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
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
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