as well.
All three seats can slide fore or aft independently, so no child is left holding the short straw and sitting uncomfortably in the middle. In fact, one gains an advantage here, as it’s the best spot to access either of the two USB ports cleverly positioned on the back of the front seats. Other amenities include roof-mounted air vents and a temperature control system.
Even though sliding doors conjure up thoughts of undesirability and pragmatism, they do have their conveniences. Loading kids in capsules could not be easier, and the same goes for popping your wee one into a rearward-facing convertible-type seat.
The Carnival features five ISOFIX points across the cabin: three in the second row, and two in the third. This alone opens heaps of configuration options regarding seating, for example, having your offspring ride in the third row and leaving the easier-to-access second row free for the oldies.
The path to seats six, seven and eight is generally found after folding the passenger seat forward. The gap left to climb through is bigger than what is found in seven-seat SUVs. However, there’s also the option of turfing the second row’s middle seat to create a walk-through into cattle class. The versatility on offer is top-shelf stuff, with comfort and ease clearly being the highlights.
The third row is big enough for adults to get comfortable on a longer trip, but expect your friendly second-row friends to selflessly slide their seats forward and share the space. Even guests back here have access to both a cup and phone holder, as well as two more USB ports.
With all eight (or seven) seats in play, there is still a huge 627L of storage in the back of a Kia Carnival. With the third row in use, the boot area becomes more a pit than a cargo space, so items must be stacked, and its farthest reaches require you to bend over to reach.
With the third row stowed, space grows to a huge 2785L – easily double what you will find in similarly priced SUVs. A nice side benefit to your practical thinking is that your newly acquired people mover also doubles as a van, which makes trips to flat-pack furniture heaven all too easy.
|2022 Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel||Kia Carnival Platinum diesel|
|Boot volume||831L all seats in use / 1303L third row stowed||627L / 2785L|
Infotainment and Connectivity
The base-model Hyundai Staria has wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The wireless connection has proven problematic in other Hyundai/Kia vehicles tested. The company is working on a fix.
Helpfully, the top two models of the Hyundai Staria range (the Elite and Highlander, which is tested here) have wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (as well as Bluetooth) and it works seamlessly.
The infotainment system has a 10.25-inch high-resolution screen. Buttons and dials are absent, so you need to take your eyes off the road briefly to adjust volume or switch functions – or use the controls on the steering wheel.
A big car needs a big screen, so inside the Kia Carnival you’ll find a widescreen-format 12.3-inch item complete with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, as well as digital radio.
If you’re wondering why the system is not wireless – like cheaper Kia Carnival models with the smaller 8.0-inch display – it’s because the brand’s infotainment systems are unable to support cable-free connectivity when they feature in-built navigation.
Don’t consider it a huge loss, however, as we’ve had issues with wireless smartphone connectivity in the past. Supporting the big screen is a 12-speaker Bose premium audio system.
All versions of the Hyundai Staria come with the works when it comes to advanced safety as well as the basics, with the exception of a difference in camera coverage.
The base model has front-view and rear-view cameras; the top two models have 360-degree camera coverage. The images are clear during the day but the resolution is weak at night.
While the 2022 Hyundai Staria is yet to be given a safety rating, it has the ingredients for a five-star result – pending the outcome of a series of crash and avoidance tests.
Standard equipment on all models: seven airbags (including one between the front seats, and curtain airbags along each side that go all the way to the third row), autonomous emergency braking, radar cruise control, speed sign recognition, blind-zone warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assistance, safe-exit warning, front and rear parking sensors, and tyre pressure monitoring. A full-size spare tyre (with matching alloy wheel) is also standard.
The excellent LED low- and high-beam headlights are a safety bonus on dark country roads.
As a top-of-the-range version of a vehicle designed to haul family, Kia’s Carnival Platinum is naturally loaded with every safety acronym from the Kia dictionary.
On top of the usuals like blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert, both systems can also apply either steering or braking. In the case of rear cross-traffic alert, the Carnival will grab the brakes if the driver fails to. In terms of blind-spot monitoring, it will apply steering input if you veer toward an object in your rear-quarter area.
Other advanced safety features include speed limit recognition, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and autonomous emergency braking that recognises cars, pedestrians and cyclists.
The Carnival has been tested in 2021 under the latest and most strict testing criteria where it scored a five-star result. Another contributing factor to the score is that its airbags extend and provide coverage to those sitting in the third row.
Kia’s safe exit assist and warning system is clever technology that actively increases the safety of kids in the second row. If they try to open any door of the car onto oncoming traffic, an alert will sound to warn of the potential danger. If they ignore the order and try to open a rear door anyway, no dice – the vehicle applies the electronic child-lock feature and keeps the door shut.
Although not high-tech, as the system uses basic programming from existing vehicle hardware (electronic child lock, rear blind-spot sensors) to work, there’s no denying the cleverness and how it genuinely promotes occupant safety.
Prices range from $48,500 plus on-road costs to $66,500 plus on-road costs. As mentioned earlier, this is an increase of up to $16,000 as Hyundai stretches the new model upmarket.
As this article was published, Hyundai’s website showed drive-away prices ranged from $53,000 to $72,600.
This compares to the Kia Carnival with drive-away prices ranging from $50,890 to $70,790 as this article was published, and the Toyota Granvia between $70,700 and $83,400 drive-away.
Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first) whether you choose the 3.5-litre V6 petrol or 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel.
The cost of routine maintenance is identical for both, too, at $360 per visit for the first five visits up to five years/75,000km.
Warranty is five years/unlimited kilometres for private buyers, and five years/160,000km for commercial owners such as hire car drivers, hotels, or Uber operators.
In terms of fuel efficiency, the Staria averaged between 9.0 and 11.0 litres per 100 kilometres in a mix of freeway and inter-urban conditions, and in the hands of two drivers not focused on fuel economy. We’d call it fair for this size and style of vehicle..
With a big family comes big expense. However, choices are limited if you’re seeking the elusive blend of seating capacity and passenger comfort. This point is no better reflected in the eight-large Carnival model offering in Australia, so there’s one to suit most budgets.
The Platinum model does push the cabin experience beyond the mainstream with a pair of independently functioning sunroofs and Bose 12-speaker stereo, but you could easily live without them.
The SLi shares the balance of important features with the Platinum model, like its infotainment, sliding doors and 360-degree parking camera – enough to see it as our value pick of the range. Still, if you must have those factory-fitted 19-inch black alloy wheels, then you must opt for the Platinum model.
The $2000 step up to the diesel model is likely going to be perceived as good value by the frugal buying demographic, as its real-world fuel use will be cheaper over the long term. It’s offered across the range, too, so you’re not forced up in terms of model grade just to get the engine you want.
As with all Kias, the Carnival comes with a seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which includes seven years’ capped-price servicing and up to eight years’ roadside assist – with each year renewed if your annual service is carried out within the Kia dealer network.
In terms of moving a large family around safely, comfortably and relatively affordably, the Kia is the benchmark.
|At a glance||2022 Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel||Kia Carnival Platinum diesel|
|Warranty||Five years / unlimited km||Seven years / unlimited km|
|Service intervals||12 months / 15,000km||12 months / 15,000km|
|Servicing costs||$1080 (3 years) | $1800 (5 years)||$1382 (3yr) / $2573 (5yr)|
|Fuel cons. (claimed)||8.2L/100km||6.5L/100km|
|Fuel cons. (on test)||9.0 to 11.0L/100km||7.5L/100km|
|Fuel tank size||75L||72L|
We tested the top-of-the-range Hyundai Staria Highlander powered by a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel paired to an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. There are no plans for a cheaper, front-drive diesel at this stage.
Outputs are rated at 130kW at 3800rpm, and 430Nm between 1500 and 2500rpm. Helpfully early for a vehicle that’s likely to be doing plenty of laden trips at urban speeds.
First impressions? The spaceship looks are a love-it-or-hate-it design. Most of us in the office happen to like it, but that opinion wasn’t universally felt by others we came across during our two-day preview test drive.
I can see both points of view. The vast front end offers plenty of opportunity for a facelift should one be deemed necessary sooner than planned. What matters most, however, is what it drives like for a people mover.
The first thing you need to get accustomed to, if you’re new to van-based people movers, is that this thing is tall: 1.99m. That’s the same height as a Toyota Granvia and a few millimetres taller than a Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series.
So you need to be selective which shopping centre carparks you approach. If you’re worried, the much sleeker Kia Carnival – at 1.78m tall – limbos way under most height limits.
Hyundai recommends a roof clearance height of 2.1m to be on the safe side. Opening the tailgate exceeds this height limit.
There is another limit to look out for: payload. With a gross vehicle mass of 3040kg and a kerb weight of 2325kg for this top-of-the-range model, that only leaves 715kg for all on board – including luggage. Without luggage, all eight occupants would need to weigh an average of 89.4kg each. The base model V6 has a payload of 778kg (or 97.25kg per person).
Despite being based on SUV underpinnings, the Hyundai Staria is not as car-like to drive as we were expecting. Of course, the laws of physics apply here – and a tall, box-shaped vehicle should not hug the road like a sports car. Although we are yet to do a back-to-back test, I reckon it’s a safe bet to say the Kia Carnival feels more sure-footed on the road.
As is the case with many van-based people movers, the Hyundai Staria creaks and groans turning into driveways as all the rubbers behind the doors make their presence known. It’s not a deal-breaker, but the body doesn’t feel as tight as a car or an SUV – despite the radically overhauled body and underpinnings.
We’re keen to see how it compares to the likes of the Kia Carnival and Toyota Granvia.
The Hyundai Staria’s emergency braking from 100km/h was fair to average rather than outstanding – despite the fitment of larger brake discs front and rear for the new model – pulling up in 42.5m, a touch longer than a double-cab ute. Further brake tests yielded slightly longer braking distances despite extended cool-downs, so we reckon 42.5m is the best-case scenario.
Of course, these vehicles are not meant to be performance cars, but we were curious to compare acceleration. The Hyundai Staria diesel did the 0-100km/h run in 12 seconds time after time, a bit slower than the average city hatchback. The V6 petrol would almost certainly be perkier.
The eight-speed gearbox is a smooth operator, though some people may prefer a traditional gear lever rather than push buttons, which take you a fraction of a second to check have engaged properly.
All-wheel drive would be handy on wet roads or add peace of mind when driving to the snow, but to be frank, the AWD system was not apparent during our time with the car in dry conditions.
The steering feel is what you might expect from a people mover (user-friendly, gets the job done), though splitting hairs I’d say it was at times a bit too light or a bit too heavy, depending on how tight the turn.
While the top-selling Toyota HiAce is rear-wheel drive, which delivers an exceptionally tight turning circle (for a van) of 11.0m, the 2022 Hyundai Staria’s turning circle has grown from 11.22m from its rear-drive predecessor to 11.94m with the new model.
Towing capacity on the new van has improved to 2500kg, up from 1500kg previously.
One final observation: the Hyundai Staria is a touch noisier overall than I was expecting – from the engine and tyres – given its new SUV underbody. It’s not a deal-breaker, but there’s room for improvement.
Our Kia Carnival Platinum features the turbocharged diesel powertrain, not the naturally aspirated V6 petrol. In turn, it offers more torque, some 440Nm given in full between 1750-2750rpm versus the petrol’s culminating act of 355Nm at 5000rpm. The diesel has far less power, however, bringing 148kW up against the petrol’s whopping 216kW.
However, you’re going to favour the big, early torque figure in this application given the Carnival’s moving weight, and lots of it. It tips the scales at 2134kg, and that’s before we’ve piled it full of adults.
Don’t just look at the hearty peak torque figure either. Turning force is delivered effortlessly and low in the rev range, which makes it the better choice for most. The diesel feels less tasked, too, and something evident by the fuel bill.
One thing common between petrol and diesel Carnivals is an eight-speed torque-converter automatic, unlike the Kia Sorento that uses a dual-clutch with the same engine. The Carnival’s transmission being fluid-coupled means it is buttery-smooth and lovely in stop-start traffic, especially given the relaxed nature of the diesel powertrain. The ratios are well selected, and it’s never overwhelmed or continually shifting in search of RPM harmony.
Given this is our long-term loan vehicle, we can quote a much longer fuel consumption testing figure, which is currently showing 7.5L/100km over three months of use. That is a good result compared to the official combined claim of 6.5L/100km.
Every new vehicle that Kia launches in Australia undergoes a strict, localised ride and handling program. Often, local Aussie engineers see room for improvement or ways they can better calibrate things to suit our unique conditions. The local subsidiary is reserved the freedom to tune the vehicle’s steering, suspension and bushings to chase these theories.
As a result, the Carnival feels at home in many all-too-common Aussie scenarios. Throughout inner-city areas, where the roads are either poorly repaired or just poor in general, the Carnival remains supple and dignified despite riding on large alloy wheels. The ride quality is better in lower variants, however.
Out on faster country bitumen it will carry speed fine, albeit followed by its mass. You do feel the heft if the road switches back suddenly, but you easily learn to drive along with it. If you’re dreaming of a family road trip during the school holidays, it makes for a great touring partner in most regular on-road scenarios.
The biggest downfall is its front-wheel-drive underpinnings. Fast standing starts are met with wheel spin, and its general performance is greatly curtailed in adverse conditions. It also means all-wheel-drive SUV alternatives may be better if you are considering towing something small.
Still, you would prefer the extra space and lack of all-wheel-drive guts instead of the equation reversed, as it’s a people mover first and foremost.
Something else you will learn to drive with is the long wheelbase, which at times can also feel like it trails behind you. Keeping a watchful eye on the side mirrors is a good tip for newbies to a vehicle of this size, especially in underground carparks or tighter city streets.
|Key details||2022 Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel||Kia Carnival Platinum diesel|
|Engine||2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel||2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power||130kW @ 3800rpm||148kW @ 6000rpm|
|Torque||430Nm @ 1500-2500rpm||440Nm @ 1750-2750rpm|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive|
|Transmission||Eight-speed torque convertor automatic||Eight-speed auto|
|Power to weight ratio||56kW/t||71kW/t|
|Tow rating||2500kg braked / 750kg unbraked||750kg / 2000kg|
There’s almost no doubt that if you’re a family of adventurers, the AWD Staria delivers a compelling purchase argument. Imagine you have three or four kids and you like escaping to the snow. The Staria is perfect for that. Same goes for a family with some mountain bikes or camping gear loaded up and a run out to a national park in the offing.
There’s plenty the Staria does really well – not the least of which is the seat space and comfort. Whereas the Carnival has more practicality with less space in the way the seats can be moved and folded, the Staria has more room in the seats themselves when most are in use, with plenty of luggage space behind them.
The Carnival, however, remains the consummate all-rounder. It doesn’t do anything wrong. Staria’s sliding rear windows aren’t as practical as the Carnival’s electric glass, and even though it’s bigger (taller and wider specifically), the fact that you can’t fully tumble the seats forward means you can’t use the space as cleverly or cunningly as you can the space inside the Carnival.
I feel the physical height of the Staria could be a limiting factor, too, even if you don’t fit roof racks or a storage shelf. It’s 1990mm tall (against the Carnival’s 1775mm), and when you open the rear hatch you add about 200mm to that height, making some shopping centre carparks an issue. That’s a real factor for family buyers when it comes time to trek to the shops.
That Hyundai has made the Staria ride, handle and drive the way it does, despite the space and usefulness on offer, is impressive and worthy of note. Aside from the upright seating position and visibility, it doesn’t feel like you’re driving a horrible van from the bad old days. It’s not quite an SUV from behind the wheel, but it isn’t a mile away either.
The Carnival, on the other hand, really does drive like an SUV. The fact it looks a lot like one is a bonus the way we see it, for fence-sitters who don’t really want a people mover.
Both options here are well-equipped, sharply priced, backed by quality warranties, and move the game forward significantly from the people movers of old. While the Staria doesn’t pretend not to be a van, it can’t entirely hide its links to the work-ready Staria Load. The Carnival, on the other hand, feels more like a stretched Sorento than it does a van. If you do want a people mover, you’d be happy with either for different reasons.
If it’s our money, though, our current people-mover champion stays atop the heap. Kia is onto a winner with the Carnival, and newer models haven’t quite pushed it all the way yet.
2022 Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel v Kia Carnival Platinum diesel comparison