If you have a large family, or usually have more than five people travelling with you, options for transportation in India are very limited. Sure, a wide range of cars come with six or seven seats, but most of them make riding in the last row a challenge. There is very little space, the seating position is usually awkward, and getting in and out takes massive effort. However, the soon-to-be-launched Kia Carens addresses this issue in a manner no other vehicle in its class has so far.
Based on a platform shared by its Korean SUV stable-mates Kia Seltos, Hyundai Creta and the Hyundai Alcazar, the Carens has the look of a classy MPV. The carmaker, however, has refrained from calling it an MPV or SUV, opting for ‘RV’ (short for ‘Recreational Vehicle’). Our love for SUVs and apparent disdain for MPVs is well documented, and understandably, Kia did not want to take any chances.
Despite many common features, the Carens is not a stretched-out version of the Seltos. It looks very different. The first thing you notice is the missing ‘Tiger Nose’ grille that’s characteristic of other Kia cars. What the Carens gets is a low-set bonnet with split headlamps housed in a glossy black trim that runs the width of the front end. There are triangular elements across the gloss black trim, and the air dam below has been given a grille-like treatment. The sleek LED DRLs at the top double as turn indicators, while the headlights lower down feature a unique lighting signature. All these come together to create the most attractive front-end seen on any MPV in India.
Despite its considerable 4,540mm length and 2,780mm wheelbase, the Carens does well to mask its proportions; so much so that you’d be surprised to learn that it, in fact, has the longest wheelbase in its class, leaving behind even the Tata Safari. Its SUV-like touches include cladding on the sides and roof rails (not load-bearing ones, but for aesthetic appeal). A shoulder line that runs from the distinctive LED DRLs to the tail creates a silhouette devoid of cuts and creases. Its large, side-swept triangular tail-lights are connected by a light bar and complete the proportionate shape. A good amount of chrome is seen all around, but thankfully this is done tastefully and Kia hasn’t gone overboard. The 16-inch wheels, however, do seem small for a car this size.
Kia has made a concerted effort to differentiate the Carens from the Seltos in terms of design on the inside as well. As in the Seltos, the high quality of the materials and the fit and finish of the cabin stand out immediately. The infotainment system’s 10.25-inch display (same size as that on the Seltos) is neatly integrated with the gloss black dash. The buttons below have a good amount of tactility to them. It is easy to find a suitable driving position, and the view from the cabin is good, especially for the driver.
While the seats aren’t powered, they are designed to offer good support and comfort. There are many intelligently designed storage spaces, cupholders and charging sockets all around, including a large storage tray under the front seat, pop-out cupholders, even in the third row, and a wireless charging pad in the centre console.A folding tray at the rear of the left front seat is a handy feature for long journeys. A similar space on the right side is taken up by an air purifier that eats into the knee room in addition to being a bit noisy.
It is in the efficiently designed seating system that the Carens scores over other vehicles in the category. On the top-spec variants that I was testing, there were captain seats in the second row and a bench in the third row. The second-row seats can be moved forward and backwards to stretch out or make space for those in the third row. The rear doors are much larger than usual, and so are the corresponding windows. As a result, the vehicle, with its cream-coloured upholstery, feels more airy and welcoming.
The electric tumble-down function for the kerbside second-row seat makes getting in and out of the vehicle a breeze for third-row passengers. The third row also features more legroom than what is expected in this class, and the seats are more comfortable. The roof-mounted AC provides even cooling across the vehicle but takes up the space usually reserved for the panoramic sunroof. It does, however, come with a smaller sunroof. In spite of the additional leg space, the Carens offers a good boot space of 216 litres of boot space and goes up to a massive 1,164 litres when the second and third-row seats are folded.
Besides the touchscreen infotainment, other features include an 8-speaker Bose sound system, Kia’s connected car tech, ambient lighting, LCD instrument cluster and ventilated seats. What’s missing are features that are standard in the likes of the Alcazar, like the powered front seats, 360-degree camera and blind-spot cameras. The RV comes with a full complement of safety-related features like ESC, six airbags, disc brakes all around, ISOFIX mounts and a tyre pressure monitoring system. The higher variant also comes with reversing cameras, and front and rear parking sensors. The Carens has still not been tested by Global NCAP.
ENGINE AND PERFORMANCE
Engine variations include a 1.4-litre turbo petrol and 1.5-litre diesel, both of which are available with manual and automatic gearboxes. A 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol motor comes with only the manual gearbox. I drove the 1.4-litre turbo-petrol and the 1.5-litre diesel, and preferred the petrol. It delivered 140hp (identical to the Seltos) and performed well when revved up to the redline. While the 7-speed DCT was snappy, the engine and transmission did not perform like the Seltos, which is understandable considering the added weight and larger dimension.
Kia has not officially released 0-100kph timings, but we expect it to be just a little off from what the Seltos’. The drive modes worked well, though I found Sport mode to be most comfortable as it provided an extra punch. This did affect the fuel economy, which I calculated to be at around 8kpl. But then again, you wouldn’t be looking at this engine if fuel economy was your concern.
The 1.5-litre diesel engine lacks the performance of the petrol, but it gets the job done efficiently. Paired with a 6-speed torque converter, the combination isn’t the quickest to respond to throttle inputs. Refinement levels also take a hit, with the diesel motor sounding strained when you demand performance. That aside, NVH levels overall are excellent. Tyre, road and wind noise are well contained in what appears to be a clear step up over the Seltos.
Kia has set up the Carens primarily for comfort. It delivers an enjoyable ride at normal speeds. It tackles the undulations and imperfections that our roads offer aplenty with consummate ease. Unlike the Seltos, this car lacks the firm edge when driven at low speeds. The smaller 16-inch tyres with tall sidewalls probably play a role here. At higher speeds, the Carens is very settled and predictable. It rarely loses composure even when going over bad sections of the road, but there’s a good amount of body roll. Drive it in a manner that befits its purpose, and you will be rewarded with an experience that emphasises comfort.
With the Carens, Kia has delivered an MPV that makes perfect sense for a regular, family-oriented buyer. Good looks, drivetrain options, clever packaging and a large set of features should make it an excellent choice for those looking for a larger vehicle. The relatively spacious third row is easily the biggest draw, distinguishing it from competitors. With a tempting price tag of Rs 8.99 lakh (ex-showroom) for the base variant, Kia might just have another bestseller on its hands.