Entry-level 1 models come with generous standard kit, including air-conditioning, remote locking, cruise control, cornering headlamps, four powered windows, Bluetooth and stereo controls on the steering wheel. Choosing the 2 model earns you desirable kit like alloys, automatic lights and wipers, privacy glass, climate control and reversing sensors, while tooled-up 3 versions have niceties like leather upholstery, a reversing camera, a touch-screen audio system, electric seats and a panoramic sunroof. No prizes for guessing what 3 SatNav trim adds.
Kia has gone to great trouble to make the latest Carens look more appealing than its bland, boxy predecessor. The firm has been largely successful, too. The ‘tiger nose’ grille, the diffuser below the front bumper and the headlights that wrap around the front wings give the front end some interesting details. Things get a little less interesting as you look down the sides and towards the back of the car, but as MPVs go, it’s a fairly stylish thing.
Kia’s interiors have come on leaps and bounds in the last few years, and the Carens is no exception. Most of the materials used have a pleasant mix of solidity and tactility, even if one or two cheaper-feeling panels lower down and further back in the cabin slightly betray the overall feeling of quality. The dashboard has a sensible layout and features large, easy-to-hit buttons, and there’s plenty of adjustment for your driving position.
There’s one petrol engine available, a 1.6 that generates 133bhp. It’s flexible enough and pretty smooth, but it’ll only ever be a minority taste in the UK due to its running costs. The two versions of the 1.7-litre diesel will be more popular, one producing 114bhp, the other 134bhp.The lower-powered version feels a little sluggish, but it will suffice for many drivers. The higher-powered unit is a good deal stronger through the lower part of the rev range, making it faster and more flexible. Both diesels are also reasonably quiet and smooth. All Carens models are fitted with six-speed manual gearboxes, but there is the option of a six-speed automatic with the more powerful diesel. We haven’t yet tested it, but on paper at least, it makes the Carens slower and thirstier.
This is arguably the most important area for an MPV, and the Carens does very well. The middle row of seats is made up of three separate chairs that slide, recline and fold individually, and there’s plenty of head and legroom. There’s competitive space in the rearmost seats, too, meaning kids will be comfy and adults will be fine on short journeys. Getting back there takes some contortionism, though, because the outer-middle seats don’t slide quite far enough out of the way. The boot is reasonably spacious, giving 103 litres with all seven seats in place, 492 litres in five-seat configuration, or 1,650 litres in two-seat mode. There are also lots of storage options, including large door pockets, under-seat drawers, under-floor storage boxes, plus a clever space under the boot floor to store the luggage cover.
Kia’s seven-year warranty is proof of the company’s faith in the reliability of its products, and there’s little evidence to suggest that customers are experiencing any major problems. The brand is currently achieving mid-table respectability in Warranty Direct’s manufacturer standings.
Ride and handling
Comfort is an important attribute in an MPV, and that’s what Kia has gone for with the Carens. It does a good job of soaking up scruffy motorway surfaces, and although things can start to feel a little clunkier at low urban speeds, it’s still an impressively comfortable car. This does come at the expense of handling, because there’s plenty of body roll in bends, but that’s not a prime concern for a car like this. More of a problem is the steering, which is dim-witted and artificial no matter which of the three weighting modes you select.
The petrol version returns 44.1mpg and CO2 emissions of 149g/km, so it’s not exactly the pick of the bunch. That title belongs to the lower-powered diesel, which returns an official average of 60.1mpg and emits 124g/km, making it far more affordable on road tax and company car tax. That said, even this version is quite a way behind the class-leaders on efficiency. The more powerful diesel is grubbier still with figures of 56.4mpg and 132g/km, while fitting an automatic gearbox increases fuel consumption to 46.3mpg and emissions to 159g/km. Purchase prices are competitive rather than giveaway, and resale values won’t be as strong as those of the class-leaders.
Like the Cee’d hatchback upon which it’s based, the Carens earned the full five-star crash-test rating from Euro NCAP – excellent news in such a family-oriented car. The car comes with all the standard safety kit you expect, including stability control and six airbags. The options list includes more exotic safety measures, such as a Park Assist System that identifies a suitably sized space and steers into it on your behalf.
The Carens has some very good rivals to compete with, but while it’s not the best car in the class, it more than holds its own thanks to its stylish looks, sound practicality, comfortable ride, and decent refinement. If you’re in the market for a compact seven-seater, the Carens is well worth a look.