2013 Kia Carens 3 1.7 CRDi review – Making the MPV Suddenly Much More Attractive

Attractively-designed MPV, good use of space, top-notch quality

Steering wheel overly thick, not a hugely exciting drive

Kia Carens?

Side view of the Kia Carens 3 1.7 CRDI

Okay, so I wasn’t exactly bowled-over at the thought of having the 2013 Kia Carens on test for a week. It’s an MPV (multi-purpose-vehicle) at the end of the day. MPV’s are usually family cars that people buy when they have a certain amount of children, and at that point their hopes and dreams of owning that Porsche 911 are now utterly and spectacularly smashed into pieces. In the frosty current economic climate, the family-man’s mid-life crisis machine’s like that fast motorbike, Porsche or Jet Ski have to make way for practical stuff, so why now make an MPV that they’re not embarrassed to drive, one that’ll look and behave more like a normal car?

Thankfully, once the stomping-ground of some truly awful-looking and handling cars, the MPV sector is maybe turning around in those areas. Manufacturers are perhaps, at last, realising that people don’t want some crappy-looking car that is as interesting as a shopping trolley and handles like one too. Let’s have a look if the Kia Carens is able to quash that MPV boringness, and whether testing one for a week could keep me interested or not.

Exterior. Butt ugly or beauty?

Okay, so as mentioned, MPV’s until fairly recently have been boring slug-like machines capable of boring their owners silly should a sideways glance be cast their way. A depressed feeling would ensue soon after said glance. However, they are slowly getting better, but in the case of the new Carens, they suddenly seem to have jumped the gun.

high up view of the KIA Carens showing the large panoramic sunroof

In their press blurb, Kia make absolutely no bones about what makes the Carens stand out from other MPV’s – style. They may be right. Consider the rival 7-seaters and their looks; the Ford Grand C-Max, Seat Altea XL, Citroën Grand C4 Picasso, Peugeot 5008, VW Touran and the Mazda 5 to name but a few, all have the same thing in common; they look like family MPV’s. While some may argue this isn’t a bad thing, it is. Manufacturers know this, and it’s why the designers are working their wee socks off to make them all more appealing.

Whereas many of the Carens rivals are still too bulbous and how one usually pictures an MPV, the Kia looks… nice! Gasp! This is not even a ‘nice for an MPV‘ statement; it genuinely is a good-looking thing. They say first impressions last, and in my case this is true. When the Kia was dropped off, I admit I was a little stunned. Could this really be an MPV? It doesn’t look big enough to be one.

As trends go in making cars bigger with each model, Kia have done a u-turn with the Carens. The 2013 model is 20mm shorter, 15mm narrower and 45mm lower in height than the previous generation model. Eh? Ahh, but that’s the point here. The Carens looks like an estate-sized car, rather than a bulky MPV and its clever design hides the Carens bigger size superbly. Although it’s shorter than the last model overall, Kia have lengthened the wheelbase by another 50 millimetres (1.97″) to allow for the standard 7-seat arrangement. Very canny.

Side view of the Kia Carens 3 1.7 CRDI

Really, I’d say the only thing that gives away the Carens dimensions slightly are the wheels. The 17″ alloys on the ‘3’ spec we tested still fill the wells nicely (if they didn’t it would really show), but they are the only real giveaway point that it’s larger than your average estate car.

The Carens as you may or may not be aware has many similarities with the Kia Cee’d Sportswagon. Y’know what though, I think this new Carens is even more appealing to the eye than the Sportswagon, for whereas the Cee’d loses something down its side and looks a little dull, the larger side-panels and distinct swage lines of the Carens makes for a more interesting appearance.

Side view of the Kia Carens '3' CRDI showing the swage lines

When I told friends this was a 7-seater, I jest not that every single one of them – bar none – said it looks too small for that. The fact that when it was parked up people would give it a good long glance, and even at times point and talk to each other about it without laughing or being derisive, shows proof the Carens has absolutely succeeded on the looks-front.

View of the side and front of the Kia Carens '3' CRDI

The front end of the Carens is handsome, the big ‘tiger-nose’ grille standing out even more on the ‘3’, as its high-gloss black and chrome surround brings a bit o’ class to the car. The super-huge headlights are also an attractive part of the Kia, and even down to the way a line runs from the lower grille of the front and sweeps up and around the fog lamps means Kia have actually been thinking about looks, rather than simply banging a big old piece of unimaginative plastic in place.

Low down view of the wheel arch and side of the bumper and headlight surround on the Kia Carens '3' CRDI

Even around the back of the Carens, although it does naturally look larger than a normal estate, Kia have still done well in hiding the bulk. When you look at the rear of the Carens, remember this; it seats two people in the boot area with headroom to spare. If you happen to be looking down on the car, the ‘3’ spec’s panoramic two-piece tinted glass roof looks superb, and brings a further element of luxury to the design. On that note, if you’re looking at ordering a Carens, you must get the side and rear windows tinted. It makes the car look so much better than not.

Instead of this just appealing to family’s, the Carens will now appeal to someone who wants a bigger car than an estate I think. The Carens has attracted positive comments from younger blokes too, and if there’s that happening, maybe Kia have cracked the MPV-shunning crowd with this one.

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

The interior on an MPV has to be super-practical if you want sales. MPV’s are all about space, lots of comfortable seating, many storage compartments and safety. There’s a lot of these cars to chose from out there, and competition is stiff but Kia claim the Carens ‘provides all the room and versatility of its competitors‘.

A starting point, and a big plus with this new Carens is that is has 7 seats as standard, whereas to have that on a lot of its rivals means upgrading to a bigger or different model altogether. Kia say that ‘[because of the Carens] extended wheelbase, we have been able to create a spacious and versatile seven-seater within a footprint not much larger than that of rival five-seaters’. Partly why it still looks like it does then.

Front seats of the KIA Carens '3'

While we’re on the subject, the front seats on the Carens are wide and super-comfortable. The ‘3’ I was sent had leather seating all-round, and the drivers seat was 10-way adjustable. On that note, a brilliant feature on the drivers seat (on all models) was that it adjusted so high up you are at the point of the oxygen thinning and placing a flag on the roof lining. Seriously though, if you’re on the shorter side you’ll love this, and it’s made better by the fact the steering wheel is telescopic on all models too.

The middle row of seats are again comfy and wide, and that includes the centre seat too. That one will also fold down and has cup-holders and tray-areas built into the back off it – think of it as a real large armrest for the passengers either side. On the ‘2’ and ‘3’ spec Carens’,  the back of the front seats feature fold-up trays with cup-holders. These are decent enough and will hold up to 3.5 kilograms – enough to rest a laptop on if you want to work from the middle seats.

fold down trays on the back of the front seats

 

Man working in the middle seats of the KIA Carens '3' using the fold down tray and arm rest work area

The second row of seats will both slide forward/backwards and recline too, giving the passengers in the third row of seats more room. Talking of those, they are highly easy to fold out. They fold flat-down in the boot, and to unfold them you simply pull on a nylon strap and they click into position. It’ll take about 10 seconds a chair, if that. Folding them down is the same routine. The large, thick, solidly-made adjustable headrests in those give you a little more reassurance that whiplash would be lessened in a rear shunt too. Move the middle row of seats forward and there’s enough leg room for average-height adults to be seated comfortably, and headroom isn’t bad either.

4 photos showing the different seating configurations of the middle and rear seats

Ingress and egress to the boot seats is once again, easy, and only involves the pull of a handle on either side of the middle row seating. Actually though, it’s easy for adults but any younger child will have difficulty with this as the sprung handles require a fair amount of pull (for a kid) to get them to move fully. They might bed in the more they’re used, but it’s a point worth noting.Kia Carens 3 controls

More useful stuff included on all the Carens model range are the four 12-volt sockets thought the car; two in the front, one in the centre row and one in the boot area. With all the zillion electronic gadgets both adults and kids have, that’s gotta be a good thing. The ‘2’ and ‘3’ Carens also have a removable LED torch which normal acts as luggage-area light. It also charges itself when in situ. Brilliant! The only drawback? It’ll go missing after only a few weeks of having the car – small people to blame.

Removable torch

Continuing on the subject of practicality, the Carens ‘3’ we had featured extendable sun blinds built into the door-cards. It’s something I liked as it’ll not only keep the full glare of the sun off your young un’s, but should you want to work off your laptop it’ll cut out the majority of the light hitting your screen. These are only available on that particular model though, which is a shame as there’s no option to fit them as extra’s either. Another feature I really like is that on all models the glove-box is cooled for drinks and snacks, and air-conditioned if you have it turned on.

Mesh pull up sunscreen shades for the rear windows on the KIA Carens '3'

Boot space – ’tis a difficult one to measure. Not literally I mean, but the thing is that the Carens is a 7-seat MPV in a 5-seater size-class. As mentioned, on a lot of other MPV’s you’re having to go up to a larger model to get the seven seats, and that usually means you’ll get more boot room than the Carens. Whatever, the fact is there’s still a lot of room in the Kia – 492 litres with the middle row up and 1,650 litres with them down.

Kia Carens 3 Boot space and rear seats

A clever thing Kia have done is to have a storage compartment under the boot where you can snugly slot the extendable cover when you need the boot seats up. That’s a fabulous bit of thinking, as you’re usually having to leave it at home or take up room in the boot stowing it.

That’s the practical stuff out the way, so how’s the rest of the interior? It’s got to be said, the Carens oozes quality from the moment you step into the car. From testing the new versions of the Sportage, Soul, Cee’d Sportswagon and Rio, there’s one thing that is very clear – no matter the model, the overall standard of quality is very high. It’s no different with this Carens, and it’s a tempting proposition with a sea of other MPV’s on sale.

Panoramic sunroof

The highest ‘3’ spec Carens I had different from the ‘1’ and ‘2’ by having leather seating, a superb opening panoramic glass roof, a powered drivers seat with three-stage heating on the front two, a heated steering wheel (once you’ve had this in winter, you won’t want to go back to not having one), LED reading lights for the middle-row seating plus the aforementioned sun blinds and panoramic roof.Kia carens '3' touch screen

There’s also a little 4.3 inch touchscreen on the ‘3’ as well. It makes a change from all the huge screens fitted to cars now, and it makes you wonder why you need such big ones. This one does all you need in a simplistic but sleek manner, and the reversing camera image is positively HD it’s that sharp. There’s bluetooth plus auxiliary and USB ports as standard on all models, and the 6 speakers are surprisingly good, with clear tones and rich bass.

The KIA Carens touchscreen console

The centre console layout is well laid-out, with black gloss plastics and chrome trim here and there to give it class. It makes the Carens looks expensive. The buttons and layout are driver-orientated and a breeze to find even if you’re driving in distractive circumstances such as a storm  or heavy motorway traffic. As with all the new Kia’s, every button and dial is soft-touch and silent to use, further emphasising the quality aspect.

Dashboard and front of the interior on the Kia Carens '3' 1.7 CRDI

Stuff I didn’t like; the steering wheel is overly thick and not grippy enough, the trays behind the front seats look a bit cheap, even if they do work okay, the front centre armrest doesn’t come forward enough if you’re on the short side, and it isn’t adjustable either, the drivers seat on the ‘3’, although very adjustable I found the bottom cushion to be too far forward, and so your leg can’t come back far enough back when you’re using the foot rest, the big glossy panel across the dash scratches way too easily and will not fare well should one of your wee brood decide to ‘clean’ it with something rough.

Kia Caren's 3 1.7 CRDI interior various

Overall, the Carens interior is built to high grade, with plenty of practicality and masses of room. Whether you have a big family or just want an MPV for the big space and practical side, or even to use it as a posh taxi, the new Carens is absolutely worth a close look.

Engine and gearbox

I’ve found the Kia’s I’ve tested up to now all have good diesel engines in both the power and fuel economy categories, and I expected the Carens to be much the same. There are two turbo-diesel engines and one petrol on the Carens, although the ‘3’ we tested is available only with the higher-powered 1.7 CRDI 134 hp version with a six-speed manual gearbox. The ‘1’ and ‘2’ give a choice of either the 1.6 GDi petrol with 133 hp and 122 lbs ft (165 Nm) of torque, the 1.7 CRDI with 114 hp and 192 lbs ft (260 Nm) and also the 1.7 CRDI 134 hp but only in 6-speed automatic guise, which has slightly less torque than the manual.

I’ve mentioned the horsepower of the top of the range ‘3’ engine already, and it’s a decent-enough number, but there’s also a good lump of torque – 244 lbs ft/330 Nm to be exact. That equates to a ten-second time to 60 miles per hour. Not bad for a big MPV. Out on the road, the turbo diesel accelerates well without having to stress the engine, and is much more fleet than you may expect. One drawback I found was that below 2,000 rpm, there’s a distinct lack of torque and if you change from first to second too soon, say, setting off from a junction, you’ll find the engine bogs down and fails to respond much to your input.

Kia Carens 3 1.7 CRDI-3740

The 1.7 CRDI 134 is also decent and sips rather than sucks the go juice. Miles-per-gallon stats from Kia read as urban: 47.9, extra urban: 61.4, combined: 56.4. Resetting the average readout, I was getting around 50 mpg in flowing traffic, and just over 40 mpg in heavier stop-start stuff. Mentioning stop-start, the 1.7 CRDI in both 114 hp and 134 hp manual form both have ISG (Intelligent Stop & Go). It’s a good enough system, and works efficiently. After a while it simply becomes part of your normal driving routine for the engine to cut out every time you stop.

The 6-speed gearbox is also a good one. It is precise, and slips into each gear easily and with zero issues. The only small negative I could find was the throw between gears is slightly too long for my liking. Apart from that, a nice manual transmission. The Carens gear ratios are well set up, with 70 mph turning the engine over at around only 2,000 rpm.

Yet again, I’m happy with this diesel engine from Kia. This is not a race car, it’s an MPV, and the engine matches the vehicle. If you push the 1.7 CRDI 134 hp, it responds well and with a vigour you’ll like. Even if you opted for the 114 hp/192 lbs ft version, I think you’d still find it adequate for the job at hand.

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

Driving the Kia Carens 3 1.7 CRDI

Far from being an agile thing, the MPV of old led you to the conclusion you were driving a double-decker bus. With extra weight up top. If you’re going to design one of these to look more like a car than the traditionally tall family wagon, it’s likely buyers are going to expect the drive to match.

I liked the Carens ride, as Kia engineers have given it a good mix of comfort and handling. The main thing you want on a large car like this is a comfortable ride obviously, and that’s what the Kia Carens has. It rides nicely over the dreaded speed-humps, and deals with bumpy roads in a flowing manner. It’s not as nice as the feel you’d get from a big luxo-barge  from BMW, Jaguar or Mercedes-Benz of course, but then it also costs about two-thirds less than one.

When driven in a normal manner, the Carens handling is surprisingly good. Instead of it rolling and wallowing its way down the road, it is tight enough to feel like you’re driving an estate rather than an MPV. If you start to drive it hard around a winding road, the front end does push out much more than it would on Kia’s Cee’d Sportwagon estate, and the 1,700 kg weight of Carens will become much more obvious the harder you push the car.

Driving the Kia Carens 3 1.7 CRDI

If you’re doing that sort of hooning around though, there’s something you need to remember; you probably have children if you own a Carens. Think of all the mess there will be after you decide to be Ken Block in this car, even if the kids aren’t in it. That weeks-old mouldy banana left under a seat will become dislodged and splatter their brown and green content everywhere. A hidden carton of sticky orange juice will do the same, and that expensive Maclaren pram you bought simply because the name is similar to the supercar, will be in 1,233 pieces in the boot after you forgot to strap it down. Now, what you need to do is play about when your Carens is not full of diapers, toys and baby food.

The Flex Steer system, controlled via a button on the steering wheel, has three steering modes for different driving style; Normal, Comfort (for city driving and parking), and Sport for higher speed stability (motorway driving). Okay, so Kia has chucked yet another piece of tech onto their Carens, and I’m usually all for that, but this time I don’t really get why they’ve put this system on this particular model. The ‘Normal’ setting is fine, and even though I tested the different modes I never felt like I really needed them, and I certainly wouldn’t miss the Flex Steer function if it wasn’t included.

Kia Carens 3 1.7 CRDI-3624

Driving about, I was impressed with the low amount of noise coming into the cabin. The ‘3’ spec Carens already feels luxurious with its deep leather seats, and the quietness further impresses the quality of the Carens into your mind, and adds to the air of luxury. It’s no-where near as whisper-quiet as something like the Jaguar XF I tested, for example, but it is excellent for a car only costing between £18 – £24,000, and it’s enough to convince you further that this is a very well-built car.

Kia Carens 3 1.7 CRDI-2

Once rolling, the Carens 1.7 CRDI 134 hp pulls well, and it easily has adequate power, even when stuffed full of people and/or luggage. The gear ratios are nicely set up to cope with both city and motorway runs too. In flowing, urban traffic, the gear shift indicator keep you changing up so high you think the engine can’t cope. At just over 30 mph, it indicates you should be in 5th gear, and that means the engine is almost ticking over at around 1,200 rpm. If you want to accelerate to nip into a gap though, you’ll find yourself dropping it into seconds or third gear to get the speed needed.

As I mentioned earlier, on a run at sixty or seventy miles-per-hour, the long 6th gear means the engine really isn’t working hard at all, and will be hovering at around the 2,000 rpm mark. Accelerating from those speeds is fine too, as the maximum torque curve sits between 2 – 2,500 rpm.

Kia Carens 3 1.7 CRDI-3762

The active and passive safety tech list on all the Kia Carens as standard is superb. There’s electronic stability control (ESC), vehicle stability management (VSM), ABS with electronic brake force distribution (EBD), brake assist system (BAS), emergency stop signalling, hill-start assist (HAC), front, side and curtain airbags. That’s is an impressive list for a car starting at £17,000.

The hill-start is a particular favourite feature of mine. Yes, it’s lazy, but it saves both your clutch and your stress-levels as white van man pulls up inches behind you at a sharply-angled T-junction. The brakes on the Carens weren’t as sharp as I’d like, but they did their job decently-enough.

So, the Carens rides comfortably, while the 1.7 CRDI 134 hp has a respectable amount of torque, and it’ll handle with more agility than you’d first think. For an MPV, the Kia Carens does a good job of convincing you that you’re driving something smaller.

Price

Kia Carens 3 1.7 CRDI-3786

The Kia Carens line-up ranges from £17,800 to around £23,800. Comparing it with other 7-seater MPV’s the pricing is, as per usual Kia, highly competitive. You do get a lot of safety tech for driving, and for the people inside too. There are plenty of gadgets and practical stuff on the Carens as standard, plus the interior on all three of the models is well built, and of high quality.

Kia state that the Carens ‘2’ 1.7 CRDI 114 hp manual will be their main seller, and for £3,300 less, it’s probably worth losing the panoramic roof and leather seating. Or is it?…

Similarly-priced 7-seater MPV’s its price range included the Mazda 5 Venture, Citroën Grand C4 Picasso, Seat Altea XL, Mazda 5 and the Renault Grand Scenic. Others that go slightly higher in price include the Ford Grand C-Max, Peugeot 5008 and the VW Touran.

Kia Carens ‘3’ 1.7 CRDI Manual verdict & score

Thoroughly expecting to be bored stupid by an hugely embarrassing, lifeless, soul-less MPV, I expected the worst with the Carens. After seven days with the seven-seater, I’ve now done a u-turn on my thinking. It’s hugely comfortable, superbly put-together with quality materials, drives and handles well and above all, it looks good. Oh, then there’s that massive 7-year warranty too…

Do you own the new Kia Carens? What’s your views on it, and what are the best and worst points? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below if you’ve got a minute.

Exterior  8
Interior (‘3’ spec)  7.5
Engine (1.1 CRDI)  7
Gearbox (man.)  7
Price  7
Drive  6.5
Overall Score  7.0 / 10 

  Specs

Model (as tested)  2013> Kia Carens ‘3’ 1.7 CRDI 134 hp manual
Spec includes  Full leather 7-seats, Bluetooth sound system, reverse camera, driver’s power seat, 3-stage heated front seats, AUX & USB ports, heated power mirrors, cooled glovebox, cornering lights, LED running lights, 17″ alloy wheels, hill-start assist, 2nd row ssun blinds 3 x 12v sockets, cruise control, speed limiter, Intelligent Stop & Go  See spec sheet for more
Options you should spec  Kia’s current ‘Early Buyer Reward’ gets you £1,000 off any model Carens (available ’till 30th June)
Price (as tested)  £23,895 on the road
Engine  1.7 CRDI diesel, four-cylinder, 16-valve, double overhead camshaft, variable geometry turbo (VGT)
Power, Torque, CO2 Power: 134 hp | Torque: 244 lbs ft (330 Nm) | CO2: 132 g/km
Drive, Gears (as tested)  front engine, front wheel drive | 6-speed manual gearbox
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, EuroNCAP  Max speed: 119 mph (191 kph) mph | 0 – 60 mph: 10.0 seconds | Not as yet tested by Euro NCAP
Fuel economy (mpg)  Urban: 47.9, Extra Urban: 61.4, Combined: 56.4
Weight  Max. kerb weight: 1,716 kgs (3,783 lbs)
Websites  Kia U.K., Kia U.S.A, Kia Worldwide

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Words: Chris Davies | Tested by: Chris Davies| Photography: Chris Davies, Matthew Davies

One response to “2013 Kia Carens 3 1.7 CRDi review – Making the MPV Suddenly Much More Attractive”

  1. GeoffH

    Good to read a review from someone else who sees the virtues of the new Carens! We were in the market for an MPV that would seat 5 adults (two of them over 6′) in comfort, without the middle centre passenger having to compromise foot space or a less comfy seat than the others. After looking at all the other manufacturers we narrowed it down to a choice of…..one. We bought the 1.7 CRDi ‘2’ version which does everything we need and want it to do. I was extremely impressed by how much Kia have improved the quality and fit and finish over our previous Kia, a 2006 Sportage (which we thought was well made in its day). The only nearly viable alternative was the C-max but the middle centre seat in that is virtually useless, so back to Kia we went. When you consider the price at the moment of less than £20,000 for a bang up to date 7 seater that is so well made and cheap to run, if not quite as much fun to drive as the Ford, it really is a no-brainer!

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