Kia India is set to introduce its fourth product in the market – the Carens – which the company has described as a 6-7 seat ‘recreational vehicle’. The Carens is based on the popular Seltos SUV and aims to redefine the people-mover segment with a premium offering and one that comes with a barrage of powertrain options.
In terms of styling, the Carens adopts a modern design philosophy, albeit with a rather unconventional-looking front end that appears like that of an EV with its sleek, gloss-black grille and the split-headlamp design. While a pair of LED DRLs form the light signature on the upper part, there’s a larger light cluster below to function as the main beam.
The Carens comes with large, 16-inch alloy wheels that adequately fill the body-cladded wheel arches. The side profile looks elongated and the Carens gets a wheelbase of 2,780mm, 160mm longer than the Seltos. There are flush-fitting roof rails and a chrome strip that embellishes the window line.
The rear profile features a pair of wraparound LED tail lamps connected by a slim reflector bar. However, the bold Kia logo sits in the centre of an inset portion on the boot lid, that looks radically-styled as well with a number of cuts and creases. The rear bumper is purposefully finished in black and gets a chunky chrome embellishment that rounds off the look.
On the inside, the Carens has a premium feel with its dual-tone, black-and-beige colour theme for the cabin and perforated leatherette seats. The layered dashboard with its brushed aluminium highlights, textured elements in front of the co-passenger’s seat, a sleek and perpetual AC vent design, as well as ambient lighting look pleasing to the eye.
The large, 10.25-inch touchscreen is the centre piece of attraction and its tilted placement towards the front windscreen also makes operation a smooth affair. The flat-bottomed steering wheel gets leather finishing, and the digital instrument cluster with its large fonts and ambient lighting is easy to comprehend.
Kia also offers paddle shifters on the automatic variants of the Carens, which also gets a Bose audio setup, but misses out on a panoramic sunroof, for the placement of rear AC vents in the roof. The middle-row seats in the six-seat version come with two captain chairs, with the one behind the front co-passenger getting a foldable tray table. The other one gets a cabin air purifier mounted behind the driver’s seat. The second row also gets two charging ports, AC-blower controls as well as sun blinds on the windows for enhanced comfort.
It is the third row that differentiates the Carens from its SUV sibling and with the longest wheelbase in its segment, it is betting big on space. Ingress and egress is quite effortless, courtesy the one-touch tumble second-row seats and the last-row seats are meant for two occupants to spend considerable time in reasonable comfort.
With all three rows up, the Carens can still take a weekend’s luggage in its boot, but the real space for anything longer and airport runs is only liberated once the third-row seats are folded flat.
Like other Kias, the Carens is sticking true to the company’s strategy of introducing multiple drivetrain options within the segment and spoiling customers for choice. It gets three powerplants, including two petrol and one diesel engine. The 115hp, 1.5-litre, naturally-aspirated petrol mill will supposedly power the entry-level variants of the Carens, and therefore, is only offered with a sole 6-speed manual transmission.
The 1.5-litre diesel, on the other hand, is offered with a 6-speed manual as well as a 6-speed torque-convertor automatic transmission. This diesel engine is one of the most refined powerplants in the Indian market and gets generous dose of noise-deadening material under the hood.
While the engine develops 115hp, it suffers excessive turbo-lag below 2,000rpm. The acceleration is linear too, which makes progress feel sluggish on the Carens. However, the 6MT is smooth shifting, and gets a light clutch action as well, but despite its 6AT torque-convertor unit in the automatic variant, the engine continues to fight turbo lag in the lower rev band.
The issue gets slightly resolved by switching into the ‘Sport’ mode, but one can tell the extra effort being put by this relatively small engine. Having said that, the mid-range power is relatively strong and overtaking manoeuvres on the highway wouldn’t warrant downshifting on every occasion.
Having said that, it is the 140hp, 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-petrol engine that makes the Carens feel sprightly and fun. The engine, for one, is lighter than the diesel, and with its abundance of power right from the get go, there is a sudden transformation in the Carens’ appeal. The 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox is quick shifting and the Carens is ready to leap forward in every gear. One can also toggle between the gears using the paddle shifters behind the wheel and there is ample performance throughout the rev range.
Irrespective of the drivetrain, the Carens really comes shining through with its comfort-oriented suspension, which absorbs big bumps and potholes at low- and high-speeds to offer a mature ride quality that would impress family buyers. The handling is not the most impressive, brakes are a little too spongy despite discs on all four corners, and there is perceptible body roll as well, but these can be forgiven considering the Carens’ big and tall footprint. Drivers, however, will appreciate the small turning radius of the Carens that makes city driving a breeze.
Though it’s based on the Seltos which scored three stars in Global NCAP’s crash test procedure, Kia has added a sense of reassurance by offering six standard airbags and ESC in the Carens. There are all-four-disc brakes, and front and reverse parking sensors as well. However, a 360-degree camera is absent from an otherwise feature-rich package.
In a nutshell, the Carens is a strong contender from Kia in the booming six- and seven-seat utility vehicle category in India’s PV market where on one end, Maruti’s Ertiga and XL6 are the reigning champions for value-conscious customers, while options like the MG Hector Plus, Mahindra XUV700 and Hyundai Alcazar take the game to the next level with modern features in their propositions. Kia’s latest should carve its space somewhere in between and appeal to discerning buyers.