Our cars: Kia Carens - Farewell

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It's time to hand back the keys to our long-term Kia Carens. There are MPVs that make more sense for seven, but a family of five will struggle to find one that's such good value.
  • Kia-supplied Thule bike rack is brilliant, and having the bikes in place reduces the wind whistle

    Kia-supplied Thule bike rack is brilliant, and having the bikes in place reduces the wind whistle

  • The Carens will go for ages between windscreen washer refills

    The Carens will go for ages between windscreen washer refills

  • Climate controls are simple to use and air-con is quick to cool the cabin

    Climate controls are simple to use and air-con is quick to cool the cabin

  • Carens was pressed into load-lugging duties again this week

    Carens was pressed into load-lugging duties again this week

  • Carens is great at transporting people, but it's got a seriously practical load space, too

    Carens is great at transporting people, but it's got a seriously practical load space, too

  • Carens' bike rack is easier to remove than we expected - once unscrewed, it lifts away in one piece

    Carens' bike rack is easier to remove than we expected - once unscrewed, it lifts away in one piece

  • New bike rack adds practicality, but produces a loud whistling noise at speed

    New bike rack adds practicality, but produces a loud whistling noise at speed

  • Carens was great for a tip run

    Carens was great for a tip run

  • Caren's steering wheel controls feel well built and satisfying to use. They're easy to tell apart by touch, too

    Caren's steering wheel controls feel well built and satisfying to use. They're easy to tell apart by touch, too

  • The dedicated storage area for the Carens' boot cover is another feature that makes this MPV genuinely versatile

    The dedicated storage area for the Carens' boot cover is another feature that makes this MPV genuinely versatile

  • Kia's steering has been frustrating Alex, regardless of which setting she puts it in

    Kia's steering has been frustrating Alex, regardless of which setting she puts it in

  • Rearmost seats are a squeeze for six-foot adults - but just about tolerable for short journeys

    Rearmost seats are a squeeze for six-foot adults - but just about tolerable for short journeys

  • Carens safely carried a treasured childhood dolls' house this week

    Carens safely carried a treasured childhood dolls' house this week

  • Mothercare's child seat fitting experts confirmed that our model of child seat didn't fit the Carens

    Mothercare's child seat fitting experts confirmed that our model of child seat didn't fit the Carens

  • Climb up to the back seats not too daunting, but it's sometimes tricky to get out again.

    Climb up to the back seats not too daunting, but it's sometimes tricky to get out again.

  • Angle of Carens' rear seat buckles caused dangerous 'buckle crunch' for our model of child seat

    Angle of Carens' rear seat buckles caused dangerous 'buckle crunch' for our model of child seat

  • Carens has been good as a camera car

    Carens has been good as a camera car

  • Rivals arriving thick and fast

    Rivals arriving thick and fast

  • The Kia's boot light detaches and becomes a torch - a neat touch.

    The Kia's boot light detaches and becomes a torch - a neat touch.

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When we group-tested the Carens against its MPV rivals in June last year, we gave it an impressive four-star rating. A group test and a year-long test are entirely different kettles of fish, though, which is why soon after the Kia was tested we elected to run one for 12 months.

Eleven thousand miles later, while there are things we think need improving for the next generation, it still deserves the praise.

We opted for a diesel Carens, specifically the lower-powered of the two 1.7-litres available in ‘2’ trim, which we feel is the best value, balancing a competitive list price with a generous amount of standard equipment. For instance, climate control, Bluetooth, front and rear electric windows, cruise control and automatic headlights and wipers are all included. There’s no options list to get bogged down in. In fact, the only extras are metallic paint colours, so we treated ourselves to Bright Silver (£510).

No one could argue with the Carens’ figures. Seven seats, an official fuel economy of more than 60mpg, that lengthy kit list and all of it for just over £20,000. However, the reasons for the Carens not achieving the full five-star review in its group test began to crop up in its monthly reports.

First, while the Carens is a seven-seat car, and can seat two adults in its rearmost seats if needs be, they wouldn’t want to spend too long sitting there. Having the sixth and seventh seats up means next to no luggage space, too.

Loading the Carens also highlights problem with the way it drives. Its diesel engine is fine for normal town use, but under the strain of a full car and boot, it struggles to make quick progress. As you start to push the engine it becomes very noisy, and more vibration comes back through the pedals. Its poor low-speed ride is also exposed when carrying a heavy load.

Strong side winds and changes of camber also tend to push the Carens about, and trying to correct this is harder than necessary, because the Carens’ vague steering gives you little sense of the front wheels’ movements.

However, once you’ve accepted that the Carens is in no way engaging to drive, and that the rearmost seats are better suited to children and for occasional use, it’s easier to focus on the things that make this car a very likeable companion.

Five adults can sit inside without complaining because head- and shoulder room is very good, and the fact that the Carens has three individual seats across its middle row is a real plus. Once a bike rack was added to the roof, taking four bikes and four adults away was no fuss, and the mountains of extra equipment that goes with it can be fitted in the boot with room to spare.

Seat flexibility is another of the Carens’ strong points. Carrying bikes, bulky items to the tip and people of varying sizes puts the seats of any car to the test. Because the Carens’ front seats are relatively thin, and its middle row can be both slid and folded individually, it gives you a far wider range of possible positions that make the difference when trying to squeeze every last item inside or save that second trip.

The cabin is also of a higher quality than you might expect. Everything is solidly constructed using dense plastics, and features on our 2 model such as the leather-covered steering wheel really help with perceived quality inside. Furthermore, the driver and front passenger both have a comfortable seat with plenty of adjustment and visibility forwards and backwards for the driver is very good. Even the Carens’ light steering comes into its own when trying to slot it into tight parking spaces.

The dashboard isn’t just nice to look at, it’s refreshingly easy to use. The climate controls are simple rotary dials and buttons and are set below a monochrome display and further buttons for the infotainment systems. There’s nothing flashy - certainly no touch-screen interface - but finding radio stations and connecting a mobile phone takes seconds using its large, clearly labelled buttons.

All in all, the Carens doesn’t pretend to be a full-time seven-seater and handling has never been a top priority for people in the market for an MPV. A family of five will find it a spacious, practical and – according to our True MPG tests – an economical car. For the money, they’ll also struggle to find an MPV that’s better value.

By Rory White
Rory.White@whatcar.com

Logbook

Buying information
Price when new £20,595
Price now new £20,795
Extras Bright Silver metallic paint (£510)
Total price when new £21,105
Current part-ex value £12,960

Running costs
Overall fuel economy 42.1mpg
Worst fuel economy 36.6mpg
Best fuel economy 51.9mpg
True MPG 51.7mpg
Official economy 60.1mpg
CO2/tax liability 124g/km/20%
Contract hire £303
Cost per mile 46p
Insurance group 12
Typical quote £545

 

Servicing and repair costs
Servicing None
Repairs None

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