Kia Carens first-drive review: Sporty in parts, sober at large
Kia Carens is all set to be the fourth product from the Koreans in the Indian car market in just about 30 months since the company touched down here with the Seltos SUV. While the Seltos laid a solid foundation and continues to sell in good numbers, Kia followed it up with the Carnival premium MPV and the Sonet sub-compact SUV. While there may be a temptation for many to offer products in the small and hatchback segments which still dominate the Indian passenger vehicle landscape in terms of sheer volumes, over at Kia, ‘the larger the better’ philosophy appears to continue guiding the way forward.
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When Hyundai launched Alcazar three-row vehicle last year, it was felt that it is only a matter of time before Kia tows the line. And the time came late last year when Carens was officially showcased to the world at an India-specific event in New Delhi. Carens is an India-first product and will be manufactured at the company plant in Andhra Pradesh. But while it is a great show of commitment to the market here that Carens is being made locally and that Indian buyers will have the first shot at it, optics will only take a product so far. Does the Carens three-row cross between an SUV and an MPV - Kia calls it a recreational vehicle or RV, have the inherent abilities to woo and wow Indian buyers? Can it be a worthy sibling to the Seltos and Sonet, two products that continue to fare remarkably well or is it just a more affordable version of the Carnival, an MPV Kia says was brought in more as a statement of intent than as a volume driver.
An entire day out and about in the freezing cold of Delhi's January winter gave us an in-depth understanding of what the Kia Carens seeks to bring to the table, where it succeeds and where it tends to fall short.
Here's a first full-drive review of Kia Carens:
Kia Carens - Exterior profile
Carens, the name, is a cross between the words ‘Car’ and ‘Renaissance’. Carens, the car, visually appears to be a cross between an SUV and an MPV even if the MPV element is more dominant on all sides.
The Kia model is also likely to attract comparisons with the Alcazar. In terms of dimensions, it is slightly longer, slightly wider, slightly taller and with a bit more wheelbase even if the ground clearance is marginally less.
|Kia Carens Dimensions and Colour Options|
|Glacier White Pearl|
|Aurora Black Pearl|
But while looks are subjective, the Alcazar does appear to be a bit more dominant in its exterior styling where the Carens is more conventional. The Kia isn't radical or sporty or bulky or butch from any direction. Instead, it has a calm visual demeanour that underlines simplicity.
The familiar Tiger Nose grille has been ignored for a cleaner digital radiator grille which is flanked on either side by striking LED DRLs and three-step LED headlights. Kia says these are inspired by constellations but while it may or may not appear out-worldly to people at large, it sure is a smart addition on the face of the vehicle.
This holds true for the rear profile of the Carens as well which gets a smart LED taillight design on an overall minimalist design language. But what I didn't much take a liking to was the chrome garnish on the front as well as rear lip which was a bit too jarring for my personal taste.
That aside, the Kia Carens plays the simple yet sophisticated card real well in terms of how it has been designed on the outside, complete with 16-inch diamond-cut dual-tone alloys and large windows all around.
Kia Carens - Cabin highlights and feature list
A vehicle that is primarily meant to be a people mover has to have a well-appointed, spacious cabin. If it is a Kia, it has to be loaded to the brim with features too. After all, the brand is also known to pack a plethora of connectivity and convenience options in its products. On each of these counts, the Kia Carens not just holds a lot of potentials but delivers on the promise and expectations.
If and when you choose to check out the Carens at a Kia dealership, be sure to keep expectations from the third row high. I am rarely impressed with the third-row section of a vehicle regardless of which segment it falls in but the Carens left me mighty surprised, mighty pleased. The one-touch tumble down feature is a breeze to use and opens a very large space for easy in and out into and from the last row seats. Yes, even for an overweight person like me who often rues WFH culture for piling on the pounds.
The one-touch tumble down feature is, however, only available on the left portion of the middle-row seats and there is the usual lever mechanism on the other side. But whichever side one may want to access the last row seats from, the process is simple enough. Once settled in those last row seats, it isn't as claustrophobic as one would usually expect from the seats here. Sure you can't stretch out but the knee room ought to suffice for even relatively tall passengers. Dedicated air vents, cup holders and charging points further sweeten the experience.
Jump forward to the second row and there is much to like here as well. The seat cushioning is fairly decent and there's adequate knee room even if these seats have to be pushed slightly forward to accommodate taller passengers at the rear. The knee room is generous at best and adequate even when the seats are pushed forward to make more space for passengers at the back. The legroom though takes a hit but space for the feet, headroom and shoulder room are once again great.
The rear section of the front passenger seat comes fitted with a foldable tray with a cupholder and slot for iPads - identical to the one inside the Alcazar. The rear part of the driver seat is equipped with controls for the air purification system.
There is no floor bump and the central console - which houses storage, a smart dial for middle-row AC controls and two Type C charging points - doesn't stretch back which means that the passenger in the middle too has good levels of floor space, in the seven-seat set-up, of course. There is more storage on each of the doors and in the second row, these also come with manual shades.
The Carens does benefit from an airy cabin courtesy of the light upholstery shade and the large windows but I would have ideally liked a larger sunroof than the conventional one on offer.
|Kia Cabin Colour Options|
|OPULENT Two Tone Triton Navy & Beige Interiors|
|ELITE Two Tone Black & Beige Interiors|
|RICH Two Tone Black & Beige Interiors with Indigo Accents|
But just because the Carens does not get a panoramic sunroof doesn't mean that it doesn't have a mile-long list of other highlights. A 10.25-inch infotainment screen comes integrated into the clean dashboard layout. The clarity and responsiveness of the screen are top notch and it blends to its left to merge with another 10.25-inch screen that acts as the driver display.
The screens do attract a fair bit of fingerprint and dust, as does the piano black finish on either side of the dashboard. A chequered design interplay on either side of this piano black finish on the dash, however, does somewhat camouflage the fingerprints and dust.
The Carens is also equipped with an eight-speaker Bose sound system, the front two seats are ventilated, there's support for wireless phone charging with cooling and a 64-colour ambient light system. The flat-bottomed steering wheel houses multiple control buttons for the AV and driver display.
Kia Carens - Engine and transmission specs, and drive traits
Kia is offering Carens with multiple engines, transmission and seating options. Under the hood, there is a toss-up between a 1.5-litre CRDi VGT diesel engine, a 1.4-litre Smartstream T-GDi petrol motor and another 1.5-litre Smartstream petrol unit. The diesel engine is mated to a six-speed AT and a six-speed manual while the turbo petrol comes with seven-speed DCT and a six-speed MT.
For this review, I first drove the diesel motor with AT and switched it eventually for the turbo petrol with MT. The differences were quite stark even if each has its own unique strengths.
|Kia Carens engine and transmission details|
|1.4 T-GDi Petrol Engine|
|Power||140 ps/6 000 rpm|
|Torque||242 Nm/1 500~3 200 rpm|
|1.5 Petrol Engine|
|Power||115 ps/6 300 rpm|
|Torque||144 Nm/4 500 rpm|
|1.5 CRDi VGT Diesel Engine|
|Power||115 ps/4 000 rpm|
|Torque||250 Nm/1 500~2 750 rpm|
The diesel was first up and I had high hopes considering it is the same unit that does duty inside the Seltos as well. As far as diesel units go, this engine too is quite refined with 115 Ps of power and 250 Nm of torque. The motor however takes a fair bit of time to get the power build up, the AT box expressing some reservation. It is only once across the 2,000 Rpm that the momentum clicks, the gear shifts become more confident and the Carens hurls itself forward. But when it does, the fair bit of engine groan does make the vehicle's displeasure at having been pushed well known. I often found the need to downshift using the paddle shifters absolutely necessary for overtaking, ignoring the aforementioned displeasure from under the hood. Do note that the car did not have any luggage or any other occupant either. But keep the Carens planted and the diesel unit has a linear power delivery which should fare quite well within city limits and leisurely highway jaunts.
Both the diesel and petrol units of the Carens offers three drive modes - Eco, Normal and Sport.
The contrast that the turbo petrol engine paints, however, is remarkable. Personally, I don't know why anyone would opt for any other spec because this engine is typically eager, typically spirited and - dare I say, typically enthusiastic. Am I biased in favour of petrol engines in general? Yes. Have I always been? Perhaps. But the 1.4 T-GDi petrol is indeed delicious, well as scrumptious as it can get inside a people mover at least. Paired with the six-speed manual transmission box with its trademark short and crisp precise shifts, the Carens assumed a whole new drive character. Of course, I am used to the six-speed MT because I own a Creta with it. But even then, I was left mighty curious about the same engine with the seven-speed DCT. Well, another day for that.
|Kia Carens Safety Highlights|
|Six Airbags (Standard)|
|Downhill Brake Control|
|Tyre Pressure Monitoring System|
|All Wheels Disc Brakes|
|ISO-Fix Child Anchor|
In terms of drive characteristics, the Carens offers a stable experience for everyone inside and for most parts. The slightly stiff suspension helps the car tackle road aberrations with decent levels of poise, body roll is under reasonable control unless throwing the car into corners and the light steering makes navigating the Carens quite easy.
Kia Carens - Verdict
Carens has its priorities set right and the list is well done. It isn't exactly trying to woo and wow the SUV buyer or at least it ought not to. Let the Creta, Seltos or even the Venue and Sonet battle it out for the attention of the outright enthusiasts. The latest from Kia is a people mover and in that sense, a reasonably stylish one at that. Its feature-rich and spacious cabin is tailor-made for highway runs but the turbo petrol is mighty fun to drive even within city limits.
Up against the likes of the Alcazar and the Safari then, Kia has a bold challenge in the form of Carens and the goodwill earned by its other siblings thus far should hold this product in good stead too.