Generally pleasant and comfortable to drive
Smart, user-friendly cabin and good view out
Five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, but airbags stop short of rearmost seats
Kia has a decent record, and Carens has sturdy cabin and long warranty
Decent space in all seats (even the rearmost pair compare well to rivals) and large boot
Even entry-level cars have all the essentials and more
The Carens puts the emphasis on comfort, with soft suspension that gently absorbs larger bumps in the road and makes the Carens a lot more forgiving than the Peugeot 5008, for example. However, the car can become unsettled on particularly scruffy road surfaces, and the downside of the soft suspension is that it allows the car to lean over too much on bends (which doesn't bode well for passengers with motion sickness). Meanwhile, the steering is rather slow so very twisty roads could be quite hard work for the driver. The cabin is generally quiet, which is useful if you're talking to small children in the back. Of the two diesels and one petrol engine on offer, our choice would be the 1.7 CRDi 114, which is the most economical in the range and has more than enough power for most MPV duties. The petrol engine smooth but it feels weedy at low revs.
The Carens' cabin looks smart and feels durable, which is a good thing given the sort of treatment families are likely to give it. The dashboard controls are easy to find and use, and the car's large windows mean visibility is good all round. The front five seats aren't quite as spacious as key rivals' but the Carens follows suit by providing three full-size middle-row seats that individually slide and recline - bear in mind, however, that while the centre seat is a good size it's actually a few centimetres narrower than the outer two and doesn't have Isofix points as they do. The rearmost pair of seats are fine for children and smaller adults, and are simplicity itself to put up or down - you just pull on a single strap for each seat. However, getting into them is a bit awkward as the middle row seats don't move as far forward as some rivals' to allow access. With seven on board there's just enough space left for a slim-folding buggy or a few small bags of shopping, but in five-seat mode the boot is generous and it's easy to fold down the middle seats to expand the load area.
The entry-level '1' spec is the best value for money; it's the cheapest trim level on offer but even this includes alloy wheels, four electric windows, air-con, cruise control and Bluetooth, plus storage areas under the rear footwells and a mirror so the driver can see the occupants behind. For an extra £1300, '2' brings automatic headlights and wipers, dual-zone air-con, reversing sensors and privacy glass, and fold-down picnic tables on the back of the front seats. '3' cars get bigger alloys, a panoramic sunroof (whose controls replace the child-view mirror), leather seats and a touch-screen audio system incorporating a reversing camera, but cost another £3300 over '2' cars.
Kia performed quite well in the latest What Car? reliability survey, and further peace of mind comes with the Carens' seven-year/100,000-mile warranty. The Carens comes with stability control as standard but the airbag provision doesn't include any curtain 'bags for the rearmost pair of seats; the Peugeot 5008 and Toyota Verso do provide airbags here, however. None the less, the Carens scored five stars overall in crash tests by Euro NCAP, including 94% for adult safety and 76% for children, compared to 89%/79% for the Peugeot 5008 and 89%/75% for the Toyota Verso.
The Carens is comfortable, smart and practical; it's also cheaper to buy than the Toyota Verso, Vauxhall Zafira Tourer and the Peugeot 5008 (but bear in mind that the Peugeot is slightly more practical and has Isofix on all three of its spacious, same-sized seats). Running costs for the Carens are reasonable rather than class-leading, though, with the lower-powered diesel averaging 60.1mpg and emitting 124g/km of CO2.