Kia Carens

When it comes to seven-seat MPVs, choice is limited if you have a big family, but only a small budget. Citroen's Berlingo and Fiat's Doblo provide plenty of space and seating - but their van origins and looks won't be everyone's cup of tea.

Kia has made some big leaps forward with the new Carens. Larger than before and with seven seats, it's a spacious and flexible compact MPV. It also offers a composed driving experience and generous standard kit. The diesel is the engine of choice, while a price range which starts at £12,000 offers brilliant value.

When it comes to seven-seat MPVs, choice is limited if you have a big family, but only a small budget. Citroen's Berlingo and Fiat's Doblo provide plenty of space and seating - but their van origins and looks won't be everyone's cup of tea.

So how about the new Kia Carens? Still offering a mix of five-door hatchback and MPV, the second-generation model now has seven seats. And it's set to undercut traditional compact MPVs, costing from £12,000. So is it the best budget seven-seater on the market? Auto Express was given exclusive early access to find out.

It's immediately clear that some big improvements have been made. While it's not the sharpest looker - the low bonnet and high roof are awkward from some angles - the C-pillar kink, classy tail-lights and sparing use of chrome give it a more Euro-friendly feel.

Inside, the new Carens has two extra seats hidden in the boot, which are suitable for children. There's plenty of room for adults in the second row, too, and both sets of chairs split and fold flat. Thanks to a more compact rear sus- pension layout, the boot floor is lower, too, resulting in lots of space.

Material quality and design are also impressive. A neat centre console with bold air vents and chunky switches dominates the dashboard, and there's plenty of equipment, with climate control, side airbags and electric windows standard on most models.

On the move, the Carens has a supple ride and secure handling. It's not as pleasing to drive as Ford's Focus C-MAX or as cushioning as the Renault Scenic, but it's better than its predecessor and strikes a comfortable balance.

Engine-wise, the Carens' 138bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel will be the bigger seller, but only the 140bhp 2.0-litre petrol car was available to test. Delivering 0-62mph in 11.9 seconds, performance is adequate, but it's noisy when pressed.

Nevertheless, you can't argue with the Carens' value for money. Although it still can't match the class leaders, it costs a lot less, and families keen to watch the pennies should take a look.

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