26 September 2013

Road test: New Kia Carens

Kia expect their new Carens MPV to win over conquest sales from other brands with its sleek look, very roomy interior and practical storage features, writes Trish Whelan.

As I write, it is a key car on the Kia stand at The National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska in Co Laois. Carens is mostly aimed at families with two to three children.

Back at the car's design stage, the brief for designers was to create a car with the basics of an MPV which should be practical, flexible and versatile, and all wrapped up in a nice shape. The end result is a dramatic shift away from the quite plain look of its predecessor - more a sporty people carrier than an MPV, which should prove a good selling point in itself.

Changes to the front include the logo being moved on the bonnet, and the fog lights shifted to the outsides. There's a very high belt line at the side, with nice chrome surrounds giving the premium feeling. The low roofline emphasises the sporty silhouette as well as being good for the aerodynamics. It doesn't compromise headroom for those inside as Kia engineers reduced the hip point of the car, allowing one of the best interiors in its segment for head and legroom. Rear tail lights are horizontally designed to give the car a solid stance.

New Carens went on sale here last May, in both 5- and 7-seat versions, and with three trims: TX, EX and Platinum.

Built in Korea, it is lower and sleeker than the previous model and has a longer wheelbase which helps deliver very good interior space as well as all that versatility. Cabin space is also improved due to the cab-forward design which puts the base of the A-pillar above the front-wheel centre line.

There's just the economical 1.7-litre 115hp turbodiesel which has C02 emissions of 127g/km. A very sound, efficient engine which makes for a really nice drive. We're familiar with it from its Sportage stable mate. The 6-speed gearbox is a joy to use, it's that good. And it is well matched to the ratios.

The inside is dominated by pure lines and high quality materials, above that of many of its competitors. There are two main theme colours of black and beige, but the lower parts of the doors are kept black for practical reasons. The instrument panel is new, with a 4.3 inch centre cluster, and trip computer.

Cubbies include a very decent and useful glovebox, good door bins, a huge area below the front armrest, and open cupholders.

You sit up nice and high and seats offer comfort and support. The front seat can be extended for those with longer legs than mine. However, I found the depth of the driver's seat a problem for my shorter height as it was uncomfortable behind my knees. Seats can be folded flat with no loss of main trunk space with just a simple move.

An MPV wouldn't be an MPV if it didn't have plenty of luggage space - and enough width and height to load even awkward items. With the 5-seater you get 536 litres of cargo volume which rises to 103 litres with the 7-seater. With all seats flat, luggage space increases to almost 1,700 litres. A neat feature is that the tonneau can be stored in its own place behind the rear seats. And the tailgate opens up very high for ease of loading and unloading.

I must admit to having a slight problem with the slope of the bonnet which meant drivers my height of 5.4-inches find it difficult to judge where the front is, even with the seat raised. For parking nose-in, parking sensors are a must.

On the plus side, you get a lot of 'goodies' for your money. Standard features on the TX include alloy wheels, rear spoiler, LED daytime running lights, cornering lights, all electric windows, a luggage cargo screen, remote audio controls, and voice activated Bluetooth. The mid spec, at €27,790) adds auto light controls, LED rear lights, rear privacy glass, folding mirrors with puddle lamps, seat back tables, dual zone air con, rear parking sensors and a rear view camera. The top Platinum (€31,790) adds leather upholstery with heated front seats, 10-way power driver's seat, a panoramic sunroof, HID types lights, front parking sensors and a supervision instrument cluster.

All Kia cars come with six airbags, Electronic Stability Control, Vehicle Stability Management and Emergency Stop Signal. The new stiffer bodyshell, as well as all the safety equipment onboard, contributed to new Carens earning a 5-Star rating in Euro NCAP crash safety tests. It's one of only two compact MPVs currently on sale in Europe with a maximum rating.

The review car was the EX spec at €27,790 with seven seats - the very back pair were a bit smaller but I could get in and out quite easily. This spec adds auto light controls, LED rear lights, rear privacy glass, folding mirrors with puddle lamps, seat back tables, dual zone air con, rear parking sensors and the rear view camera. The trip computer showed a fuel return of 5.9 L/100kms during my lengthy time with the car.

Kia Motors Ireland expect to sell around 350 units in a full year. Rivals include Citroen C4 Picasso, Renault Scenic and Opel Zafira.

Carens, and all Kia cars, have a huge advantage as they come with the carmaker's own 7-year industry warranty and now there's a 7-year update of the navigation system.

New Carens is priced from €26,490.