As the former prime minister Tony Blair probably never said, I’m not really a MPV kinda guy. Essentially, I’ve been there and done that. I have ferried ankle-biters to parties and teenagers to what I believe are called ‘gigs’ (a form of boat or carriage I always thought). So although I was aware of the Kia Carens and the rising popularity of the brand, the MPV-style of vehicle did not fit into my lifestyle. Or so I thought…
In fact the all-new Kia Carens came as something of a pleasant surprise especially as it was in range-topping form with a lively 1.7L diesel engine and a really very smooth seven-speed automatic box. The model featured came bulging with options and, although the final price is £27,150 OTR, you get a lot for the money including the Kia seven-year warranty. Let’s have a look around:
On The Outside
The new Kia Carens is much more stylish than its predecessor. This latest version of the Carens is shorter, narrower and lower than its predecessor. It does get a longer wheelbase thanks to design trickery whereby the windscreen has moved further forwards to free up extra interior space. It doesn’t look or drive like a big car but, Tardis-like on the inside, it is a full seven-seater.
By virtue of being a Multi-Purpose Vehicle there is no chance of anything radical in the styling department but the exterior design looks modern and the Carens is the final model in the Kia range to be updated with the company’s current ‘tiger-nose grille’ look. Certainly it is better looking than some rival motors. For me, the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso remains the prettiest out there though.
The All-Important Seating
Regarding the seven-seat issue, it depends on what you need from the vehicle. Two children can sit comfortably in hooligan class right at the back and three adults would be fine in the second row. The issue is how often you would need this third-row feature.
If the two third-row seats are essential then buyers would probably do well to look at the Korean company’s bigger Sorento. The downside of that is that it is a full-blown SUV and thus more expensive.
The front seats are great. Supportive and comfy on a long trip. Ditto the second row which has ample legroom for three thanks to the flat floor in this front-wheel drive car. A pair of small adults could maybe get in the third row for a short trip but lanky individuals need not apply.
The third-row seats lie flat into the floor to give a decent sized, although not class-leading regular boot. A simple cord system raises and lowers the seats in a trice. The second-row slide forward and tilt individually to allow access to the back (they also recline which is a nice touch). The whole second row will fold to allow for auditorium storage. The middle seat will fold to become an armrest / drinks holder, there are fold-out tables in the seat backs and big side storage bins at the back to hide the dismantled trim and broken toys. In short, the seats are versatile and usable.
With all the seats up there is only room for shopping or a thin dog. Lower one or both of the third row to give a regular-sized boot. If a security boot cover is needed it is stored handily under the very rear of the floor. It is easy to put in place. What I also found – joy of joys – in the same underfloor space was a proper scissor jack! No fiddling about with stupid tyre kits that need an engineering degree and a lot of luck to operate. Call me old-school but it gets better: There’s a real spare wheel stored externally under the car! These two things alone make the Kia Carens worth buying.
The Carens comes in trim/model levels numbered 1, 2, 3 and 4; four being the most exclusive and the number attached to our tested version. We got leather and all the usual bells and whistles too numerous to put here but can be examined on the detailed specification shown below.
Highlights include the seven-inch touchscreen/navigation which handles most functions in a clear layout. Sound quality from the infotainment system wasn’t of the finest but it’s perfectly acceptable. A point to be made here is that Kia have noted that we all have different ways we chose to store and play our music. Bluetooth streaming, obviously, from phones is the latest thing but some folk out there who may not be so hip ‘n happening may prefer to use the USB or Aux sockets, one of the several 12v plugs or even a CD player. This is thoughtful design and caters to all music-lovers except, obviously, vinyl users who remain out in the cold in their anoraks.
There is plenty of storage space, including useable door pockets and cup holders. The dash is simple and the ancillary buttons, like a steering wheel heater, are low at the driver’s right knee or in the centre console adjacent to the gear shift. Everything seems to have been thought of to make the interior of the Kia Carens as practical as possible. Parking sensors, reversing camera and abundant safety features are all on board and the whole interior is brightened by a full-length glass roof. Overall, it is a user-friendly, practical place to be.
On The Road
I enjoyed driving this car. The steering wheel is a bit button-fussy but is otherwise comfortable to hold for a long period. The driving position is good thanks to seat adjustability and reach and rake on the column. For me, the steering was way too light but there was a ‘Normal’, ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’ selection to weight up the feel a bit. There’s not a lot of difference to be frank but permanent ‘Sport’ was my choice.
The suspension, in my opinion, errs on the side of firm, which I like. Thus some of our more challenging road surfaces can be felt and some users might prefer a softer ride. The firm dampers do aid handling and for a big car the Carens drives well through corners with very little lean. It’s a matter of preference clearly but I see no reason why an MPV shouldn’t offer the driver a bit of an experience.
The 0-62mph time of 11.2 seconds appears pedestrian but once on the move the 1.7L four-pot diesel proved to be lively and responsive thanks to the impressively good auto ‘box. There are no paddles but the driver can choose to select gears manually via the lever. I didn’t see the point given how well the car progressed when left to its own decisions.
Kia reckon the Carens will do 58.9 miles for your expensive gallon. Well maybe so, but you would have to drive like the world’s most determined hyper-miler to get away with it. Apart from one long ride most of my driving was local which would of course adversely affect consumption. Despite the Stop/Start feature, I only saw 38mpg. To be fair, this was a brand new vehicle with under 1,000 miles on the clock so once it loosens up and in normal family use I expect that you should get a decent return for your money.
Family Fun Or Flabby Failure?
As mentioned, I am not a fan of MPV’s generally – I don’t need to be. I did however enjoy my time with this useful car and can appreciate its many family-orientated virtues. It’s great that this class of vehicle has moved far beyond the ‘converted van’ of old.
It’s a tough segment and there is now a price-match MPV available from many competitors. Of those current models I’ve driven, I would go for either the excellent Kia Carens or the equally good Citroen C4 Grand Picasso. Prices start from around £18k, rising to around £27,000 for the top spec in both cases. What is good is how far Kia have come in a relatively short space of time. Then there’s that 7-year warranty to take into consideration…