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Kia Carens review (2013 onwards)
Kia's new Carens compact MPV mixes space and impressive efficiency in a sweetly styled package, but it's not all that interesting to drive
What: Kia Carens
Date: March 2013
Price: £17,000 - £23,500 (expected)
Available: May 2013
Key rivals:Citroen C4 Grand Picasso, Ford Grand C-Max, Renault Grand Scenic, Peugeot 5008, Vauxhall Zafira
We like: Styling, clever packaging, spaciousness despite compact dimensions
We don't like: Not the most inspiring to drive, boot space not as good as some
Car companies can't afford for their people carriers to be basic boxy vehicles anymore - buyers increasingly want sleek styling with their practicality, meaning the sector has taken on a new look.
Kia has recognised this with its new Carens compact MPV. Taking the familiar 'Tiger Nose' styling from the Cee'd hatchback, improved interior quality and a pair of diesel engines that are 15% cleaner than before it's created a good looking people mover.
It's relatively small for a seven-seater too, helped by improved packaging - a factor Kia is hoping will work for it against larger rivals and increasingly popular crossover vehicles. The Carens has the talent to do so.
A brace of 1.7-litre petrol engines, producing 114hp and 134hp - as well as a 133hp 1.6-litre petrol - will be available in the new Carens.
We sampled both diesel variants and found that if all you're looking to do is pootle around town and run the kids to and from school the lower powered motor will be more than adequate.
The extra pulling power is welcome
If you intend to complete more cross-country mileage or hit the motorways harder we'd urge you to plump for the more powerful engine. In freer, faster moving traffic it's much easier to make progress with the 134hp lump - you don't have to work it as hard, meaning it's quieter as a result.
The extra pulling power is welcome and sees the Carens hit 62mph from rest in a range-best of 10.4 seconds.
The diesel engines are smooth and refined, although both motors need to be spinning above 1,500rpm to make the best use of their available torque.
The whole drivetrain is slick. The six-speed manual gearbox has a light shift action and is easy to use, making it nice to pilot around town as well as swap ratios when travelling faster.
Ride and handling
The best compliment we can pay the Carens is that it feels safe and assured - exactly what MPV buyers will most likely want. It features Kia's Flex Steer system, which alters the steering weight between Comfort, Normal and Sport.
We'd suggest leaving it in the Normal mode - Sport is too artificial, with an unnatural amount of self-centring effect and Comfort feels too light and vague. It's useful for manoeuvring in tight spots, though.
The Carens rides well, negotiating larger bumps smoothly and showing compliance over harsher road imperfections. But that doesn't mean it's a roll fest when you get out of town.
The suspension feels taut and composed and controls its 1,506kg mass without much fuss. We only managed to test the Carens with two front-seat passengers, so whether these traits will translate when the car is full of people and luggage remains to be seen. We've no reason to believe it wouldn't.
As a compact MPV space, practicality and flexibility is the Carens' remit. Despite its relatively compact dimensions, it broadly succeeds.
It feels spacious inside, but that comes at the detriment of luggage capacity. Boot space stands at 103 litres with all seven seats in place, rising to 492 and 1,650 litres in five- or two-seat configurations respectively.
Something that afflicts most cars in the sector
Compared to the rival Peugeot 5008 for example - offering 679 litres minimum and 2,506 litres maximum - the Kia is nowhere near as commodious.
The second row of seats do slide and fold independently though, while the third row is split 50:50 and tuck away into the boot floor neatly. Plenty of cubby holes mean lots of storage and the backrest of the front passenger chair will also fold flat fully, allowing extra room for longer items.
The Carens is functional, then, but it's also smart inside. The interior marries soft touch plastics and solid feeling switchgear with good ergonomics and attractive design.
The lower roofline does produce one noticeable drawback, however. The long, chunky A-pillars sit right in the driver's eye line when cornering, but it's a phenomenon that afflicts most cars in the sector. Apart from that, a large glass area means visibility is generally good.
Economy and safety
The familiar engine range returns decent economy in the Carens. The lower powered 1.7-litre diesel is the most efficient unit, returning a parsimonious 60.1mpg combined with 124g/km CO2 emissions.
The extra power of the 134hp 1.7 doesn't dent efficiency all that much, returning 56.4mpg combined with CO2 emissions of 132g/km - although this does push it into the next road tax bracket. The sole petrol engine returns 44.1mpg with 149g/km CO2.
The new Carens gets a stiffer bodyshell, and fitted with a multitude of airbags and electronic driver aids as standard, Kia is targeting a full five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating for its new compact MPV.
The MSN Cars verdict
The 2013 Kia Carens is a strong effort from the Korean company. Combining competitive efficiency, decent space and welcome practicality despite a smaller footprint than the competition, it should certainly be on your shortlist if you're looking for a seven-seat MPV.
It's, dare we say it, a touch dull to drive. However, add in the interesting and tactile interior, pricing predicted to undercut its rivals (starting from around £17,000, although Kia hasn't yet revealed any official information), the peace of mind from its seven-year warranty, and interesting styling and the Carens stacks up well.
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