REVIEW DATE: 25 Apr 2008
Kia's Carens 2.0 LS offers seven seat versatility and a decent slug of equipment. Andy Enright takes a look
Identifying the drawbacks of the Kia Carens isn't too taxing, but this 2.0-litre LS model has to be commended for offering solid value for money, strong equipment levels and the capacity to seat seven, albeit for shorter journeys. The 2.0-litre petrol engine offers respectable performance and the interior has more than its fair share of versatility.
Although it's neither the most progressive nor impressive vehicle in Kia's range, the Carens is nevertheless one that more than makes a case for itself. It has carved out a sizeable niche for itself as the cheapest seven-seat MPV money can buy and while cheap isn't always cheerful, the Carens has always had enough about it to satisfy a good many owners up and down the country. Many of these customers then went on to buy the bigger and plusher Sedona people carrier, staying loyal to the Kia brand. File that one under good brand management. In a bid to bolster Carens sales, Kia has introduced the LS seven seat version, with improved equipment levels, an improved warranty arrangement and a reassuringly Kia sticker price.
The twin-cam four-cylinder 2.0-litre 'Theta' petrol engine, with continuously variable valve timing (CVVT), produces 142bhp and is nothing to get too excited about. It's an inoffensive unit that revs without a great deal of flywheel effect and the five-speed manual gearbox that comes as standard with the Carens LS is similarly vice free but largely unexceptional. This after all, is not going to be the kind of vehicle sought after by keen drivers. The Carens LS is the preserve of the cash-strapped family man or the self-employed minicabber and when fitted with the optional automatic gearbox, it makes an excellent city hopper.
Visibility is reasonably good, with only the thick rear three-quarter pillars marring the all-round view. The light steering makes parking easy and the four-speed auto gearbox is largely vice free, only getting a little confused if you start getting a bit sporty, a temptation that you should avoid, for the Carens' suspension setup is geared towards ride comfort rather than outright handling ability.
"On the face of it, the Kia Carens looks good value."
The ultimate test of how well these vehicles are packaged comes when you try to lever an adult into the back row of a seven seat model. With most mini-MPVs, their knees will be up around their ears. Next time you get in any other seven-seat mini-MPV, get a tape measure and check the height between the top of the seat cushion and the floor. It's often around four or five inches which is frankly laughable. Kia has got around this problem by designing a shallow petrol tank that sits inside the rear suspension subframe. This drops the floor height by some 40mm, allowing for a more relaxed seating position. The Korean company reckons that adults of 5'11" will be comfortable in the rearmost row of seats in the seven seat model, although that may be pushing it.
For added space in the seven seater, the cushions of the centre-row seats tip forwards, enabling the backrests to fold down to create a flat floor free of interruptions. The rear row then folds and dives in the base leaving a totally flat surface. A foot-operated parking brake allows for more storage space around the driver and front passenger. There is a large compartment beneath the centre armrest; cup holders in the front and rear of the centre console, a sunglasses holder in the headlining, large door pockets with bottle holder storage and a generous glove box. Rear door pockets and lidded compartments with cup holders above the rear wheel arches provide useful spaces for passengers in the rear to store loose items.
The price is £15,050 for an LS trim level that represents the top of the Carens hierarchy and as such, it comes with an equipment list that appears quite incongruous at this asking figure. Standard items across the range include front and rear electric windows with an auto-down facility, electrically-adjustable door mirrors, an underfloor storage box and underseat tray on the front passenger's side. On this petrol LS model you will get full climate control along with electric folding door mirrors as well as automatic lights and wipers plus 16 inch alloys.
We tend to break the MPV market up into three distinct categories, the supermini MPVs exemplified by cars like the Renault Modus and the Vauxhall Meriva, the mini MPV sector that the Carens resides in and full-sized MPVs such as the Volkswagen Sharan, Renault Espace and Chrysler Voyager. This Carens is definitely at the large end of the mini-MPV sector and, from front bumper to rear, is less than 10cm shorter than something in the class above, such as a Sharan.
Cost of ownership tends to be a bit of a mixed bag with the Carens. The asking price is undoubtedly very impressive but that needs to be weighed against some quite unspectacular residual figures, the car retaining around 38 per cent of its new value after three years. It doesn't do too badly in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, the manual car's 193g/km figure being fractionally lower than a similarly powerful Ford Focus C-MAX 2.0, a car that can only seat five by the way.
Kia Carens buyers can expect just shy of 35mpg from this petrol model with the manual gearbox whereas the auto delivers just over 1mpg less. Insurance is reasonably pitched, brokers realising that the Carens is never going to be the target of joyriders or boy racers. Insurance Group 10 is about the same as a midrange Vauxhall Astra.
On the face of it, the Kia Carens looks good value. It's got a punchy engine, can seat seven and is fairly well equipped. The trouble is, time has caught up with the Carens. Time and the ability of rivals. At this price point, it's possible to buy a seven seat Vauxhall Zafira that's a sharper drive and which features smarter packaging as well. The Carens responds with a back row of seats that are more useable than the Vauxhall's pair and that's about it.
A recurring theme with Kia models is that the best buy is usually the cheapest model you can get with air conditioning. The Carens LS is a range topper and this takes the car outside its comfort zone of rock bottom pricing. Were this the £11,995 Carens S, it would get a thumbs up. At over £15,000 I'm not so sure.
|For CARENS 2.0LS|
|OVERALL||7.0 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||7|