By Wayne Gorrett
✔ Great to drive, versatile seating, durable family-proof interior, comfortable, spacious.
✖ Move along, nothing to see here.
A brief perspective, if you will: last year I drove 112 cars ranging from mainstream manufacturers such as Ford, Volvo, Peugeot through to niche producers like McLaren, Lotus, Rolls Royce and Maserati – I even enjoyed a summer’s afternoon tootle on the streets of London Town in an original 1959 Jaguar XK150S.
Most cars were very good and a few not so. However, a handful were utterly brilliant – so exceptional that at the end of their evaluation week, I didn’t want to see them go. Let me tell you about one of those – the new KIA Carens.
What is it?
It’s the fourth generation KIA Carens – a mid-sized, seven seat MPV. It was designed by KIA’s German design chief Peter Schreyer, widely known for his creative contributions to the ubiquitous Audi TT. Following the demise of the Sedona in the European market, the new Carens assumes the position as KIA’s largest MPV. All UK models get seven seats as standard.
Most of us know that ‘sexy’ and ‘MPV’ rarely – if ever – appear in the same sentence. Making an MPV look good can be a challenge. The new Carens is not sexy but it certainly is a looker. It’s the final car across the KIA brand to receive the marque’s upmarket new look, courtesy of Mr Schreyer. With its swept-back lights, daedal creases and LED tail-lights, the new Carens is certainly a big step forward compared to its rather librarian predecessor.
The new Carens is 20mm shorter, 15mm narrower and 45mm lower than its predecessor. Remarkably though, by relocating the A-pillars over the front wheels, and stretching the wheelbase by 50mm, the result is a rather commodious interior.
Controls and instruments are clearly labelled, logically arranged, intuitive to use and pleasantly tactile. Importantly, all the ‘daily touch’ plastics and seat levers feel tough enough to cope with the abuse they’re likely to receive in a family run-around. The range of seat and steering wheel adjustment is expansive in arriving at a comfortable driving position and all-round visibility is excellent.
The Carens has three full-size middle-row seats that can be slid and reclined independently. Third-row space is also competitive, which means kids and smaller adults will fit. The boot is big and all five rear seats – plus the front passenger seat – can be folded down to leave a flat cars-length load area.
Storage and stow-away places are plentiful throughout the cabin and a masterful touch is the bespoke underfloor storage space for the rear load cover when all seats are upright.
All versions are well equipped and the trim levels are simply designated as 1, 2 and 3.
‘1’ models come with air-conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth and a USB socket. Number 2 trim adds alloys, climate control and auto lights and wipers, while ‘3’ enjoys a colour touch-screen, reversing camera and a panoramic glass roof. Top-end ‘3’ SatNav adds, er, satnav.
Engines and transmissions
Three engines are currently offered: a 1.6-litre 133bhp petrol and 114bhp and 134bhp versions of a 1.7-litre diesel. The 134bhp diesel as tested had no trouble hauling around a heavily loaded Carens. Automatic transmission is only available on the mid-spec ‘2’, 134bhp diesel.
On the road
With deference to family buyers, KIA has put comfort ahead of agility which, in an MPV, is a good thing. The suspension is relatively firm but well damped and it copes well with all but the roughest of surfaces. There isn’t much road noise at speed and the 1.7-litre CRDi turbo diesel is impressively refined.
On the fly, the KIA Carens does everything you’d expect from a dependable family vehicle. The steering is direct if a little numb, body roll is well contained for this type of car and grip levels are very good. The six-speed manual has a delightful action and there is little to fault of the KIA’s safe, sensible and comfortable driving experience.
Safety and security
The Carens achieved the maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests and all grades receive six airbags and stability control. Security is catered for with deadlocks, automatic door locking and immobiliser.
The top grade 3 Carens as tested costs £24,845 but the range currently starts from only £16,395. While running costs don’t set any class records, they are competitive. Insurance groups are 12 and 13 for the diesel and petrol variants, respectively.
The best in the UK as across the range you get:
* Transferable seven-year / 100,000 mile new car warranty.
* 12 months KIAssist roadside assistance package.
The unpretentious KIA Carens blends a practical, family-oriented interior with a comfortable ride and all-round appeal. It’s great to drive, competitively priced, well equipped and is one of the best mid-size MPVs available.
Fortunately, my job is not always about fast red Italian sports cars and the KIA Carens ranks firmly in my top five drives of 2013. It is a sure testament to the brands ‘Power to Surprise’.
Price as tested: £24,845 * Economy (claimed combined): 56.4mpg vs 48.7mpg driven over 421 miles * Fuel tank: 58 litres * CO2: 132g/km * Engine: 1.7-litre, 4-cylinder turbo-diesel * Power: 134bhp @ 4,000rpm * Torque: 244Nm @ 2,000-2,500rpm * Gearbox: 6-Speed manual.