Looks – 8/10
The first thing you notice with the Carens is that it looks rather compact. It has the styling of an over sized family hatchback rather than a large 7-seater bus, which is a good decision. The market seems to be shifting in favour of this sized car, which is why Kia focused efforts on the Carens and are ditching the Sedona in Europe. At the front there is a recognisable Kia face in the shape of the grille, whilst some bold lines stretch all the way down the side. Being the well-equipped ‘3’ model, the car sits on stylish 17-inch alloys, and gets chrome door handles and window trims, privacy glass, LED daytime running lights and roof rails. The exterior image is definitely premium, which is typical of the recent Kia models.
The story on the inside is very much the same, with lots of leather and nice plastics. The ‘3’ gets full leather seats and a high-gloss dashboard which looks superb. Although by far the best feature on the inside is the panoramic roof with electric blind. This is a fantastic touch of class and never failed to impress any passengers I had in the Carens. The 7-inch touchscreen media system sits nicely in the centre of the dashboard, and the brightly illuminated dials are another touch of quality. Even the steering wheel is stylish with some really nice soft leather and quite a few controls on it. My only reservation with the interior is that without the panoramic roof letting some light into the cabin there is a danger it could become a bit gloomy; the black leather and plastic combined with the privacy glass is a dark combination particularly in the back.
Handling/Performance – 7/10
The engine in my test car was the 1.7-litre diesel option, which will undoubtedly be the most popular choice over the 1.6-litre petrol. There are two versions of the diesel too; the first is a 114PS version whilst mine was the more powerful version with 134PS and 330Nm of torque. On the ‘3’ only a 6-speed manual is available, although there is an automatic option- but only on the lesser ‘2’ model. I’m not entirely sure on the logic here, but I can only assume Kia believe the manual will be much higher in demand. Through the manual 0-62mph is dealt with in 10.9 seconds and the top speed is 119mph. Power delivery is like most diesel engines; smooth and torquey up to 3,000rpm and then a little lethargic after that; thankfully the 6-speed gearbox allows you to utilise that mid-range power. Cruising on the motorway is great in the Kia with the long 6th gear, and the torquey diesel offers good overtaking ability without the need to change down.
The handling was less impressive, and soon highlighted that the Carens is taller and larger than the exterior styling suggests. Through corners there is noticeable lean, and the unsupportive seats only emphasise the poor cornering. The steering didn’t help matters either; despite the selectable Flex steer- normal, comfort and sport modes- it felt rather numb. I never had it in anything other than sport in a bid to get some feel. However on the flip side of the cornering lean, the ride on the motorway is superb. The Carens is wonderfully smooth and comfortable, and long journeys are no problem at all. Should you have 7 people on board they will no doubt prefer motorway bliss than a twisty A-road horror!
Economy – 9/10
One of the main reasons I think the diesel will be the most popular choice in the Carens is because it is the more efficient of the two engines. That being said, if it’s efficiency you’re looking at, I would definitely recommend the 114PS version. All the manual cars get Intelligent Stop & Go (ISG) which helps improve fuel efficiency when stuck in traffic. As a result combined fuel consumption on the 134PS diesel is 56.4mpg which is impressive for a car this size. What surprises me however is the CO2 emissions, because despite the ISG and a relatively small engine the ‘3’ I tested is 132g/km which puts the car in VED band E. Granted, the annual cost of £130 won’t exactly break the bank, but I would have thought this could have been reduced by a group or two.
Practicality – 9/10
The idea behind the Carens is 7-seat practicality in a compact 5-seater exterior, and as such a great deal of versatility is required. As a result the middle row of seats slide back and forward to aid legroom for the third row. These seats fold flat to the boot floor and can be raised and lowered single-handedly. The boot is a generous size when the third row is folded down, but is not so large once these are up. If you are travelling with a full car there is little room for luggage, so bear that in mind. It is also worth mentioning that despite the movement of the middle row the third row is more suitable for children. This is because the lack of height limits leg room such that adults end up sat in a tuck position. However the Carens is aimed at those who for the most part require five seats, yet can use the additional two when the Grandkids come to stay. Or the parent in charge of the weekly run to football training for Tommy and his friends. The Carens is also reasonable on insurance- around group 16- so won’t cost you the earth to own.
Fun – 7/10
Where the Carens put a smile on my face was the clever gadgets and luxuries that make life easier. The ‘3’ model gets cruise control, satellite navigation, Bluetooth, reversing camera, heated front seats, heated steering wheel and dual-zone air conditioning as standard. But what I always like about cars are the little touches that go a long way. On the Carens there are sun blinds built into the rear doors, which is such a simple idea yet really impresses. The thing that lets the Carens down is the driver appeal. The lack of steering feel and comedic cornering left me a little disappointed. Yes I understand this is a 7-seater but Vauxhall proved with the Zafira VXR that you can have both a fun drive and practicality.
So that’s my week with the Kia Carens. I like the styling and the interior is a lovely place to be. To drive the diesel is the engine to have, and on a run will achieve decent fuel economy too. There’s plenty of uses for the cabin, and the versatility will really appeal to buyers. However it’s only a 5-seater if you need to bring luggage, and the rearmost seats aren’t great for adults. Prices for the Carens start at £18,195 on the road, but the range-topping ‘3 Sat Nav’ model as I tested it is £25,250. You get Kia’s 7-year 100,000-mile warranty for extra peace of mind as well. For more information pop into your local dealer or visit the Kia website. The Carens 3 Sat Nav; stylish on the outside, clever on the inside.
Total Score – 40/50