TEST DRIVE: Kia Carens

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Steve Sharpe drives Kia’s new Carens

With this new third generation of the Carens, Kia has now completed the make-over of its entire stable.

Kia Carens

Kia Carens

The seven-seater MPV marks the last of the fleet to be replaced – plus there have been new models introduced in the shape of the Soul and Venga – all in the space of five years.

Things are certainly looking good for the Korean manufacturer.

With this new version of their MPV, Kia themselves admit that they’re not reinventing the genre.

And they’re right. The Carens is a car that does what is says on the tin, to hijack a well-used phrase.

This is a family car with an extra two seats in the back.

It’s designed to carry a biggish family and their belongings and it looks much better than the version it replaces although you’d be hard pushed to remember what it looks like when it’s out of sight.

But Kia know what they’re doing, and their transformation from a budget, no-frills manufacturer into serious player on the world scene has been an impressive feat.

The outgoing model has been around since the late 1990s but you don’t see many of them.

Kia think this new model, which is very different to the old one, will change that fact.

And while it isn’t going to leave bystanders swooning in its wake, the Carens makes an attractive proposition for the buyer looking for a good-value MPV.

It looks tidy – smart without being striking. It’s a little shorter, narrower and lower than the outgoing model so although it only comes in a seven-seat version size-wise it sits somewhere between five and seven seat versions of its competitors.

Inside it’s clear that you’re in an MPV right from the off. The windscreen is steeply raked and there’s a lot of plastic between the steering wheel and the bottom of the windscreen.

And despite a high driving position you can’t see anything of the bonnet when you’re driving.

But while not rewriting the rulebook the interior is smart and extremely functional.

The plastics are good quality , the switches and dials are well-placed and solid and it’s all laid out nicely.

There’s a lot going on in the dash but it’s easy enough to use on the move.

Although the new Carens is smaller than the previous version there’s still plenty of room for front and rear seat passengers.

The middle row of seats is now made up of three individual sliding and reclining seats, which all fold flat for improved luggage space, while the two cargo seats fold as well allowing for a huge boot area.

Even with all the seats in position there’s still enough boot space for a few bags of shopping.

But like many seven seaters the extra two seats in the back are ideal for kids but only as an emergency for anyone heftier than a munchkin.

The Carens comes in three engine forms – a 1.6 petrol versions and two 1.7 diesel units.

I drove the lower-powered diesel model and while you won’t be expecting a searing ride from a seven-seater MPV it’s a decent performer.

There’s steady acceleration from low speeds and with carefully-timed gear-changes the power is spread out evenly.

The six-speed manual gearbox is smooth to use but does click into its new position rather than slide.

Keeping the revs high will get the best out of the MPV but driven normally the Carens is comfortable with day to driving chores.

The high driving position and good visibility through the large areas of glass make driving around town easy, plus a good turning circle makes short work of parking.

Get off the urban run and the Carens will happily cruise along motorways.

The engine can be a little raspy at higher revs but the cabin is well soundproofed to cope with this.

There’s very little wind noise or road noise to intrude either.

Come off the main roads and the MPV acquits itself well. It’s surprisingly nimble, and a firm ride means that there’s not too much body roll around corners despite the MPV shape.

You can feel the road over rougher surfaces but it’s never uncomfortable.

Steering is a little on the light side but there’s good grip and it offers a good sense of control around bends.

Although Kia have seriously upped their game in the last few years they have remained loyal to their value for money principle, and the Carens is good value.

With prices ranging from £17,895 to £23,895 it’s cheaper than most of its closest rivals.

There are three trims available, simply called 1, 2 and 3, and even the cheapest versions are well-equipped, with air-conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth, a USB socket and new security and safety measures including Hill Start Assist as standard. Mid-range versions come with alloys, climate control, privacy glass, foglights and automatic lights and wipers, while the most expensive versions add a colour touch-screen, reversing camera and a panoramic glass roof.

When you factor in decent economy figures – around the 60mpg for the lower-powered diesel engine – and Kia’s reassuring seven-year transferable warranty, which still applies to the new owner if you sell on, it begins to make good economic sense.

And the Carens has also just been awarded maximum stars in Euro safety tests too.

Kia continue to climb, improving with every model introduced but still adhering to their value-for-money principles

The Carens continues this trend – it’s a big improvement on the previous model and offers a comfortable ride, bags of space, a decent performance and a smart cabin, all at a competitive price.

It’s a sensible choice for a family car, and one that deserves to be considered.

Fact file

Kia Carens

Engine: 1.7litre diesel.

Transmission: Six-speed manual.

0-62: 12.6 seconds

Top Speed: 112mph.

Economy: 60.1mpg

Price: £20,595.