Our cars: Kia Carens MPV joins our fleet

* Kia's seven-seat MPV arrives at What Car? * We've chosen 1.7-litre diesel engine and '2' trim * On test for the next 12 months...

Our cars: Kia Carens MPV joins our fleet

The Kia Carens has a tempting price and long kit list, but we are going to live with one for the next year to see whether it makes sense for families.

If there's one group of buyers, more than any other, demanding value for money, it's those with a family to transport. That shouldn't have to mean sacrificing the latest safety kit, though, or sufficient space and practicality to make the journey as smooth as possible.

With a starting price of just £16,995 for the entry-level petrol, few could argue there's little to rival the Carens on price in the MPV category. Even more impressive is the decent standard equipment level. '1' models get air-con, Bluetooth, a USB port, LED daytime running lights, cruise control, all-round electric windows, electric and heated door mirrors and a leather-covered steering wheel and gearshift.

We've stuck with our favourite engine, though, Kia's lower-powered 114bhp 1.7-litre diesel, for its superior flexibility and running costs. With 192lb ft of torque, it has exactly the sort of pull you need when the Carens' seven seats are occupied. Happily, though, the claimed fuel economy of 60.1mpg and low 124g/km CO2 emissions should keep running costs low, even taking account of our True MPG figure once we've tested it.

We've chosen a diesel model in '2' trim with optional £495 metallic paint, which has increased the total cost to £21,090. That's a fair step up from the entry-level car, but it does include standard-fit 16-inch alloy wheels, climate control, reversing sensors, automatic wipers, front fog lights and electric folding mirrors.

However, getting the price and kit right is only half the battle; the reason we've chosen the Carens at all is to assess whether it's good enough as a family car.

It's off to a good start with its three full-size middle-row seats that slide forwards and back, as well as recline individually. The rear-most perches are also impressive, having enough head- and knee-room for even a couple of adults on short journeys, something we tested rigorously on a recent seven-strong What Car? lunch trip to the local sandwich shop.

What lets the third row down, though, is poor accessibility. The middle row doesn't fold far enough forward to make getting in and out of the back as effortless as we'd like, and the seats can't simply be pulled back to their original position afterwards. However, the necessary levers are within easy reach and pushing the seat backs to and fro is then a doddle as they’re relatively lightweight.

The boot is just what families need. With the third row up there's enough room for a couple of bags, but with it folded flat you have space for a summer holiday's luggage. Trips to the tip are solved, too, as all five rear-seats fold completely flat into the floor.

Nor has Kia forgotten about the driver. I'm more than six feet tall, yet find it extremely easy to adjust the seat and wheel to my preferred settings, and the seat itself is comfortable, if lacking in side support.

Forward visibility is great, too, but the Carens' styling enforces a pinched rear screen and thick rear pillars that sometimes intrude, although our standard parking sensors make this less of an issue.

The dash, although bland, is much better. All buttons are logically laid out and clearly labelled, making them quick and easy to use on the move.

Unfortunately, it's on the road that Carens starts to feel disappointing. MPVs rarely claim to be the last word in poise and agility, but even compared with such rivals as the Peugeot 5008 and Seat Alhambra, the Carens falls short. The ride is certainly comfortable, perhaps too much so, as the soft suspension fails to adequately control the body roll in bends.

In fact, cornering quickly is never a confidence-inspiring business because Kia has fitted its Flex Steer system to every model. The three settings – Normal, Comfort and Sport – adjust the level of electronic assistance, but Comfort and Sport feel artificial, and all three feel vague.

Whatever the setting, though, the steering is light, which means the Carens is a more pleasant drive at lower speeds in and around town. It's also there that its diesel engine can be seen in a better light, because it gets noisy when worked hard at motorway speeds.

For me, the Carens has more than enough space for a weekend away with a couple of bikes thrown in. However, the real test will come when my colleagues with children try out the Kia's practicality. It'll be interesting to hear how they get on.

Kia Carens 1.7 CRDi 2
List price: £20,595
Target Price: £20,009
Price as tested: £21,090
Extras: Metallic paint (£495)

Test fuel economy: TBC
True MPG: Not yet tested
Official fuel economy: 60.1mpg
CO2/tax liability: 124g/km
Contract hire: £351
Cost per mile: 56p
Insurance group: 16
Typical quote: £522