Kia Carens review
Kia’s seven-seat Carens MPV is a low-key but capable option in the large MPV class
The Kia Carens has always flown under the radar in the seven-seat MPV market, especially with established rivals like the Ford Grand C-MAX, Citroen Grand C4 Picasso and Renault Grand Scenic. The latest model has aimed to change that, with stylish looks and technology borrowed from the Cee'd hatch.
The Carens is now Kia's largest MPV, despite having more compact dimensions than the Sedona it replaces. It’s certainly a more attractive visual proposition than the ageing Sedona and is the final car to receive Kia's upmarket new look created by ex-Audi design chief Peter Schreyer.
All Kia models sold in the UK get seven seats as standard. Two CRDi diesels and one petrol engine are available, and there are three trims, logically named 1, 2 and 3. An automatic gearbox is only available on the higher-powered diesel model though.
Our choice: Carens 1.7 CRDi (114) 2
The new Carens is a much more stylish car to look at than its predecessor. The front will be familiar to Cee'd owners as it takes cues from the hatch, with Kia's distinctive grille and strips of LED running lights in the headlamps.
In fact, there’s more than a hint of Cee’d in the rest of the Carens’ design. The biggest difference between the two cars is the greater expanse of metal between the wheelarches and lower window line. It's a coherent design, although entry-level 1 versions make do with just steel wheels and plastic trims that lower the tone a notch.
Inside, the Carens feels solid and very well built, but the design feels rather uninspiring. This is especially the case for entry-level 1 models which do without the gloss black trim, panoramic sunroof and touchscreen multimedia system of higher-spec 3 Nav cars.
Black plastic is used throughout, with a few minor strips of silver trim on the wheel, dials and vents. Still, the cabin is well laid out and solid switchgear throughout feels like it'll last.
To get the higher-output 134bhp 1.7-litre diesel engine, you need to go for the flagship Carens 3. This engine still struggles to match the performance of its best seven-seat rivals, but it is an MPV and only feels overly sluggish when fully loaded.
In isolation, the Kia feels quick enough, but it is a heavy car and proves slower in-gear when compared with rivals like the Fiat 500L MPW. Like other cars in the range, the Carens features an auto-style step in its throttle pedal in order to promote economical driving which needs a firm prod to get full power.
The rest of the driving experience is competent, but not particularly exciting. Kia offers the Carens with its Flex Steer system, which adjusts the weight according to which mode you select (Normal, Comfort or Sport) – although the changes in response are barely perceptible and not big enough for it to be a worthwhile addition. That’s partly because there’s not much steering wheel feedback, and while there’s plenty of grip and less body roll than most rivals in corners, you’d struggle to call the Carens exciting.
Take things easy and it’s marginally quieter and more refined than the Fiat 500L MPW at motorway speeds, and it’s slightly smoother over rough roads, too. The car is equally capable at lower speeds too.
Unfortunately, if you opt for the entry-level Carens, useful kit like a reversing camera or sensors aren't even available as options - meaning parking will be that little bit trickier, especially as the small windows restrict visibility.
Most of the technology, engines and gearbox featured across the Carens line-up are already in other Kias, so the mechanicals should be proven and reliable.
All cars get Kia's impressive seven-year, 100,000-mile transferable warranty, which has now been extended to also include seven years of free map updates for cars with factory-fitted satellite navigation systems.
Kia has a strong reputation for reliability, and as the Carens uses much of the same running gear as the Cee’d hatch so you can expect it to run like clockwork. The seven-year warranty covers most major parts, and Kia’s network finished 10th in our Driver Power 2013 dealer survey.
The Carens earned a five-star overall rating in its Euro NCAP crash test. It comes with six airbags, full three-point seatbelts and adjustable headrests for all seven seats, plus electronic stability control.
In this class interior space is key, so it seems a little odd that the latest Carens is 20mm shorter, 15mm narrower and 45mm lower than its predecessor.
However, by shifting the A-pillars forwards over the front wheels and stretching the wheelbase by 50mm, Kia has made the interior bigger. It's still not enough to stop the Carens being noticeably smaller than the leading seven-seat rivals on the market.
Middle-row legroom is a bit tight, but as you'd expect, all three seats slide and fold individually, allowing you to vary the space on offer across the car. All Carens models sold in the UK come with seven seats, but the two rear seats are for occasional use only. They're a little tricky to get in and out of, while head, leg and foot room are in short supply. Fortunately, the seats fold easily into the boot floor with the pull of a canvas strap. All seat operations are slick and easy to work - something crucial for family life.
Given the Carens' more compact dimensions, it's no surprise that the 492-litre boot is smaller than many rivals. On the plus side, the front passenger seat folds flat at the pull of a lever and even with all seven seats in place there's still 100 litres of luggage capacity to play with.
There are plenty of cubbyholes throughout the cabin, including two under the feet of middle-row passengers and a large centre bin. The front seatbacks are fitted with map nets and trays, plus when you fold the central seat in the second row, there's a wipe clean back and a pair of useful cup-holders.
There's a 12V socket in the boot and a light that doubles as a removable torch, plus enough space under the floor for the luggage cover, which has carpeted ends to prevent any scratches.
The panoramic sunroof floods the cabin with light and opens at the touch of a button, while standard kit includes practical features like Bluetooth, a reversing camera, window blinds and a cooled glovebox. So despite the lack of space when compared with its rivals, the car features a functional and well-packaged cabin.
Kia prides itself on its ownership experience, and there's no arguing with its industry-leading seven-year warranty. On top of this, the Care-3 fixed-price servicing package is conspicuously good value.
Three engines are available in the Carens, all of which come with stop-start as standard. There are two CRDi diesel variants to choose from - both the same 1.7-litre turbo diesel unit - however economy and emissions are some way off the class best.
In 114bhp guise it returns 60.1mpg and emits 124g/km, and is the best all-round option unless you plan to tow a trailer or have all seven seats in regular use. If that's the case, the extra torque of the higher-powered diesel would come in handy.
The 134bhp version manages 56.4mpg and 132g/km with a manual gearbox, or 46.3mpg and 159g/km with the auto. The 133bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine is a little wheezy, but it’s smooth and quiet and manages 44.1mpg and 149g/km of CO2. Depreciation is also an issue, with the car predicted to retain just 31.7 per cent of its value over three years.