Kia Carens 4K 2016 review

It used to be that an MPV was something you bought out of necessity – or because your spouse harassed you into buying – rather than a car you actually wanted. If Dad had his way he’d be taking the kids to school in a Cayman, but then that’s not very practical is it? Unfortunately, practicality often came at the expense of any style or excitement, and it even led a certain famous motoring journalist – you’ll probably know who he is – to say that he’d rather have a vasectomy than drive an MPV. Which I suppose would defeat the point of getting one to begin with, but I digress. Nowadays, I hope we’ll all agree, things have changed for the better. Haven’t they? Do cars like this stylish Kia Carens finally prove that you can drive a people carrier and look cool doing it? Inside, the Carens gets this smart cabin and dash with lots of soft-touch plastics perforated leather inserts in the doors, plus this well layed out and easy to use control panel. Bet you didn’t know that the word ‘Carens’ actually means ‘lacking’ in Latin, but on the whole it’s a pretty nice place to be; there are still some scratchy plastics dotted around but the large windows let a lot of light in and also mean that all-round visibility is excellent. Of the four available trim levels, handily named 1, 2, 3 and 4, we’ve got the range-topping 4 model which comes with standard equipment like an upgraded 7-speaker sound system, parking sensors and this panoramic sunroof. As well as that, there’s this seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with integrated sat-nav. For anybody who’s used one of Kia’s older infotainment screens, you’ll notice a marked difference in this one, which is much more responsive and easy to use. The seats, which in this car come upholstered in this nice black leather, are electrically adjustable and extremely comfortable, particularly during long-distance driving. In the past week I’ve been racking up a lot of miles in the Carens, and never once felt uncomfortable. Like the majority of its MPV rivals, the Carens has three full-sized middle row seats, which can be adjusted, slid and reclined independently. There isn’t room to fit three child seats here which some drivers might want, but the middle row seats do have a lot of space. In the back here there are two extra seats to fit up to seven people, and room back here is actually fairly competitive, even if they’re not the easiest seats in the world to access. Seven seaters do always involve a fair amount of compromise, though. With the rear seats up the tiny boot space left is pretty useless. Fold all the seats down with these handy triggers though, and it opens up a maximum load capacity of 1,650 litres. More than enough for a large trip to Ikea, but the kids might have to walk it home. So far so good, but unfortunately the Carens’ performance is its weak point. Three engines are available in the Carens range, but we’ve got the 139bhp 1.7-litre turbodiesel here, which is the most powerful of the bunch, along with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. It’s okay, and needless to say it’s not the fastest thing in the world, but it is plenty smooth. It’s also got lots of torque, which is good for hauling all 7 people and also means it accelerates well in higher gears which is handy for smooth overtakes on the motorway. It does feel a little bouncy over bigger bumps however and wishy washy steering gives a distinct feeling of disconnect between the driver and the road. Anyone who likes tackling B-roads after dropping the kids off at school will probably be better served by something like a Ford S-MAX. It’s decently efficient though – I managed to run from our Liverpool office to Heathrow and back on a single tank of fuel, and the trip computer tells me I’m averaging about 48mpg. That’s not as good as the claimed 59mpg but still not bad. Compared against the competition the Carens is also fairly attractively priced, with the entry-level 1 trim starting from £17,400. You’ll have to spend nearly £10,000 more for this range-topper though, with this car starting from £26,500. As we said before its running costs are decent, while like all Kia’s it comes with the standard seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty. So, there are some cars out there that drive better, some that are maybe more efficient too, but certainly in terms of comfort, practicality and equipment the Kia Carens more than holds its own. Dare I say it, I think it’s also a lot better looking than much of the competition as well, so if practicality’s your thing but you don’t want to sacrifice style at the school gates, the Kia is definitely worth your attention. But what do you think, is the MPV finally