AS CONVERSATION killers go, mentioning “mid-size seven-seat people carriers” is right up there. But before your dinner party guests look at their watches and start moving to the door, they might like to know that there’s more to the new Kia Carens than its snooze-inducing nomenclature suggests.
For the Carens represents the final step in Kia’s design-driven transformation from maker of slightly staid hardware to troubler-in-chief of the mainstream mob. And what a transformation it’s been – other car makers overhaul their range, but few in such a short space of time and with such startling results. Compare today’s Kia range with that of 2009 and… Actually, there’s no comparison – every model has been axed or replaced in the past four years. UK sales hit 70,000 last year and the company aims to be among the country’s top five sellers by 2020, shifting 100,000 cars. Would you bet against them?
Don’t expect the Carens to contribute significantly to the total – for all its new-found flair, it’s still a bit too niche to rack up massive sales – but at least it no longer looks out of place in the Kia showroom. It shares many of its underneath bits with the latest Cee’d hatchback and looks a lot like it from the front as well. Kia talks a lot about its “tiger nose” family look. I don’t know any tigers personally, but I’ve seen enough David Attenborough programmes to know they don’t look like that. Still, the Carens is about as handsome as a seven-seater can be.
The Carens comes in three grades, handily named 1, 2 and 3, and we took a shot in all of them: a mid-spec model with a 114bhp diesel, a range-topper with a more powerful version of the same engine, and the entry-level car with a 1.6-litre petrol engine.
Get behind the wheel and the first thing you’ll notice is how wide the front seats are. They’re enormous, like your favourite living-room chair. The dash is smartly arranged and everything feels well engineered, although the red LCD display for the stereo is now starting to look a little dated.
The Carens’ trump card is versatility. The centre row of seats tilt and slide independently of each other (the middle one can be folded into a table), and there’s room in the third row for tallish types to travel in comfort. Boot space is sparse with all seven seats in place, but fold the second and third-row seats flat and the Carens will swallow 1,650 litres of luggage. The front passenger seat folds flat as well, to accommodate long loads.
Standard kit in the entry-level model includes aircon, all-round electric windows, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, a six-speaker stereo with USB port, chilled glovebox and front, side and curtain airbags. Mid-range cars gain 16-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone aircon, cruise control, rear privacy glass and roof rails. The “3” adds leather seats, 17-inch alloys, a panoramic sunroof and the touchscreen audio system.
The Carens is smooth over the bumps, but there is a fair bit of body roll in the bends. The 114bhp, 1.7-litre diesel is the pick of the engines. Bags of low-end torque means it has no trouble hauling the Carens along, and it’s more economical than the 134bhp version, which is only available in top-of-the-range trim anyway.
As for the 133bhp 1.6-litre petrol, it’s smooth but not particularly spirited, lacking urge at low revs. It’s also thirstier than the diesel engines and emits more CO2.
All Carens are backed by Kia’s seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty. Not so long ago, that would have been the main reason to buy a Kia. Now it’s just an added bonus.
CAR Kia Carens range
PERFORMANCE Max speed 112-119mph; 0-60mph 10.0-12.6secs
MPG (combined) 44.1-60.1
CO2 EMISSIONS 124-149g/km