The new Kia Carens impresses with its bold styling, well-equipped cabin and decent road manners but lacks some essential features and off-road credentials
The Kia Carens is the latest 7-seater SUV offering from the South Korean automaker in India. First unveiled at the 2020 Auto Expo, the production-spec Carens was launched in February 2022 amidst much anticipation. With its bold styling, premium interior and extensive features list, the Carens aims to appeal to buyers looking for a value-for-money 7-seater SUV. It primarily rivals the MG Hector Plus, Tata Safari and Mahindra XUV700 in its segment. Let’s take a closer look to see how the new Kia stacks up.
Built on the same platform as the Seltos, the Carens weighs about 100 kg more at 1760 kg. Kia has utilized high tensile steel to reinforce the body which feels solidly put together. Panel gaps are inconsistent in certain areas. The paint finish and plastic quality don’t feel as premium as its German rivals but fit and finish is acceptable for the price. The strong chassis gives it a sure-footed feel over rough roads.
The Carens turns heads with its bold styling dominated by the signature tiger nose grille flanked by sleek LED headlamps. The LED DRLs positioned above look striking. The sculpted bumpers, flared wheel arches and smart 18-inch alloy wheels add to the muscular stance. At the rear, the LED tail lamps extend onto the tailgate and are linked by a light bar. Some may find the design a bit over the top but it certainly stands out from the crowd.
Stepping inside reveals an all-black cabin with ample space for seven adults. The dashboard is dominated by two 10.25-inch screens for instrumentation and infotainment. The quilted leather seats look premium while the multifunction steering feels chunky. Dashboard plastics don’t feel too premium but switchgear quality is solid. Unique elements include ambient mood lighting, smart air purifier and a Bose sound system. The middle row seating is comfortable with ample legroom while the third row is cramped for adults.
With all three rows up, boot space is a tiny 193 liters but with the third row folded, it expands to 587 liters according to Kia. Access to the third row involves folding the middle row seats which is easy thanks to one-touch electric buttons. The large panoramic sunroof eats into headroom slightly for taller occupants. Cabin storage spaces are ample and include cupholders and charging points for all three rows. The Carens offers reasonable practicality for a 7-seater SUV at this price point.
Features and Safety
Kia has packed the Carens with features to make it attractive against rivals. You get a 10.25-inch digital driver’s display, 64-color ambient lighting, ventilated front seats, electric parking brake, an air purifier and Highway Driving Assist. However, ADAS tech like blind-spot monitoring is missing. Safety is taken care of by 6 airbags, ABS, EBD, hill hold control and front/rear parking sensors. However, the omission of a 360° camera is a miss considering its size.
Engine and Performance
The selection is extensive, encompassing five engine-transmission combinations, five trim levels, and a choice between two seating layouts. In terms of engines, there’s a 1.5-litre petrol producing 115hp and 144Nm, paired with a 6-speed manual; a 1.4-litre turbo-petrol generating 140hp and 242Nm, available with both a 6-speed manual and a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic; and a 1.5 diesel with 115hp and 250Nm, provided with a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. The 1.5-litre petrol variant is confined to the basic trims. In contrast, all five trims feature the 1.4 petrol-manual and 1.5 diesel-manual, with the automatic versions reserved for the top-tier models. The Carens typically comes with seven seats and a bench-style middle row, but a six-seat arrangement featuring captain’s chairs in the middle row is an exclusive attribute of the high-end Luxury Plus trim. That’s quite a lineup!
A 115hp, 1.5-litre diesel engine may not appear sufficient for a vehicle tasked with transporting up to seven people, yet, as demonstrated by the Carens’ relative, the Alcazar, it’s largely up to the task. The engine performs satisfactorily under typical urban driving conditions, and its competence is especially noticeable during swift overtaking maneuvers, thanks to the assistance of the seamless 6-speed transmission, preventing any lag in acceleration. Achieving cruising velocities is a breeze for the Carens diesel, ensuring a refined ride, with the speedometer reading 100kph at a low 1,900rpm in the sixth gear.
However, the engine’s adequacy is put to the test with more than four occupants on board. In these situations, the increased strain is audible, with a noticeable rumble emanating from the engine compartment during power surges, and the transmission frequently downshifting to extract peak performance. This becomes particularly evident during extended ascents or when climbing hills with a full contingent. While paddle shifters are a useful option for instant gear changes, they’re not something you’ll find yourself frequently using due to the engine’s characteristics. The Sport driving mode offers some assistance, but its benefits are limited.
The 1.5-liter diesel engine developing 113hp and 250Nm torque, mated to a 6-speed manual or 6-speed torque converter automatic. Power delivery is smooth and adequate for regular driving but quick acceleration requires working the gearbox. Claimed efficiency is 16.5kmpl for manual and 16.2kmpl for AT. The motor isn’t very responsive at low RPMs but performance gets better once turbo lag is overcome. The slick-shifting manual is nice but the automatic makes everyday driving effortless.
The higher end petrol engine with 140hp and 242Nm delivers power smoothly and impressively right from the start. Its sportier character comes to life beyond 1,600rpm, making it enjoyable to occasionally push the engine a bit harder. However, the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission in the Carens seems to have muted responses compared to the same engine-transmission pair in the Seltos, particularly noticeable in its slower kickdown. A firm press on the accelerator leads to a brief delay before the transmission shifts. While Sport mode provides some improvement, the responsiveness isn’t as sharp as in the Seltos.
Ride and Handling
Underpinned by a rigid platform, the Carens strikes a good balance between ride and handling. The suspension silently absorbs road imperfections while high-speed stability is also commendable. The steering weighs up well at highway speeds but lacks feedback. Braking performance with discs at front and rear is also strong. Body roll is controlled thanks to the firmer suspension setup. Overall, the Carens offers better dynamics than your average 7-seater SUV.
Price and Verdict
The Kia Carens is priced from Rs. 10.45 lakh to Rs. 19.45 lakh, ex-showroom. This makes it decent value considering the features, performance and brand appeal. While the top-spec variants get quite expensive, lower trims also pack in sufficient equipment. Buyers looking for a stylish, feature-loaded 7-seater SUV will find the Carens compelling. However, its focus is more on style and features rather than off-roading capability for which the Safari may be better suited.