Kia Carens 1.7 CRDi 2

The seven-seat Kia Carens mixes stylish look with practicality

The Kia is just as versatile as its rivals here, while the biggest boot in five-seat mode makes it the best choice for everyday use. Add in a lower list price, decent build quality and plenty of practical touches, plus the peace of mind of Kia’s seven-year warranty, and you have a great family car that will take anything you can throw at it.

With the arrival of the new Carens, Kia’s transformation from a budget brand into a manufacturer that builds high-quality cars with a touch of style is complete. The previous-generation Carens didn’t set the world alight for style, or practicality for that matter, but that all changes with the new model.

Overall, the Carens looks so similar to the Cee’d hatchback, Kia could have got away with calling it the Grand Cee’d. The smart grille, swept-back headlights and wraparound tail-lamps are near-identical, while the rising waistline that tapers back to the rear pillars is similar to the Cee’d Sportswagon estate’s. A drab dark grey-blue paintjob did our test model no favours, although you’d be hard pressed to call any of the cars in this test pretty.

Climb inside and, while the Carens shares the build quality and solid switchgear of the Cee’d, it’s been given its own look. A large piece of piano back trim stretches across the dash, while the audio and climate controls are clear and simple. The multifunction steering wheel is well laid out, too, although the gloss spokes make it appear a little fussy.

So it looks smart, but it’s interior space that really counts for these cars. There’s lots of room up front, while the layout of the two back rows is similar to the Verso’s. In the middle are three same-size seats, but while they’re slightly narrower than the Toyota’s, they have larger side bolsters. They also slide, recline and fold individually, while the central seat has two trays and three cup-holders fixed to the back of it, so it can be turned into a table.

The rearmost row folds out of the boot floor with the pull of a seatback cord, although the long fabric pulls felt flimsy compared to those in the C-MAX. Unlike the Verso, you don’t need to move the middle row from its rearmost position to get the back seats up, so it’s easier to turn into a seven-seater. Access to the two rear seats is narrow unless the middle seatback is folded down, and space is only really suitable for two children.

In five-seat mode, the Carens’ boot provides 492 litres of space, which is the best of this trio. However, fold all the seats, and there’s a maximum luggage capacity of 1,650 litres – this is the smallest on test.

The cabin features lots of neat practical touches, though. The front seatbacks are fitted with trays and cargo nets, there’s underfloor storage in the rear footwells, while 2-spec models like ours get a boot light that you can detach and use as a torch.

The load cover also has carpeted ends to stop you scratching the boot when you’re installing or removing it, while there’s a slot under the boot floor to store it when it’s not in use. On the road, the Carens offers a safe, sensible, no-nonsense driving experience, although the ride in the back was a little firm for our liking.

The 1.7-litre diesel is relatively quiet, but feels slow, especially when compared to the Verso, while the chassis doesn’t have the composure of the Ford’s. Kia’s FlexSteer set-up changes steering response, but switching between Sport, Normal and Comfort modes doesn’t make much difference.

Stop-start helped the Carens to return economy of 42.2mpg on test, and owners are likely to do even better, as our car had less than 1,000 miles on the clock. CO2 emissions of 124g/km matched the Ford’s, although all three cars are in the same road tax band.

At £20,595, the Carens 2 costs £350 less to buy than the Grand C-MAX Zetec, but it comes with far more standard equipment. Better still, order a Carens before the end of June and Kia will knock £1,000 off the price. Add in the company’s industry-leading seven-year warranty, and the newcomer is well placed to take victory in this test.

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