Kia Carens: Driving with Carens

  • Comfortable and economical seven-seater mile-eater
  • Steering lacks feel which dampens enjoyment
  • Small changes would make package appeal even more

Following a few runs to airports and car launches, as well as my not inconsiderable 74-mile each way commute, almost another 1,000 miles have been racked up in our long-term Kia Carens in recent weeks.

As with any experience, the more you indulge the more you’re aware of how something works, becoming familiar with its nuances. That being so I thought I’d share more specific thoughts about what the Carens is like to live with and drive.

Cars designed primary for family transport need to strike a happy medium between being soft enough to have a compliant ride, yet firm enough to stop it acting like a porpoise and inducing nausea in its occupants. This the Carens does well.

The suspension performs admirably, soaking up the imperfections of rutted surfaces at both low and high speeds, but tyre noise proves audible as it does so.

Body roll is kept in check on most corners but take the Carens through a series of faster S-bends and occasionally it can feel unsettled, sometimes with the stability electronics waving a calming hand to rein in proceedings.

Although the pedals are not positioned to encourage a keen driver to ‘heel and toe’, the brakes are more than adept at stopping the Kia in a controlled manner. Seldom are occasions where you feel the need to stamp on the middle pedal.

It’s the steering that lets the Carens down, offering so little feel to the driver it’s as though it’s been anaesthetised. You can alter the weight of the steering from ‘Comfort’ (light), ‘Normal’ (err, normal) and ‘Sport’ (heavy) but none of them increases the sensation felt through the rim itself.

Some may argue that you don’t buy a car like this for its steering set-up but that misses the point. The counterstrike is the more feel you have, the more confident you are. The greater your confidence the more you can predict how the car will behave, which is inherently safer.

Case in point is the way the Carens understeers (not cornering as tightly as you'd expect and pushing wide through bends). Under most conditions it’s no better or worse than many front-wheel drive cars, but approach a wet roundabout, even at sensible speeds, and its grip levels have an occasional inclination to surprise.

With more feel through the wheel you’d notice the sliding sensation immediately, but as it is you’re already going wide before it makes itself known.

Obviously, you drive to the capabilities of the car in these circumstances, but with nine roundabouts with a high approach speed on my commute it can prove frustrating on colder, wetter days.

More positively, the 1.7-litre 134bhp engine is well-matched to the car, giving it spirited performance without sacrificing fuel economy, which regularly hovers in the high 40s on the mpg scale.

The six-speed manual gearbox is slick and is keen to get you into top gear by 45mph, which it does without grumbling or sounding like fifth might be a better option for a while longer.

Overtakes are dispatched effectively by dropping down though, fourth gear tending to offer ample acceleration for a few seconds before snicking back into sixth.

In more general terms the heated front seats are comfortable and supportive meaning you don’t feel unduly fatigued after a longer journey and the glazed roof helps brighten the otherwise sombre cabin ambience, even on greyer days.

The large door mirrors offer excellent rearward visibility, useful as the interior rear view mirror is hampered when the headrests on the third row of seating are extended – would it have been possible to include different height settings?

Having a reversing camera’s useful too but at this time of year it soon gets clarted in road grime. A squirt from a washer jet would help here although the headlights don’t have them either, meaning frequent wipes when parked.

While automatic headlights and wipers are useful it’s a pity the two systems don’t seem to converse with one another. The wipers can be going ten to the dozen but only the front LED day running lights are illuminated – surely a relatively inexpensive software patch to get the two working in unison?

Although the Kia Carens is a difficult car to get excited about, unfeeling steering aside it’s a positive experience for those seeking a comfort-centric family car capable of holding seven people.

There’s much to be said for being able to get out after a long journey without needing to stretch out every muscle and skeletal joint, while basking in the knowledge that you’ve paid less for it than most of its key rivals.

Total mileage: 1,942 

Average mpg: 48.4mpg