Seven-seater in the limelight
There have been a number of cars in Kia's range that have impressed us in recent years, but the Carens MPV had never made that list. This third generation version is a belter, with stylish exterior lines, a practical interior, great build quality and solid engineering. It's an easy recommendation.
People don't tend to buy compact MPVs for the way they drive but if Kia can differentiate the Carens in that regard as well, it has to be good for sales, right? So instead of just offering one or two engine choices, the Carens was unveiled with four available powerplants. First up the petrol units; both are 1.6-litre direct-injection engines ensuring strong performance, even with a full complement of passengers or luggage.
The 1.6-litre 'Gamma' GDI engine, introduced in the Kia Sportage and subsequently fitted to Kia's cee'd family hatch, generates 133bhp, while the 2.0-litre 'Nu' unit delivers 174bhp and 211Nm of torque. Then there are the diesels which comprise two versions of Kia's acclaimed 1.7-litre 'U2' oil-burner generating 113bhp with maximum torque of 260Nm maximum torque, or 134bhp and 330Nm of torque.
Six-speed gearboxes are standard across the range; even on models equipped with automatic transmission. Low ratios for first first-and second gear ensure brisk acceleration off the line while a high top (sixth) ratio ensures relaxed, refined, economical cruising at motorway speeds. The auto 'box has a manual sport mode with optional paddle-shifters on the steering wheel.
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Kia's MDPS electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering features a combined torque/angle sensor to protect against side wind gusts. The steering wheel is adjustable for both height and reach. Kia's FlexSteer system, offering three levels of weight and assistance to match customer preference – Normal, Sport and Comfort – is standard. The suspension is nothing too radical, MacPherson struts at the front and a coupled torsion beam with trailing-arms at the rear, but the brakes are up to the mark, with discs all round, anti-lock, electronic brake force distribution and emergency Brake Assist as well.
Most potential customers we spoke to seemed to think this Carens was one of the best-looking small MPVs on the market. Many also detected a slight influence of Ford styling in the rear three-quarter view which is no bad thing. The front end, however, is instantly recognisable as a Kia with that distinctive 'tiger nose' grille. There are LED front running lights, an all-LED tail light cluster and chrome accents around the glasshouse. The rear of the car looks dynamic thanks to a sloping roof line which allows better views from the back than the alternative design strategy of a rising belt line, but does come at a slight penalty in terms of rear headroom.
The Kia Carens had long been one of the Korean company's lesser lights. In fact, at times it seemed desperate for a bushel to hide it under, such was the glitziness of its other models and the dourness of its compact MPV. That's no longer the case. The Carens now deserves its moment in the limelight. With smart styling, a practical interior, great build quality and a range of clean, modern engines, it deserves your full attention.
Overall, Kia's rivals are going to have their work cut out. The South Korean brand's buyers have high expectations these days but we suspect the Carens isn't going to disappoint.