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Published on Thursday 20 June 2013 06:13
Ten Second Review
There have been a number of cars in Kia's range that have impressed us in recent years, but until recently, 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.
Not so long ago, this review would have begun with a paragraph or two about where Kia were, where they are now and what great value their cars now represented. The thing is, you know that already. Clued-in car buyers know that Kia vehicles now offer - and in some cases exceed - the standards of the mainstream brands they once so savagely undercut and they'll also know that prices have crept up as a consequence. That's also why when they see a product like this Carens MPV for the first time, they expect it to be good. Really good.
Dealing with this expectation has become normal for Kia. The thing is, it still doesn't prepare you for quite what a thorough job the Korean company has done. The Carens might not win too many awards for originality, but in absorbing the best design features of its rivals, it offers a credible and, yes, desirable option in the compact MPV sector that will have some big names very worried indeed.
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 three available powerplants. First up is the 133bhp 1.6-litre GDI direct injection petrol unit with a decent 165Nm of torque. Sixty is 10.9s away en route to 115mph. Then there are the two CRDi diesels - two versions of Kia's acclaimed 1.7-litre 'U2' oil-burner generating 114bhp with maximum torque of 260Nm maximum torque, or 134bhp and 330Nm of torque. The pokier of the two offers the option of a 6-speed auto gearbox. Even the feeblest version makes sixty in 12.6s on the way to 112mph, while the 134bhp model improves that to 10s and 119mph.
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 brakeforce distribution and emergency Brake Assist as well.
Design and Build
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 wheelbase of 2750mm is fairly generous for this class of car. By contrast, a Vauxhall Zafira Tourer, a car most will recognise as a generously-proportioned thing, measures 2760mm between its hubs. The Carens isn't as long or as wide as the Zafira though, and this shows in its total carrying capacity of 1667-litres when the seats are folded compared to the Vauxhall's 1860. The plus side of this is that the Kia's going to be quite a lot easier to park. The second row of seats features a 3/3/3 split which aids versatility and the two rearmost seats fold flat into the floor. As is usually the case with these cars, the third row seats are best left for small kids and with them up, there's very little luggage space; a mere 103-litres. The front passenger seat backrest can fold forwards. Plus there are storage compartments located throughout the cabin, with under-seat drawers, under-floor storage boxes, a deep centre console cubby hole and large door pockets.
Market and Model
Prices range in the £18,000 to £24,000 bracket, so the Carens is no longer being offered at bargain basement prices. But then, it's no longer a bargain basement product.
There are three trim and equipment packages, badged '1', '2' and '3'. Standard features whichever one of these you choose include seven seats, projection headlights with cornering lamps, LED daytime running lamps, electrically adjustable heated door mirrors, driver's seat height adjustment and tilt and telescopic steering wheel adjustment, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gearshift, a centre console armrest, air conditioning, rear air ventilation, steering wheel-mounted controls, front and rear electric windows, cruise control with a speed limiter, remote central locking, a six-speaker RDS radio/CD player with iPod connectivity, MP3 compatibility and Bluetooth with voice recognition and music streaming.
As for safety, there's Vehicle Stability Management and Electronic Stability Control, plus the usual electronic assistance for traction and braking. You also get Hill-start Assist to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions. Optional extras include an electric parking brake, a smart key with engine start/stop button, a six-speaker audio system with optional amplifier and sub-woofer, puddle lights in the exterior front door handles and a large powered panoramic glass sunroof.
Cost of Ownership
Compact MPVs are often bought by families who need to watch the pennies and the Carens is no exception. Gone are the days when a low sticker price would more than mask the fact that the engines were a decade out of date and if there's one thing that carbon dioxide-based taxation has done, it's driven manufacturers into a race to develop ever smarter and more efficient engines. Kia is no exception and the latest clutch of engines deliver respectable numbers.
Fuel-saving measures include ISG (Start/Stop), low-rolling resistance tyres and an alternator management system (AMS). The 114bhp diesel manages 124g/km of CO2 and 60.1mpg on the combined cycle, while the 134bhp model delivers 132g/km and 56.4mpg. The 1.6-litre GDI petrol engine is no slouch either, managing 149g/km and 44.1mpg. As ever, there's Kia's excellent 7 year/150,000km warranty to offer additional peace of mind.
Prior to the arrival of this third generation version, 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.