The Kia Carens is the Korean firm’s seven-seat MPV, replacing both the outgoing Carens model and the outdated Sedona in its UK line-up.
The Carens delivers the now familiar traits of the Kia brand, all of which bear repeating as they have been achieved in such a short period of time: striking exterior design, functional interior quality, highly competent underpinnings and chassis set-up and modern, fuel-efficient engines, all for a competitive price.
As a result, the Kia Carens should take a place on the shortlist of any aspiring buyer looking for a well-priced occasional seven-seater that, like many in the class, is bursting with cubbyholes and clever storage functions to boost practicality, even if it's short on dynamic involvement to fire up a keen driver.
The Kia Carens is sold with a choice of three engines – a 133bhp 1.6 GDI petrol and 114bhp and 134bhp 1.7 CRDi diesels – with three trim levels named memorably 1, 2 and 3. All engines are mated to a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, although the higher-powered diesel can be linked to a six-speed automatic.
While the exterior design delivers flair (at least for a slab-sided car designed to carry seven people), the interior is all about useful functionality. Consequently, while the dash layout and switchgear won’t win any awards for dazzling ingenuity, the controls all fall easily to hand. There’s underfloor storage and cubbies galore, too, as you’d expect in an MPV, and the occasional clever touch, including a standard cooled glovebox and centre middle-row seat that folds to be a table.
Practicality is boosted by the versatility of the three individual middle-row seats, all of which can slide and recline, and the two fold-flat rear-row seats that can be raised and dropped with the pull of a cord. The front passenger seat also folds flat to allow long loads to be slid along the Carens’ length.
The overall cabin ambience and quality is decent regardless of trim level, although moving up to level 2, which is expected to be the best-selling choice, does result in many of the most noticeable, hardest and plainest plastics being upgraded to materials that offer a far higher perceived quality. Grade 2 also brings with it kit including alloy wheels, foglights, roof rails, dual-zone air-con and reversing sensors as standard, making the price premium worth paying if possible. Level 3, however, is for drivers who want everything, from a heated steering wheel to other luxuries such as full leather, a 10-way powered driver's seat, a panoramic sunroof and a reversing camera.
All three engine options deliver competent performance, although the higher-powered diesel is inevitably the most versatile. The 1.6 petrol is perhaps the least obvious option, struggling slightly up steep inclines and when the Carens is fully laden. For parents on the school run, however, it would be more than sufficient.
That said, the lower-powered diesel is both reasonably refined and offers efficiency benefits that make the Carens a far more compelling proposition. Only a slight shortage of low-end torque stands against it. The higher-powered unit, meanwhile, is a must-have for people planning to drive fully laden long distances on a regular basis. All units are relatively frugal for the class, aided by a stop-start system that’s standard on all manual models.
The six-speed manual gearbox is a reasonable performer, although the unit in our petrol test car was a touch notchy. It is a point to note and consider, rather than being anything remotely like a deal breaker, however. We have yet to try a Carens equipped with the automatic gearbox.
Regardless of all this, the Carens is never an engaging car to drive. The steering lacks any feeling, even if you play with Kia’s 'FlexSteer' system, which allows you to opt for Comfort, Normal and Sport settings.
With MacPherson strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear, it corners reasonably flatly for such a large car and rides even poorly surfaced UK roads well at all speeds. However, there is little reward to be had from pushing on, ensuring the Carens sits alongside the vast majority of cars in the class as being a vehicle for getting from A to B, rather than aiming to entertain in doing so. Keen drivers should head straight to the Ford Grand C-Max.
The familiar Kia seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty is standard and fully transferrable, while buyers can also pre-pay for Kia Care-3 and Care-3 Plus servicing packages that cover three and five years respectively. So while the Kia Carens is priced alongside much of its opposition, owners have the benefit of knowing the likely running costs up front.