So it's a Kia. And an MPV
Okay, so it's not exactly high on your lottery win wish list but Kia is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in car circles thanks to cars like the Picanto and its new Focus challenger, the Ceed.
And this new Carens will help it climb couple of steps closer?
Well maybe one step. If you were expecting something with the aesthetic attitude of a Ford S-Max or confidence of a Scenic then you're unlikley to be bowled over by Carens' bland Asian lines. If you're the sort of person who buys your clothes from market stalls because they're cheap and serve a purpose you're unlikley to mind, but you'll never feel even a twinge of pride.
But surely MPVs are about functionality?
I know, I was just coming to that. Functionality then. The new Carens is a five seat people carrier that can be fitted with a third row of seats for a premium. Most similarly-sized rivals can be fitted with seven seats - think Zafira, Touran, Scenic - but Ford's C-Max is five-seat only. To do this Kia had to make the new Carens 55mm longer, 50mm wider and 40mm taller than its five-seat-only predecessor. It's easy to get into the rearmost seats by sliding the middle row forward but while Kia reckons that the rear row is suitable for adults, even those of average height aren't going to want to spend more than half and hour there. And boot space with all seven seat in use is reduced to just 74 litres, compared to the 200 litres in the Renault Grand Scenic, although with the seats folded flat the Carens does offer a massive Renault-beating 2106 litres. Up front it's pretty bland. the materials are better but there's too little variation in colour and texture to match the best that rivals can muster and the non-reach-adjustable steering column forces a back ache-inducing bus driver-style seating position.
Tell me what it's like to drive then
Not the horror the exterior styling (if that's the right word) implies. The diesel engine is rowdy and motorway cruising is charcterised by some wind and tyre noise but it's tolerably accelerative, hitting 62mph in 11sec. Well that's what the techy stuff says about the five-speed manual version. But we drove the auto version which has just four forward ratios to choose from - nearly half as many as a contemporary Mercedes slushmatic - which isn't ideal given the relatively narrow torque bands of turbodiesel engines. So performance takes a hit, 62mph climbing to 12.6sec although the 116mph max is unchanged. We suspect though that Kia Carens buyers and car enthusiasts are mutually exclusive and that there's probably enough perfromance for most drivers expect when the car's fully loaded. The all round independuntly suspended chassis is better, the ride firm but comfortable and body control good. The steering isn't loaded with feel but at least feels like real steering, unlike a Grand Scenic's awful driver-road interface, which means that you can at least point the Carens quickly and confidently even if it's not quite as much fun as a Ford C-Max.
And what else is worth knowing?
The price of course! Ultimately that's still the main reason why anyone buys a Kia over rivals that are both better looking and better to drive. Yes, the Carens is incredibly cheap. The boggo five-seat petrol car comes with a 142bhp 2.0-litre motor, air con, various electric goodies and a family-size quota of airbags but costs just £11,995. A basic C-Max costs a grand more, has no air con and a weedy 100bhp 1.6 motor although boot space is better. And to match the power and equipment of the top-spec sevent-seat 2.0 diesel Carens LS we drove in a Grand Scenic, you'd need to spend £19,000 a £3k premium over the Carens.
Another good value product from Kia and another that will help draw buyers to the brand for reasons other than the price. But price remains the key reason to buy a Carens. Between them rivals offer cars that are far better looking, better to drive, roomier and just have more personality. Does personailty matter when buying an MPV? When the MPV's as ugly as this, we'd say YES!