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Friday, 29 May 2015

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Carens with room to grow

A CAR market that seems to have recently been revitalised is that of the compact, occasional 7-seat MPV.

I have been busy covering the launches of a number of new or seriously revised contenders in this market.

This test concentrates on the latest addition to the popular Kia Carens range that hit UK showrooms early last year.

Initially, the range of 1.6 petrol and 1.7-litre turbo diesel engines employed a manual 6-speed gearbox, with only one version (1.7 CRD1 134 bhp) being available with a 6-speed automatic transmission, but did not feature the increasingly demanded satellite navigation option.

That has recently been rectified with the introduction of this top specification ‘3’ 1.7 version that comes with a very user-friendly satellite system.

The two diesel units come in 114 bhp and 134 bhp power outputs. The latter is probably the most customer-attractive proposition and logically first-time tested here.

Visually this Carens does not suggest that its stylish body offers a seven-seat facility on all versions. Simply it appears as a generous-sized hatchback.

It is actually 20mm shorter, 15mm narrower and 45mm lower than its successful predecessor. Who said cars were getting larger?

First encounter with the interior is a pleasant one for a number of factors. First, there is the smart interior finish, then the packed, yet functional, fascia bristling with all manner of information, and finally comes the realisation that in this spacious interior, there is a pair of fold-up, rear seats.

Admittedly with all seven seats occupied there is virtually no room for much in the way of luggage. However start sacrificing seats, even one, and load-carrying prospects improve considerably.

Life in the final row of seats is passable if you are of small stature, though I found one average-sized adult could survive, sitting slightly sideways, while still being belted up.

The middle row of three individual seats can be slid backwards and forwards according to need and in five-seat mode, this is a really spacious car with generous load space.

On the 2 and 3 specification cars there are roof rails that obviously extend load potential.

Oddments stowage is well above average, with some under-floor compartments, the usual door pockets, a chilled glove compartment, centre console/arm rest storage, small bins on the extremes of both front seats and a useful tray surrounding the gear lever.

The driving qualities of this class of vehicle have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years.

To all intents and purposes, I liken the Carens to driving a well-mannered hatchback, albeit of generous proportions.

The body stability is sure-footed, the ride smooth though firmer than one or two rivals, and the control response demonstrates good feel.

The short throw gear stick provides accurate changes and the ratios are nicely spaced to cover both slow speed, cut and thrust and refined, easy, motorway cruising.

The driving position feels naturally comfortable thanks to a good range of electrically-powered seat adjustment, a well-contoured seat, fully-adjustable steering column, comfortable pedal positioning, good wiper spread, very effective headlight system and better than average vision for this class of vehicle.

I think it is worth going for this more powerful version of the diesel range. It is obviously livelier on acceleration. 0 to 60 mph is claimed to be achieved in a more than passable 10 seconds. The top speed is a claimed 119 mph.

Obviously, with this sort of vehicle, performance is affected by load and driving demands and no more so than when attempting to replicate the official combined fuel consumption of 56.4 mpg.

I suggest a target 40-45 mpg as more realistic. But take into consideration the journey cost per occupant and, for a family, this mode of transport beats the train hands down.

Kia has packed a lot of kit into the Carens, not to compensate for any quality shortcomings – no way! This car really impressed me for overall quality and the solidness of its body construction.

Don’t forget, it also it comes with a benchmark 7-year/100,000-mile transferable warranty.

The 1 and 2 specification cars are equipped to standards that not so long ago would be described as executive.

This top one has things like electrically-heated/adjustable exterior mirrors, dual automatic air conditioning with ioniser, panoramic sunroof, privacy glass, projection headlights, leather seats, heated front seats, second row LED reading lights, fully-adjustable steering wheel, powered adjustable driving seat, cruise control/speed limiter, LED daytime lights, a four air bag system, second row window sun blinds, alloy wheels and a space saver spare. Also there is a good audio/ infotainment/ connectivity system.

The Carens pitches in to an increasingly competitive market sector where buyers are very demanding.

It is in there with more than a strong shout!