Driving cars from brands at the more affordable end of the spectrum isn’t usually the most comfortable experience. Nobody, though, seems to have told Kia. In fact, its latest MPV model, the Carens, is a lesson in just how far the “budget” Korean brand has shifted upmarket.
My impression of the new third-generation Carens was influenced by the fact that both my three-year-old daughter and six-week-old son immediately fell asleep and stayed that way for more than two hours in the back. Transporting families is what the Carens has been designed for and, as any parent will tell you, those moments of comfortable, easy motoring with snoozing children are priceless.
Available with a choice of engines – a 133bhp 1.6-litre petrol or two 1.7-litre diesel engines, with power outputs of either 114bhp or 134bhp – in three trim levels and with manual and automatic transmission, I was driving the top-spec level 3 manual 1.7-litre diesel model, which adds bigger 17-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof and a reversing camera integrated into the dash.
As you’d expect from an MPV, the drive is not exactly sporty, but it’s smooth enough and quiet enough ride, and the engine remains suitably remote during normal driving. If you want to throw it around a bit on sun-kissed country lanes this summer, it handles without any drama. It’s not a tall, boxy, van-like MPV like the cars of old and, consequently, there is no boat-like handling here.
Nobody will be buying this car for its driving thrills: its appeal is its practicality. The whole point of an MPV is that it’s versatile and useful, and the new Carens ticks all of these boxes. Its interior is a pleasing place to be and it’s an ideal summer holiday car. There are seven seats, including two jump seats that pop up out of the boot, so plenty of room for you and your other half, your kids and a pair of babysitting in-laws, if that’s the sort of holiday you have these days. It feels surprisingly spacious and the legroom should be enough for most people, even with a full car. Everybody gets a good view thanks to the panoramic glasshouse and full glass roof. When it rains, you can slide open the sunroof blind that runs the length of the roof for the kids to watch the rain, and if the sun comes out, you can slide the shade back and open the roof up. There’s a sizeable boot, too, though obviously room for buggies or bikes is significantly compromised if the rear jump seats are occupied.
If you’re new to Kia, you might be expecting something quite cheap and cheerful, particularly when it comes to the interior. But this top-of-the-range model has an upmarket feel, with a quality looking piano black dash, leather feel door trim and a steering wheel wrapped in smart leather.
MPVs are not known for their cutting edge style, so you wouldn’t necessarily pick this car on the basis of an immediate, visceral response to the way it looks. That said, the new Carens is something of a prom-queen in its class. Its styling is markedly different to that of the previous Carens, most significantly because it’s the latest model to get the signature “tiger nose” brought in by design director Peter Schreyer to give Kia’s cars a proper, identifiable family face. The new snout does give it a distinctively jaunty look and its body is lower, leaner and longer than its predecessor. The result is a sleek and quite stylish car.
If looks aren’t important to you then consider this: the official mpg of 56.4mpg should see a real world figure north of 40mpg. Add to that Kia’s impressive seven-year warranty and the new Carens is enough to give competitors a run for their money. In financial terms, Kia has hit the target again.
Sure, it’s a car for grown ups; for people who have to value practicality above performance. But the new Carens has enough about it to keep the driver entertained, even when the kids are asleep.
THE FACTS: KIA CARENS 3 1.7 CRDI
0-62MPH: 10 secs
TOP SPEED: 119mph
CO2 G/KM: 132g/km
MPG COMBINED: 56.4mpg
DESIGN Four stars
PERFORMANCE Three stars
PRACTICALITY Four stars
VALUE FOR MONEY Four stars