Small MPVs. Not the most glamorous of transport options, but worthy in their own right and essential members of the family to those whose families are a little bigger than the rest of us.
Kia’s stalwart Carens has been part of the scene for many years, and for 2013 an all-new model joins the range. If it’s as big a leap over the previous model as other recent Kias have been, you might just have found your next family car.
The Carens is one of the last models in the Kia lineup to receive Kia design chief Peter Schreyer’s magic touch.
This much is evident when you approach the Carens, which looks not unlike an inflated Kia Cee’d. We weren’t overly enamoured with the Cee’d’s styling during our road test last month, but the translation to small MPV has been largely successful.
The front is very similar indeed to the Cee’d. Deeply scalloped sides remove some of the Carens’ visual bulk and the rear end is all business – not overly pretty, but certainly not bad. Like others in this class, and unlike the larger Sedona, regular rear doors are chosen in favour of sliding units.
It doesn’t look as sporty as say, a Ford S-Max, but it does manage to look reasonably expensive. Neat chrome detailing and just the right amount of styling flair pulls it above Kia’s previously budget-orientated image.
This, of course, is why people buy MPVs of any sort. Thankfully, Kia has got it largely right.
Starting at the back, you get a large boot with no lip over which to lift items. Should mid-row passengers not need too much space, the outer rear seats can also be slid forward, and their backrests reclined, to allow for even more space.
Sliding the seats forward is probably wise if you’re to carry people in the rearmost row, too, as it’s otherwise a small-child-only zone. In the interests of thorough journalism this 5’9″ tester did try out a rear seat, but only for a few seconds. It was enough to decide the back row wasn’t really for us. When the seats are up the boot space is tiny, too.
On the plus side, they’re hilariously easy to erect and stow, with large straps on the back to work the mechanism. The mid-row seats are easy to fold too, with easily-accessible handles. They don’t fold completely flat though, which is a shame. Rear leg- and headroom is more than up to the task of handling adults, so children will have acres of space for singing, fighting and other activities.
Mum and dad will have a pleasant time up front, too. The dashboard has a pleasant look and feel, more symmetrical than Kia’s usual driver-focused layouts. It’s as high quality as any other recent Kia though, and feels tough enough to stand up to family life.
Surprisingly, the steering wheel looks quite sporty, and we suspect it’ll appear on other, sportier Kias soon. Stowage space is good, and Kia’s excellent infotainment options make another appearance – we’ve yet to find another brand which offers easier iPhone compatibility or Bluetooth hookup.
Finding an ideal driving position is easy enough too. The seats are wide, comfortable and offer plenty of movement – top-spec cars even more so, with electric adjustment. The wheel adjusts for both rake and reach too. Visibility is fairly good, if a little compromised by all that metal out back.
The upshot was that we spent more than five hours driving around Hampshire and Surrey in a day, and never suffered discomfort at the wheel.
We’ve devoted extra space to the interior, and conveniently there’s much less to say about the way the Carens drives.
Not that it’s bad, quite the opposite. It’s just that with direct, pleasantly weighted steering, good levels of grip, surprising agility, strong brakes and low levels of noise on the move, the Carens covers all the necessary bases.
It rides well too, even on larger wheel options. It can thump through potholes occasionally, but the car doesn’t feel like it’ll fall apart when it does so, so we can’t complain too much.
We tried all three engine options in the Carens – a 133 PS 1.6 GDI petrol, a 115 PS CRDi diesel, and a higher-output 134 PS CRDi diesel.
The petrol is pleasant, quiet, smooth and responsive, but also rather gutless in a car the size of the Carens. Official 0-62 mph is 10.9 seconds, but it needs working hard to get there. As such we can only recommend it if you’re on a tight budget, or if you rarely intend to carry many passengers.
The lower-power diesel is much more suited, though might still struggle if you really load it up. Predictably this means the higher-output diesel is our favourite. It’s still not overly fast (62 mph in 10 seconds), but feels like it’d handle a car full of people and things better than the others.
Both diesels are quiet and refined too, and fuel-saving stop-start tech appears on all engines. Economy is good – we achieved an amazing 58 mpg from the lower-power diesel (officially over 60 mpg), just over 50 from the 134 PS version (officially 56.4 mpg), and around 45 mpg from the petrol (44.1 in official testing).
Take these figures with a pinch of salt though – they’re all trip computer figures, in an empty car, on fairly easy-going roads. Your mileage may vary…
Value for money
Carens prices currently start at a fairly affordable £16,895, undercutting that of all main rivals. If all you need is an occasional 7-seater then it’ll work a treat, as equipment levels aren’t bad in basic ‘1’ spec either. However as we’ve noted above, the petrol engine probably isn’t ideal for more serious people-carrying duties.
Diesels start at £18,295 in ‘1’ spec, a petrol in ‘2’ trim is £100 less than that, the diesel ‘2’ (as in our pictures) an extra £1,400, an automatic diesel another £1,400 again and then the top 134 PS ‘3’ diesel is £22,895.
However – these prices will all go up by £1,000 when Kia’s early buyer reward comes to an end, so get in there early.
Even so, for seven seats (and a 7-year warranty), strong equipment levels (leather, full colour infotainment display and more on ‘3’ cars) and a good drive, the Carens represents typically Kia good value.
It’s another strong effort from Kia. Families across the land will find very little to complain about with the Carens, and much to like.
Our only main reservations are over the cramped rear row of seats – not unusual for the class, but compromising it as a full-time seven seater – and the paucity of performance in some of the lower engines, particularly considering the Carens’ intended role as people-mover. But comfort, equipment, build quality and value all stand up to scrutiny.
What the press think
It’s early days yet for reviews of the Carens but it does seem to be going down well with testers. Despite the price rise over the previous Carens, most consider it well worth the extra considering its move upmarket.