Kia’s seats of learning for Carens

New Kia Carens compact seven-seater is as styling as it is practical.

New Kia Carens compact seven-seater is as styling as it is practical. - Credit: Kia

Kia completes the revamp of its entire range with the new Carens – motoring editor Andy Russell says it has risen to the challenge.

It was not until I was driving the new Kia Carens, and started to notice other compact people-carriers, that I realised just how many there are on the road and what an important market this has become.

For these multi-purpose vehicles, mostly seven-seaters, are now a serious alternative to both mid-size family hatchbacks and estates.

You only have to weigh up how many you see, and the wide age range of the drivers, to see just how popular they have become.

Kia has just strengthened its offering in this sector, launching the all-new Carens which also completes the transformation of the Korean company's model range.

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With its soft curves and the Kia line-up's now familiar 'tiger-nose' grille, the Carens is a much more stylish proposition – a car people will want to own rather than one bought out of necessity, according to Kia.

Until now the Carens has always been seen as a budget buy but this smart newcomer, as with other Kia models, moves the brand forward, able to compete head-on with rivals on an equal footing.

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The new Carens, offered only with seven seats in the UK, is actually 20mm shorter, 15mm narrower and 45mm lower than the outgoing model so, sizewise, sits between five and seven-seat models from competitors. Clever packaging, an extra 50mm between the front and back wheels and lower seats help create a spacious interior.

It's also more versatile than its predecessor with three individual middle row seats instead of the old 60/40 split one. Each of the three seats have reclining backs and slide back and forth 240mm so you can have huge legroom in five-seat mode or move them forward to give reasonable access and more legroom for the two small seats, which simply pull up from the boot floor, although these are best suited for children.

The floor in the middle row is completely flat – so no fighting over who doesn't want to sit in the centre seat – with two underfloor storage compartments, ideal for toys or games to keep youngsters happy on long journeys.

One of the main attractions of these compact people-carriers is that when only five seats are in use you get an estate car-like load bay. The Carens now boasts a longer, wider and taller boot which is 71 litres bigger at 492 litres, rising to 1,650 litres with the middle row seat backs folded flat to create a long, uninterrupted load bay floor. With all seats up, carrying capacity is limited to a couple of soft holdalls or half a dozen bags of shopping.

There's also a new underfloor storage compartment for the cargo cover when it is not being used, the front passenger seats folds in half to accommodate exceptionally long loads and the rear load lip is slightly lower which all add to the appeal of the Carens.

The cabin has a quality look and feel with soft-touch plastics where it matters and fine fit and finish. The front seats give first-rate support and the driving position has all the adjustment you need to feel at home at the smart dashboard which is easy to use with large dials and big, no-nonsense buttons and knobs.

Power comes from 133bhp 1.6-litre petrol and 114 and 134bhp 1.7-litre turbo diesels.

The diesels, which will account for 70pc of registrations, offer strong flexibility and refinement. With peak pulling power from just 1,250rpm the 114bhp version doesn't need to be worked hard with decent mid-range performance for overtaking and returned 52mpg in mixed driving. The higher-power diesel is more responsive but, unless you plan to run the Carens fully loaded regularly, the 114bhp version does the job. If you don't do the miles the 1.6 petrol's 42mpg overall on the test route and peppy performance will appeal.

The suspension is set up for comfort – no bad thing for a people-carrier – so you get a supple ride but can still corner confidently with good body control and composure for a taller vehicle.

Choosing your Carens is as easy as 1, 2, 3 – the middle trim is expected to be the best-seller so is offered with all three engines and the 134bhp diesel also gets an automatic option too.

All models come with front, side and curtain airbags, cornering lamps, LED daytime running lights, electric windows and door mirrors, air-conditioning, steering wheel-mounted controls, cruise control with a speed limiter, remote locking and a six-speaker RDS radio/CD with MP3 compatibility and Bluetooth with voice recognition and music streaming.

Trim '2' adds 16in alloy wheels, privacy glass, chrome window trim, fog lights, roof rails, automatic headlights and wipers, electrically folding door mirrors, dual-zone air-conditioning and an automatic defog system and reversing sensors.

Top-grade '3' has 17in alloys, a panoramic sunroof, leather seats, 10-way driver's seat power adjustment, heated front seats and heated steering wheel, second-row sun-blinds and LED reading lights and a reversing camera integrated into the centre fascia screen.

Kia UK is looking to sell 5,000 Carens in a full year, mainly retail sales but is not ruling out some fleet interest. The Carens is an important new model for Kia, completing its transformation and again raising its profile, so watch this space.

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