This year saw the launch of myriad brand-new people-movers. If the van life is for you, here’s a detailed look at two of the newcomers and a well-known, luxurious favourite. 

Words: Vann van Staden Photos: Kian Erikson

It’s the battle of the vans. Whether transporting people or cargo, you can now do so in some decent treads. We’ve taken up the challenge to find the most rad new vans on the market and have endeavoured to give you the facts and figures on the coolest people-movers on local shores. Our top three picks highlight luxury, practicality and versatility. The contenders are the Kia Carnival, Opel Zafira Life, and Mercedes-Benz V-Class, each with its own set of USPs.

MERCEDES-BENZ V-CLASS

Arguably the most luxurious people-mover out there. We first got our hands on the V300d in 2020, which Mercedes-Benz introduced as their new flagship model. I don’t know what was more tear-jerking, the price tag of just under R1.7 million or the power it kicks out (176kW and 500 Nm of torque). Either way, we knew the German marque meant business. There are three trim levels for the V300d.

The passenger-seating configuration comprises a duo of seats separated by a table that pops up and folds out in the middle. These pews can be swivelled around to face the front, but this isn’t the simplest of configurations to adjust, but doable. An impressive climate control system is offered to all in the back, making this a super-luxurious passenger experience. The V-Class does, however, lack USB outlets for its passengers. On the plus side, a massive panoramic sunroof comes as standard here.

The infotainment system, Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX set-up, is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible. An impressive Burmester sound system is included. Focusing more on the driver experience, this is a rather large-and-in-charge bus. Luckily, Mercedes-Benz thought it appropriate to fit a 360-degree camera system, which does come in handy. Full leather seats can be found all around. Heated and cooled cupholders and a cooler box are located between the driver and the front passenger. 

KIA CARNIVAL

Based on the same architecture as the commendable new Kia Sorento (read our launch review here), the Carnival brings some much-needed hype to the people-mover segment. Replacing the Grand Sedona, the all-new Carnival has lived up to be bigger and better than its predecessor.

The Carnival is 40 mm longer, 10 mm wider, and 35 mm taller than the Grand Sedona. It looks damn fine! It’s arguably the best-looking van in our arsenal.

The four variants in the line-up include the Carnival 2.2 CRDi EX 8AT, available in either seven- or eight-seater guise, the 2.2 CRDi SX Limited 8AT 7-Seater and the 2.2 CRDi SXL 8AT 7-Seater. Looking at the entry-level model’s standard features, you’ll get a solid 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; not one, not two but a quartet of USB ports; fore and aft air-conditioning; elegant leather trim; and LED headlamps.

EX models roll on 18-inch alloy wheels. Safety features include seven airbags, electronic stability control (ESC) and hill-start assist. The eight-seater EX is the gift that keeps on giving, with a 2+3+3 seating configuration, smart entry with push-button start, and a whopping seven USB ports. Powered sliding doors further lend to the powerful “I’m here to whip some” stance the Carnival carries. Watch our in-depth video review of the new Carnival here.

OPEL ZAFIRA LIFE

Last but not least, the box-fresh Opel Zafira Life. It’s been a minute since we’ve seen a new model launch from Opel. Seeing the fourth-generation Zafira Life in the metal made us forgive the folks from Rüsselsheim for making us wait this long.

If the meaning behind a name like Zafira means ‘to succeed’, then hells bells, you can be sure it will live up to its namesake. The new Zafira Life reached South African shores in March, making it the latest addition to the local van offerings.

There are two variants in the line-up. I like to refer to the entry-level Life Edition as the starter pack for the van life. It boasts an eight-seat configuration. All models come standard with a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Life Edition relays your favourite road-trip tunes over six speakers. The Life Elegance derivative takes a more luxurious approach, with two captain’s chairs in the middle row and a sliding and folding table tucked away between the seats.

The exterior design on the Zafira ties in beautifully with what’s happening inside. The Zafira is an attractive package for first-time van buyers. It brings a sense of familiarity and comfort with it. Watch our in-depth video review of the new Zafira Life here.

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