RECENT years have seen the family hatch elbowed aside by a growing numbers of compact people carriers. Such cars have, ironically, become better suited to dealing with family life than their five-door hatchback ancestors, thanks in part to smarter packaging of the cabin space.
While Euro car makers have soldiered on for years gradually refining their wares, the quick-learning Korean firms have compressed such evolution into a much shorter timeframe. Kia’s latest Carens is a good example of this, with its maker eschewing the frumpy looks and workmanlike interior of its predecessor for a more upmarket looking and feeling proposition.
In the metal it’s quite a looker. Compared to some rivals it displays a lithe and streamlined profile – almost car-like in its appearance – that echoes the styling cues of its hatchback relative the Cee’d. It also neatly avoids chasing fashion at the expense of practicality. The large glazed area also gives the best view out and helps to make the cabin feel light and airy for occupants.
Initial showroom appeal is guaranteed, then, but the Carens also needs to deliver where it counts. Sit anywhere in the first two rows and there no shortage of space. The default choice for UK buyers is a seven-seat variant, and while you can’t possibly expect the rearmost seats to deliver the same level of space as the other two rows they do offer a convenient ‘jump seat’ option for small children.
Likely to be as impressive is the third row’s ability to fold flat and become part of the boot floor, resulting in a good-size rear loadspace when in five-seat mode. Luggage, shopping, cycles and other family-centric clobber should fit without a fuss, with the car’s flexibility boosted by the ability to easily fold the second row of seats to further enhance the car’s carrying capacity.
As a people carrier the Carens scores highly. It’ll swallow five with ease and plus two more small ones if the need arises. Furthermore, it does it with ease and the Cee’d inspired cabin offers the same familiar high levels of quality and aesthetically pleasing design, ergonomics and storage options.
On the road the Carens delivers an equally polished performance. Kia’s not pitching the car as a dynamically thrusting alternative to a hot hatch, but there’s plenty of evidence that the basics have been covered. Ride comfort is good – as is the lack of road noise entering the cabin – and visibility fore and aft from the driving seat is good thanks to its elevated position.
Being a family car, running costs will always be an important consideration. As such, Kia’s focus on small, low emitting engines is no surprise. Both petrol and diesel fans are catered for, with the former offered in 1.6-litre 133bhp guise and the latter in 1.7-litre and 114bhp or 134bhp tune.
The petrol option is refined and quiet at modest speeds but if you intend on using the Carens as Kia intended then the diesels with their extra torque should be at the top of your shopping list. The low power option boasts a tax-friendly 124g/km CO2 while the sprightlier variant climbs to only 132g/km. Fuel economy is 60.1mpg and 56.4mpg respectively, and while under light loads the low power diesel is a perfectly useable option there’s no question that if you routinely load up the Carens the high power diesel delivers a more relaxing driving performance.
Rounding off the experience is a good a level of standard equipment – something we’ve come to expect from Kia in recent years. From an abundance of airbags to a electric windows, air-con and a high quality audio unit there’s enough here to ensure the Carens can hold its head high in the company of more mature rivals.
Factor in Kia’s now familiar seven-year warranty and the almost Germanic levels of cabin build quality and it’s hard to ignore the Carens. As an all-rounder for a cost-conscious family that’s outgrown the traditional five-door hatchback it’s worthy of serious consideration.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Kia Carens 1.7 CRDi 7-seat range from £17,000 approx, due Spring 2013.
Engine: 1.7-litre diesel unit developing 134bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, front-wheel drive.
Performance: Maximum speed 119mph, 0-62mph 10.4 seconds.
Economy: 56.4mpg combined.