It’s a hard job pushing a new niche. When you’ve got a 7-seat vehicle that you don’t want to brand as an SUV, MPV, crossover or station wagon, where do you put it? My feeling is that Kia is making a mistake by not putting it in one of those boxes because people are absolutely looking for one of them and most likely don’t want a compromise. Instead, they’re going for the unknown CUV market — compact utility vehicle.
So who is the Kia Carens targeted at? If the selections available on the radio were anything to go by, it’s middle-aged couples and older, into The Breeze, More FM and talkback. But I don’t think so. Once I’d tuned in some dance and funk I felt much more at one with the Carens. It’s a car for the ‘60s and ‘70s children, burdened as they now are with three kids and a fashionable-but-family-friendly Chocolate Lab named Benji (every nuclear family needs something named after a rugby star). And the kids’ rugby practises are a doddle with the Kia’s versatile seating arrangement, even if carrying their friends. Unfortunately the seats are half suede/half leather, limiting their doggy drool effectiveness, but they are comfortable for long journeys and even all six foot of me could fit in the third row with the second row of seats fully back, though my knees were just touching the seat in front and my hair did touch the roof¦and nobody touches the knees (or the hair).
There has been a lot of thought put into making the passengers’ journey comfortable. Right at the back, each passenger has a bottle holder and an armrest with integrated storage. One row forwards, the seats recline slightly and slide for easy access to the third row. There are a further four bottle holders. Then in the front both seats have heaters, the driver’s has electric adjustment whereas the passenger’s has a convenient storage tray underneath.
There is a multitude of other storage areas including a fairly large binnacle which contains an auxiliary plug for an MP3 player. Oh, and there are another four bottle holders. So that’s a total of 10 bottle holders — not just piffling cup holders, proper bottle holders. I’m in hydration heaven! And, virtually all the receptacles are lined with grippy rubber so stuff doesn’t slide around.
Also in the front passenger’s footwell is a shopping bag hook — this was far more convenient than I thought it would be. No more was my packed lunch rolling around in the footwell.
The boot is very small with all three rows of seats, though there’s a useful small hidden compartment under the floor (half of it is filled with the jack), and a small compartment where the petrol cap is on the opposite side. A cargo net comes as standard.
Safety is a huge concern when selling to families and the Kia’s curtain airbag extends right to the back. Up front there are also driver and passenger front and side airbags and active headrests.
The Kia Carens comes with a two-litre common rail diesel engine with a variable geometry turbocharger. It is unfortunately the car’s only flaw. It’s not the power — 103kW with 305Nm of torque is an adequate level; it’s the noise, particularly at idle. It is like an old Hilux and really just not acceptable in a car that generally has an excellent quality feel to it.
The wave of torque is positioned nicely for getting up to speed on the motorway, and you can always turn the reasonably good six-speaker CD/stereo/MP3 player up to hide the engine noise.
The Carens handles corners remarkably well for such a softly sprung car that weighs over 1600kg, and I put this down to the 225/50R17 wheels and tyres coupled with ESP.
Reversing is easy thanks to the reversing sensors — I’m glad these come as standard — and other nice touches as standard are the adjustable roof rack and wiper de-icer.
I would market the Carens as an MPV — it directly competes with Renault’s Grand Scenic, Fiat’s Multipla, Volkswagen’s Touran and Holden’s Captiva. It’s not kitted out enough to be a sports car, it’s too high to be a station wagon, and it’s not rugged or boxy enough to be an SUV. It’s a people mover that the population should be glad exists: there’s an enormous amount of quality and features for the money.
Price: from $41,990
What we like
- Value for money
- Quality is good
- Nice family-friendly features such as bag holder, large bottle holders, good internal storage
What we don’t like
- Engine sounds like a tractor
- No way of hiding stuff in the boot
Words and photos Darren Cottingham