Kia's Carens is one of the unsung heroes of the MPV world.
The Carens is a good example of what Kia has recently become very good at doing - building solid, sensible, moderately stylish family cars that are easily equal to anything.
Good points: looks good, high-quality cabin, decent space, pleasant to drive
Not so good: third row seats a bit tight on space
Test car details:
Model driven: Kia Carens 1.7D EX
Price as tested: €27,990 (range starts at €27,990)
Engine: 1.7-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door seven-seat MPV
CO2 emissions: 129g/km (Band B1, €270 per annum)
Combined economy: 59mpg (4.9 litres/100km)
Top speed: 181km/h
0-100km/h: 13.0 seconds
Power: 115hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 260Nm at 1,250- to 2,750rpm
The seven-seat MPV really is fast becoming the true heartland of the family car too. While the compact C-segment hatchback (think Golf, Focus, Auris) is still the single biggest selling body type, MPVs are catching up fast and dealers around the country are always telling us that the one car they can't keep enough of on the forecourt is the seven-seater. Must be something to do with the recession baby boom. We're a fertile lot when we're not too busy spending the bank's money, it would seem.
Once upon a time, driving a big seven-seater was seen as almost a social stigma. You'd given up on motoring fun and were reduced to hauling around in a dull family bus, but thankfully that is now changing somewhat and I'd say that the Kia Carens is in the vanguard of that change. OK, so it's no Aston Martin Rapide in the styling department, but it looks rather smart all the same and picks up many of the styling cues of the Kia cee'd hatchback with which it shares a chassis.
It's very cee'd-y inside too, and again, that's no bad thing. Big, clear dials are backed up by big, easy-to-find buttons and the whole thing seems screwed and bolted together very nicely. There are a few cheap, old-school plastics in there (the bottoms of the doors in particular) but they're generally well enough tucked away so as not to really notice them.
There are some nice touches too. Kia's iPod integration has always been among the best and easiest to use and at a time when how easy it is to connect your music player is of far greater import than, say, fuel consumption or emissions, that's a strong point.
The rest of the cabin is as you'd expect. Big, comfy seats up front. Slightly less comfy, but still spacious, in the second row and just a bit too tight for comfort in the third row. For all its practicality, the Carens is yet another mid-size MPV that doesn't really have enough space in the third row for real humans. Small kids will fit back there, of course, but if you're trying to fit bulky child car seats in, it can be a bit of a struggle.
The good news though is that with three individual split-fold-tumble seats in the second row, there's just enough room to get in three kids, in safety seats, next to each other. That's a major requirement for growing families these days and one the Carens meets with ease. Keep the third row of seats folded flat and you've got a decent 492-litre boot, while if you fold all the seats down, it swells to a massive 1,650 litres. You can also flip the front passenger seat flat if you need to fit in long, thin loads during your visit to the well-known Generic Swedish Furniture Store. All very practical.
Being based on the cee'd, the Carens was never going to be bad to drive. It rides with tolerable smoothness, corners safely and securely and is decently refined on the go. It's never going to raise your pulse rate, but with kids on board that's kind of the point, isn't it? The little blighters will be doing sufficient to boost your blood pressure, so there's no need for the car to do so.
The engine, likewise, keeps itself to itself. It's not a high performance machine (no swanning here) but it has decent performance, good fuel economy (50mpg should be a pretty easy ask for most drivers) but just slightly too-high emissions (it's in Band B when many rivals can manage a Band A rating).
Then of course, there's the price, which, at €27k, is right on the class average, though for a Kia you might think it sounds a bit expensive. It's all part of Kia's plan to become more mainstream though and the good news is that you still get more equipment bang for your buck than you would in an equivalent Ford or Toyota, plus you get Kia's brilliant seven-year warranty.
While it's not a headline-grabbing sort of car by any means, the Carens is a good example of what Kia has recently become very good at doing - building solid, sensible, moderately stylish family cars that are easily equal to anything coming out of Germany, France, the UK or Tokyo.
Citroen C4 Grand Picasso: striking looks and a practical and massive interior. Can't match the Kia's warranty though.
Ford Grand C-Max: pin-sharp handling from this Focus-based Ford but it's more cramped inside than the Carens, so kind of misses the point.
Toyota Verso: quiet to look at but big inside and big on quality. New 1.6-litre diesel raises its game and it's the Caren's closest competitor.