Kia's revised third generation Carens model is a 7-seat compact MPV that makes most sense in 1.7-litre CRDi diesel form, reckons Jonathan Crouch
There have been a number of cars in Kia's range that have impressed us in recent years, but until a few years ago, the Carens compact MPV wasn't one of them. This model took a step forward in third genration guise though and it's been further improved in the facelifted guise we're going to look at here. Most customers choose this People Carrier with the 114bhp 1.7-litre CRDi diesel engine, so that's what we're going to concentrate on here.
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. We thought we'd look at the version that will account for most UK sales, the lower-powered of the two 1.7-litre CDTi diesel models.
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 makes available three different 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 - the variant we're focuing on here - makes sixty in 12.6s on the way to 112mph, while the 139bhp 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.
As ever, Carens buyers only get one body size: unlike Ford, Citroen and Renault, Kia doesn't see the need to offer separate five and seven-seat bodyshapes in this segment. It never did previously either, but older Carens models offered the choice of either five or seven seats. Here, you've a seven-seat-only design. But a better looking one in this revised guise. Updates include revised front and rear bumpers, smarter front fog lamps and an updated 'tiger-nose' grille, plus there are revised rear lamps too.
On to practicalities. It's one thing cramming three rows of seating into a car as relatively compact as this one (the 4.5m length isn't much greater than that of a Focus hatchback). Quite another for the rearmost pews to be actually properly usable. Are they here? Well, I don't want to get your hopes up too high on this score. No compact MPV in this class has yet delivered third row seating that's properly comfortable for adults on long journeys - and this one doesn't either. But, seating at the very back is fine for kids and at least here easy to access thanks to an effective middle row tilting and sliding mechanism. As for that middle row, well it has three separate chairs that recline and slide.
Luggage space is restricted to just 103-litres with all seats in place, but rises to 492-litres with the third row flattened and 1,560-litres with the second row flat too. Up-front, you view a clearly presented set of instruments through a smart, leather-trimmed three spoke steering wheel with intuitive controls and faultless functionality that leaves everything exactly where you'd expect to find it. A clever colour touchscreen, 7 or 8-inches in size, dominates the dash and there's better quality seat upholstery in this revised model, as well as smarter metallic and gloss-black accents throughout the cabin and a classy carbon-effect fascia trim.
Prices range in the £18,500 to £28,000 bracket, so the Carens is no longer being offered at bargain basement prices. But then, it's no longer a bargain basement product. Most UK sales will be of the 114bhp 1.7-litre CRDi diesel we look at here - and you'll need a budget of around £21,000 for one of those. You'll need at least around £24,500 for the 139bhp version of this CRDi engine, which is the unit you'll have to have to get Kia's DCT auto gearbox as an option.
There are three trim and equipment packages, badged '1', '2' and '3'. The key equipment change on this revised model relates to the 7.0 or 8.0-inch centre-dash touchscreen that can feature not only navigation but also Kia Connected Services powered by TomTom, plus a rear-view parking camera. This touchscreen system also incorporates the 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' systems for full smartphone integration. There's also now an optional JBL Premium Sound system, which features a subwoofer, external amplifier and six speakers for greater audio quality throughout the cabin.
Across the range, you can expect to find features like LED daytime running lamps, cornering lights that illuminate your way around the bends, auto headlamps that stay on to see you to your front door at night, power mirrors, tinted glass, air conditioning with proper rear air ventilation, a cooled glovebox and a useful 'rear conversation mirror' that helps you keep an eye on the kids as you drive.
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 117g/km of CO2 and 60.1mpg on the combined cycle, while the 139bhp model delivers 118g/km and 56.5mpg. In comparison, the 1.6-litre GDI petrol engine delivers 143g/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 like the 114bhp 1.7-litre CRDi diesel featured here, 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.
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