The Kia Carens is a cheap way to carry seven, but its poor cabin finish lets it down

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Given the glowing reports and warm praise regularly lavished on Korean car maker Kia for its most recent run of new and revised models, it may come as something of a surprise to find there are still some less contemporarily crowd-pleasing models lurking in the current line-up. The Kia Carens MPV is one such example, a halfway house between the slowly improving previous generation of cars and its latest crowd-pleasers. 

The current Carens was a ground-up replacement for the previous generation car of the same name back in 2006, and since then, not a great deal has changed. It’s available as a five or seven-seater, and with a choice of either petrol or the latest CRDi diesel engines. There’s a 130bhp, 116lb ft 1.6-litre petrol engine available only in the cheapest, entry-level ‘1’ five-seater, which comes with a five-speed gearbox and a claimed 39.2mpg and 174g/km of CO2 emissions on the combined cycle.

The Carens feels like a Kia from a lifetime ago, which shows how far it has come in a short time

But it’s perhaps best overlooked in favour of the 1.6-litre CRDi diesel, which is also available in the five-seater ‘1’ or as the only powerplant of choice in the two seven-seat versions, called ‘2’ or, for the top trim level, ‘3’.

The oil-burner produces 126bhp and a more useful 192lb ft from 1900-2750rpm, with combined economy of 49.6mpg and 149g/km of CO2. All the diesels get a manual six-speed ’box. Take it or leave it.

But while the CRDi engine is a perfectly acceptable performer (0-60mph in 12.1sec and a top speed of 111mph are unremarkable but par for the course), the Carens is also instantly forgettable to drive. Ride and handling are no match for the current crop of MPV class leaders, and while it doesn't exactly grate, neither does it provide any sense of enjoyment. What it does do, at least as a practical and flexible seven-seater, is acceptably meet the MPV brief of no-fuss transport that's easy to drive, affordably priced and cheap to run, if, it has to be said, a little on the dull side.

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It also feels well screwed together. The seats are a bit thin for comfort on longer journeys, but otherwise the packaging works fine, although there are no clever or thoughtful design touches. The middle seats slide and recline and everything rearwards of the driver folds flat. ButKia the 'surprise and delight' features of the Carens' competitors are missing. So the cabin isn’t anywhere near as clever as it could or should be and it is awash with hard plastics, but the construction is solid, the design intuitive, and the overall ambience utterly inoffensive.

Luggage space in the five-seaters is a reasonable 430 litres with the seats up, expanding to a generous 2106 litres with the seats folded. In contrast, the seven-seat ‘2’ and ‘3’ models get just 74 litres with all the seats in use.

Standard kit in the ‘1’ models includes air-con, alloys, electric windows all round and cruise control; ‘2’s add an alarm, Blutetooth and MP3 connectivity, while the ‘3’ gets climate control, leather and parking sensors.

The Carens isn't bad, but it’s unlikely to top many people’s fantasy motoring wishlists. For those more interested in where they’re going than how they get there, the Carens could make for a perfectly acceptable way to transport up to six passengers (providing they don’t have much luggage with them and the last two are quite small). Perfectly acceptable, yes, if completely unremarkable and not exactly desirable. 

Kia Carens 2006-2011 First drives