Kia Carens review
The Kia design revolution has come full circle with the new Carens, which offers seven seats as standard
The Kia Carens has always flown under the radar in the seven-seat MPV market, but the latest model aims to change that, with stylish looks and technology borrowed from the Cee’d hatch.
The Carens is the final car to receive the upmarket new look that was created by Kia’s design chief Peter Schreyer. What’s more, as well as replacing its rather forgettable predecessor, following the demise of the Sedona, the new Carens is Kia’s largest MPV.
That means all models sold in the UK get seven seats as standard, making the car a rival for the Ford Grand C-MAX, Citroen Grand C4 Picasso and Renault Grand Scenic. Two 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 high-powered diesel model.
Our choice: Carens 1.7 CRDi (114) 2
While the previous Carens was pretty dull to look at, this latest version is stylish for an MPV. The nose will be familiar to Cee’d owners, as it takes its cues from the hatch’s, and includes a distinctive mesh grille and strips of LED running lights in the headlamp housings.
In fact, there’s more than a hint of Cee’d in the rest of the Carens’ design. The biggest difference between the two is the extra expanse of metal that’s been added to the MPV between the lower window line and wheelarches. It looks dynamic, but entry-level 1 versions make do with steel wheels and plastic trims.
Inside, the Carens feels very well built, but the design is rather drab. The 1 model does without the gloss black trim, panoramic glass and touchscreen multimedia system on the higher-spec 3 Nav car, and this makes the cabin feel rather dull. Black plastic is used throughout, with only a few minor strips of silver trim on the wheel, dials and air vents. Still, the cabin is well laid out, and the solid switchgear feels like it’ll stand the test of time.
You need to go for the flagship Carens 3 to get the higher-output 134bhp version of the 1.7 diesel engine but even then the Kia struggles to match the performance of its best seven-seat rivals. This is an MPV though and while its in-gear response isn't brilliant, it's really only when the Carens is fully loaded that it starts to feel overly sluggish.
In isolation, the Kia feels quick enough, but the car’s heavy, and proved slower in-gear than the rival Fiat 500L MPW. Like other cars in the range, the Carens has an auto-style step in its throttle pedal to promote economical driving, and you need to give it 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 for it to be a worthwhile addition. That’s because there’s not much steering wheel feedback, and while there’s plenty of grip and less body roll than in the Fiat in corners, you’d struggle to call the Carens exciting.
Take things easy and it’s marginally quieter and more refined than the MPW at motorway speeds, and it’s slightly smoother over rough roads, too, although these cars are equally capable at lower speeds. Unfortunately, opting for the entry-level Carens means you don’t get handy kit such as a reversing camera or sensors – they’re not even available as options – so parking will be that little bit trickier, especially as the small windows mean visibility is poor.
The engines, the gearbox and most of the technology featured across the Carens line-up are already in other Kias, so the proven mechanicals should be reliable and trustworthy. All cars also 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 the factory-fitted satellite navigation system.
Kia has a strong reputation for reliability, and as the Carens uses much of the same running gear as the Cee’d hatch, 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.
Space is key in this class, so it's a little odd that the latest Carens is 20mm shorter, 15mm narrower and 45mm lower than its predecessor. However, by moving the A-pillars forwards over the front wheels, and stretching the wheelbase by 50mm, Kia has made the interior bigger. It's not enough to stop the Carens being a noticeably smaller car than the leading seven-seat options 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. In fact, and crucially for family life, all the seat operations are slick and easy to work.
Given the Carens' more compact immersions, it's no surprise that 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 across the cabin, including two under the feet of the second-row passengers and a large centre bin. The front seatbacks are fitted with trays and map nets, plus when you fold the central seat in the second row, there's a wipe clean back and a pair of handy cup-holders. You'll find a 12V socket in the boot and a light that doubles as a removable torch, plus there's enough space under the floor for the luggage cover, which has carpeted ends to prevent scratches.
The panoramic sunroof lets in lots of 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 although the smaller Kia lacks the outright space of its rivals, it maximises what it's got with a functional, well packaged cabin.
Kia prides itself on offering a good ownership experience and there's no arguing with its industry-leading seven-year warranty, plus the Care-3 fixed-price servicing deal is conspicuously good value.
Three engines are available in the Carens, all of which come with stop-start as standard. There are two diesel options to choose from – both the same 1.7-litre turbodiesel unit but economy and emissions are some way off the class best. In 114bhp form it returns 60.1mpg and emits 124g/km, and is the best all-round option unless you plan to tow a trailer or regularly have all seven seats occupied. 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.