Words by: Harshit Srinivas
Shot by: Sairam Jadhav for Just Urbane
Kia India had plans of introducing their fourth product for India, but the details of the same were scarce, even though it was a seven-seater SUV. Now, manufacturers like Hyundai, Tata Motors, and MG have already introduced their stretched iterations based on midsize SUVs already. But, as always, Kia had different marketing strategies to make their cars stand out, and they addressed the Carens as an MPV instead of a stretched iteration. An MPV is the correct terminology to address a seven-seater car. Calling it a stretched iteration of the mid-size SUVs just confuses prospective buyers not only by how it looks but also by what extra the car has to offer. Speaking of looks, we start with the way it is designed and then progress towards every other talking point about the Carens.
How does it look?
Amid all seven-seater SUVs, for instance, the Tata Safari, MG Hector Plus, or its Korean cousin, the Hyundai Alcazar, the Kia Carens would not confuse you with the way it looks. Retaining the Kia Seltos powertrain, the Carens is a different car altogether. Reminiscent of an MPV at first glance, the Carens has certain characteristics to add to its SUVish stance. Standing up front with the Carens, you notice it to have an upright bonnet for the MPV feels, with a piano black grille with hints of Kia Soul and almost confusing you of it being an EV. But we know it's not. The grille, with a chrome strip running all through its length, extends to both ends, with neatly tucked-in sleek DRLs and LED headlamps positioned below them. On the side, you cannot be mistaken about it being an MPV with overhangs at either end. The 16-inch dual-tone alloys, the roof rails, and the black cladding on the doors and the wheel arches certainly add a bit to its SUV-like stance. The rear of the Carens looks clean and rather simple, with a roof-mounted spoiler with an integrated stoplight. The LED taillamps are neatly designed and are well connected with a reflector strip running all through the Carens' width. There is also plenty of chrome treatment in the rear bumpers, which does not at all seem to be overdone. Trust me, we Indians would love it. Overall, the Kia Carens look well balanced with a modern-day design and look, and huge applause for the designers at Kia for such a good-looking product.
Like the outside, nothing inside the Carens will remind you of the Seltos. The Kia Carens overall gets a new cabin layout, and I swear to god, you will like it as much as we do. The dash of the Carens comes in a dual-tone leather finish, where you have it in beige and black for the top-end variants and navy blue and beige for the turbo-petrol variants. Complimenting the dash are the door panels in a similar dual-tone shade with plenty of room for your coffee mugs and flasks, with a thin ambient lighting strip running across the length. The front-row seats are comfortable with ventilated seat functionality; however, they miss out on being electronically adjusted. The second row can be had either with a bench seat or two captain seats, depending upon the seating layout you pick. Honestly, the second-row captain seats in the variants we tested were top-notch; however, you may feel a little cramped sitting behind the driver’s seat due to the placement of the air purifier on the back of the driver's seat. But, if you aren’t an average size adult or a giant frame like mine, then the captain seats are the best place for you to be in the Carens. Also, these seats can be slid to and fro, creating room for passengers in the third row. Additionally, you get roof access mounted AC vents and features like a working tray behind the front-row passenger seat, an air-conditioning speed controller for the second row, and type -C ports for your convenience. But, what surprised me was the one-touch tumble function in the left-side captain seat. This not only gives easy ingress and egress to third-row passengers but also helps you to ease out on those to and fro of seats for letting in the third-row passengers. But that's not all! Unlike its rivals, the third row in the Carens is much more comfortable. With a sliding to-and-fro function, the third-row seats allow the occupants to create not enough but sufficient legroom for themselves. Needless to say, it is comfortable seating for two with adequate lumbar and thigh support for two sitting out there. And the third-row passengers also get access to roof-mounted AC vents, that is complemented by cup holders and type -c ports for a comfortable drive from the third row as well. Also, with the third row in place, the Kia Carens offer a boot space of 216 litres, while with seats down, the figures change to a colossal 1164 litres, which is huge for you to carry all your stuff during road trips.
Now, after all, being a Kia car, the Carens couldn’t miss out on being loaded to T on features. This is why the Carens come equipped with a 10.25-inch infotainment system with integrated Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; an 8-speaker Bose surrounds system, 64-color ambient lighting; an air quality purifier, wireless charging dock for the front row, and a sunroof. The instrument cluster is also digital and throws out all sorts of information you need during the drive, bold and clear. However, the Carens does miss out on the most in-demand feature– a panoramic sunroof for now, but I don't find it to be a big reason for concern for prospective buyers. Overall, the build quality inside the cabin is top-notch, and keeping you safe here are standard safety features such as 6-airbags, ESC with ABS, Hill Assist Control, Brake Assist, Tyre Pressure Monitoring System, disc brakes for all wheels, and rear parking sensors. Mind you, these safety features are standard across all the variants, translating Carens to offer the best safety across all variants.
So if you are looking for a seven-seater for yourself, then you know which car to consider as an option on priority, as the Carens tick one-or-two more boxes compared to the rivals on the features and safety front.
What is under the hood?
The Kia Carens, as mentioned earlier, retains the same engine as in the Seltos, hence available either with a 1.5-liter NA petrol, 1.5-liter diesel, or a 1.4-turbo-petrol unit. The naturally aspirated petrol unit in the Carens comes mated to a six-speed manual gearbox only and makes a peak output of 115 PS and 144 Nm. The diesel unit comes mated to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed torque converter automatic, while the turbo-petrol unit can be had with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed DCT auto box. The former makes a peak output of 115 PS and 250 Nm, while the latter has the claimed figures as 140 PS and 242 Nm. Mind you, and these figures are identical to that of the Seltos. However, when we tested these engines in the Carens, we had some evident changes in performance, as they did not perform as they do in the Seltos because of the added weight and increased dimensions. The models we tested were the 1.4-turbo-petrol and 1.5-liter diesel, and both were mated to their respective automatic transmissions. The first Carens variant I drove was with the turbo-petrol unit, and the engine, for me, was effortless on highways and routine city traffic.
Though the transmission was quick and smooth, I felt it was somewhat out of sync in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Whereas, in the 1.5-litre diesel Carens, the engine wasn’t that sporty compared to the turbo-petrol but was a proper workhorse in terms of getting the work done efficiently. It delivered adequate power and was fuel-efficient, though. The transmission combination wasn’t that quick to respond, and a little time was required to get used to it. The refinement levels in the Carens are good, and NVH levels, in general, are good. Also, not to miss out, the Carens are three driving modes, Eco, Normal, and Sport. The Eco, as the name suggests, softens the power delivery making it more fuel-efficient, while the Normal lets you through adequate power delivery, making the Carens marginally less fuel-efficient. The Sport mode is the best for enthusiasts as it allows you to get that extra punch while holding on to the lower gears for a longer time.
How does it ride and handle?
Kia crowned the Carens as an MPV rather than a stretched iteration of Seltos, which meant that this car has comfort as a priority. Surprisingly, it was there throughout and rather better than what I expected. With a perfect amalgamation of SUV and MPV characteristics, the Carens took all the broken paths, potholes, and rough patches with ease. Even at high speeds, the Carens felt settled, thanks to the disc brakes that backed me up with more confidence.
In case of handling, the Carens felt planted and can be a great mile muncher on highways. A fair bit of body roll is evident while pushing it through the corners, but surely it isn’t a car that you drive in such a manner. From the start, I noticed the steering resembling feedback to that of the Seltos, which isn’t too much, and you feel it to be light in the city drive and slightly on the heavier side on highways.
Should you buy one?
The Kia Carens come at a sticker price of Rs 8.99 lakh for the base variant that goes up to Rs 16.99 lakh for the top-end variant. The Kia Carens is much more affordable than the rivals Maruti XL6, Hyundai Alcazar, MG Hector Plus, or the Tata Safari, considering the base variant prices of all. The Carens may miss out on one or two more features than the Alcazar but have plenty to offer at not competitive, rather aggressive pricing like this. The engine may not be as powerful as the Tata Safari, but surely has three options with combinations of different transmissions. So, if you are the one with a big family and looking for a car that doesn’t cost you a bomb, and has plenty of options for you on offer, be it the engine or features, then you know the Carens is the one you should go for.