Overall rating: 4/5
In a segment filled with practical - if sometimes dull looking - cars the new Kia Carens stands proud. The funkier styling, with a lower roofline and longer wheelbase than before, certainly separates it from the pack and while a Ford C-Max is better to drive and the Volkswagen Touran more refined the Carens makes up for this with competitive pricing, generous specifications and a seven-year warranty.
In the metal 4/5
With the Carens, Kia has finally completed its revision. As the last member of the line-up not to have been sprinkled with Peter Schreyer's magic dust it stood out like a sore thumb. The new car stands out but not amongst its siblings - against slab sided competition the low roof and high waistline of the Carens give it a 'sportier' look - or at least as sporty looking as a seven-seat MPV can be. The front end is unmistakably cee'd-inspired with the signature 'Tiger Nose' and new LED daytime running lights.
Space between the wheels has increased by 20mm over the last generation car and overall the Carens is longer than the likes of a Volkswagen Touran, but, such is the styling, much of the heft is well hidden. While families may crave the space and practicality that MPVs offer they do not always want a car that is more van-like in its stature.
While acknowledging that the cars tested were high-end launch models with every options box ticked the new Carens does have a lot going for it inside. Available as either a five- or seven seater (though we are unlikely to see the five-seat option in Ireland) it offers generous space for five adults (including what Kia says is class-leading leg- and headroom all around) with two further seats in the rear for occasional use. All seats, bar the driver's, can be easily folded flat to the floor when not in use to maximise space or, in the case of the first two rows, individually slid fore and aft to optimise passenger comfort. While there are some cheap plastics used in the cabin, this being a family car, their durability is welcomed but for the most part these are placed lower down and do not detract from what is a well-appointed cabin.
With all seven seats in place there is a small 103-litre boot space, but this is boosted to 492 litres with the rear seats folded to the floor. Maximum capacity (with two rear rows collapsed) is 1,650 litres - ideal for that trip to Ikea.
Driving it 3/5
Exact details for Ireland are yet to be ironed out but it is safe to guess that we will not be getting the 1.6-litre petrol powered offering, which leaves us with the 1.7-litre CRDi engine that currently sees service in the Optima saloon. The engine is produced in two power outputs - 115- and 136hp - but there are some suggestions that the higher powered car will not be offered here, which is a shame really as it is the only engine that can be mated to an automatic transmission.
The lower powered engine is the one tested and, for the most part, it is more than capable of hauling the Carens' bulk around, but a lack of low down torque was shown up by the mountainous roads of our Monaco test route. The action of the six-speed manual transmission is smooth and precise, allowing for effortless progress away from the mountains, though we do wish the steering had more feel to it. Even having changed the 'Flexsteer' settings from Comfort to Sport mode there is still a feeling of disconnection from the front wheels.
What you get for your money 4/5
When the Carens arrives in May it will be available in three trim levels with prices starting from €26,490 for the entry-level TX model. For your money you will get alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, cornering lights, a multi-function steering wheel and voice activated Bluetooth.
The EX model adds auto lights, LED rear lights, seat back tables, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors and a rear view camera, whilst the top of the range Platinum model adds luxury features such as a leather upholstery with heated front seats, 10-way power driver's seat, panoramic sunroof and front parking sensors. Prices for the latter two trims will be announced closer to launch.
Kia, is of course, known for its seven-year warranty; pre-Peter Schreyer it was the main reason people bought the cars, but the Korean brand has just announced another 'seven' with a seven-year free map update for all cars with satellite navigation. Sadly, this won't apply to the majority of models bought in Ireland...
The last generation Kia Carens was, at best, forgettable and, at worst, dire - not labels that could be applied to the new model though. With the fourth generation car Kia finally completes its line-up makeover and now offers a genuinely attractive MPV that majors on equipment and price with a degree in practicality.