Kia Carens review
The Kia design revolution has come full circle with the new Carens, which offers seven seats as standard
Has Kia outgrown its‚ 'The Power to Surprise' slogan? It's certainly no longer a shock when it reveals well built, good to drive and great-value cars like the new Carens.
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
Making an MPV look stylish is a tricky challenge, but with its Cee'd-inspired swept-back lights, intricate creases and LED tail-lights, the new Carens is certainly a big step forward compared to its dowdy predecessor. The new car is 20mm shorter, 15mm narrower and 45mm lower than the old car, but by moving the A-pillars forwards over the front wheels, and stretching the wheelbase by 50mm, the interior has been made bigger.
Flagship Carens 3 models get 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome door-handles and LED running lights. However, it's the interior that really makes you feel like you're getting a lot for your money.
The Carens cabin shares the impressive build quality and solid switchgear of other recent Kias. For instance, there' s a large section of piano black trim to sharpen up the dash, while the traditional chrome-ringed dials are easy to use. The same is true of the straightforward climate control buttons and really intuitive touchscreen navigation system.
Equally importantly, all the plastics and seat levers feel tough enough to cope with the abuse they're likely to get in a family runaround.
On the road, the Kia does everything you'd expect from a dependable family vehicle. The steering is direct and body roll isn't too bad for a car of this type, plus there's plenty of grip.
The suspension is relatively firm but it's well damped, so it copes well with all but the roughest of surfaces. There isn't much road noise at speed and the 1.7-litre CRDi turbodiesel is impressively refined at idle.
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.
On the plus side, the six-speed manual has a light action and well spaced ratios. Generally speaking there's little to fault in the Kia's safe, sensible and comfortable driving experience.
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 finished seventh out of 30 brands in our Driver Power 2013 satisfaction survey, ahead of big names like Toyota, Audi, Hyundai and BMW, while its dealers came 10th. The Carens also has a five-star Euro NCAP rating, partly thanks to its curtain airbags and height-adjustable headrests all round.
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.