Say you are in the market looking for a 7-seater in vicinity of the INR 15Lakh price bracket. Do you want something upmarket? You have the XL6. Looking for something cheaper? Ertiga has got your back. But that’s about where your options end. The Innova? That’s a price bracket upwards. The Alcazar? Well, same thing.
What if you are looking for a car that is just not all that….”Maruti Suzuki” and gets features genuinely necessary in 2022?
Kia India set out to satiate this thirst for you with their second 7-seat offering called the “Carens”.
Why this name, you might ask? Well, it is just the confluence of the two words “Car” and “Renaissance”, as Kia calls it to be. Millennials take note, do not pronounce it as “Karen-s”; it’s called “Car-ens”.
So, welcome to a very extensive, and the last review you’ll ever need, of the Kia Carens.
No need to wander much, Kia’s attempt to create a renaissance is vividly prominent at the front. One glance and a striking front end is observed. You are greeted to a black-clad headlight setup, with a DRL strip placed elegantly over the tri-sectioned LED lamps. Gone is the tiger nose grill between those lights, and gone is the entire grille between the lights!
The black plastic cladding continues in between the light complexes but this time in a straight block expanding out at the end with a chrome strip running all through the middle of it. Fear not, the middle plastic design is not bland either; it gets some pyramidal ridges making it look ‘cool’, for the lack of a better word. This design gives it a subtle EV-like look at a glance (Incidentally I have, in fact, met someone who asked, naively, “Is that an EV?”).
You look slightly lower and you see the big, five-sided grille for airflow with a chrome lining inside it. Ah yes, good old splatter of chrome; it is a Kia, you just know it’s bound to have loads of it! Below that, there is not much to see, just some more black-cladding to finish off a rather striking and arguably likable front end. Of course designs are subjective, but this could surely make you look back at your car after you’ve parked it.
The Carens gets a ton of blacked out elements all around, but this very fact warrants a lighter body colour for the sake of the contrast. Darker colours such as red or blue would not make you appreciate an otherwise polarising design.
Moving to the side, the first thing that you instantly realise is the humongous-ness of the Carens, or rather, its lack thereof. If not for the 3rd row glass, the car really doesn’t give off any 7-seater vibe at all. It doesn’t look tall and has a rather normal MPV-like stance overall. Fun fact, Kia themselves don’t call this an SUV; rather this is meant to be a Recreational Vehicle (RV). Not your American motorhome types, just smaller. The height of the car is not something to despise of, even the length is acceptable. Overall, it will surely not scare away your fellow road-goers while making it easy for the driver to manoeuvre through tight spaces.
The Carens gets some dapper 16 inchers of chrome-black alloy sets, which do look considerably better than the Alcazar’s. The wheel arches are cladded with once again the black coloured garnishes, and these just make the car look modern and a lot less bland. Speaking of garnishes, the door handles are complete in chrome, but keep in mind the passenger side door handle doesn’t get a request sensor. Lower down, the black body cladding continues which now houses a chrome strip that runs the length of the two doors combined on top of said cladding. A lot of play with garnishes has been done by Kia, full marks for that. The A, B and C pillars get blacked out trims but the D pillar gets a touch of chrome.
Overall, the side looks very modern and doesn’t give off the essence of a car capable of moving seven people.
Moving on, the rear has a relatively more pragmatic design. A full led tail lamp setup gets connected by a red fake light strip in the middle. The lights are in fact following a design language of slotted bars, which does give the rear an upmarket and appreciable feel. The “Carens” badging is placed on the lower left corner with the KIA logo in the middle. Based on the model, either “Auto” or “7DCT” gets placed on the lower right.
Moving slightly lower down, there’s the obvious presence of some more chrome bits here and there, with one such strip running over the rear bumper and making a fake exhaust-ish shape over the rear hazard reflectors. A very good attention to detail is Kia has even put the same pyramidal design from the front on this chrome lining at the rear. The black cladding is also present on the rear bumper with two sensors for rear parking.
As for the other basic things there is a shark fin antenna on top with a rear wiper as well; usual things you’d expect from a car of this stature. Overall, the rear seems to have its design a lot more settled than in the front, which is definitely a huge plus from us.
Okay then, what’s it like on the inside?
Climbing inside the typically Korean-sounding doors (now you might ask what a Korean typical sound is? It’s just a mediocre thud, not of the order of the Germans, but no flimsy slouch either), you are greeted to a lush dual tone environment that gives you that feel of luxury inside the cabin. Sitting in the front seat, the first thing you notice is the amount of light it lets inside the cabin. Open up the sunroof and you have to yourself a very welcoming area. One major nit-pick we would make right away, is the lack of a panoramic sunroof, the absence of which is sorely disappointing in the Kia Carens.
Ceiling windows aside, the slim a pillar makes sure you have no blind spots while driving, and in fact you are seated in a very commanding position in itself. Interior fit and finish is absolutely spot on, although of course not at German levels, but good enough for what you get from these Koreans. You might be surprised here, but the cabin seemed better put together than even the Alcazar!
The steering wheel here might feel a bit small to some people’s liking, but it doesn’t take long to get used to it. With adjustments both in form of reach and rake, the flat bottom steering wheel also gives the Carens a nice little “feel-good” factor. Although I must point out, getting used to the flat bottom could be a slight faff if you’ve never used one before and you have a tendency of using more of the lower sections of the steering. The quality of the steering wheel is absolutely top notch. You have paddle shifters right behind the wheel which feel good enough for the price, as do the stalks beyond them.
The driver’s seat is just a place you’d love to be in while driving. The seats are incredibly comfortable and give you that sense of grip on your bum that one always wants (Please do not take it otherwise). The front seats cushion you just the right way; not too hard, not too soft. Not the best out there of course, but the best in the segment for sure. Cherry on top, the front seats even get a ventilated function, a must have in India’s current climate. You do have perforated leather for all the seats in the car, but only the front ones serve the purpose as the rows behind do not get any ventilation.
What is the tech like in the Kia Carens?
Coming to the driver’s display, we would say it’s kind of a let-down. It is well laid out with all necessary details, but the fact that it is fully digital does not suffice well when you are getting something that has almost zero customisability. Might as well stick to analogue dials then, if that’s the case. The only change you can do to the display up front is switching between a handful of colour options for the dials lines. That is all. Yes, that’s all. This just makes the drivers display a gimmick more than an actual display that serves its purpose.
Moving slightly to the left, the infotainment system is nothing to be excited about either. The 10.25inch display is not the slickest and smoothest out there but it just gets the job done. Brightness could be slightly more, and we wish our hands weren’t oily as much since the screen is also a huge fingerprint magnet. Not a deal breaker, but it could have been appreciated.
Also something to point out is the positioning of the screen. It is positioned rather centrally; which is fine, but from a drivers perspective, you will be left with a yearning sense of having it slightly closer and tilted towards you rather being tilted in the upwards manner as it is. Again, not a deal breaker, but would have been appreciated.
It is not all bad though, as this infotainment system gets an absolute ton of swanky tech. You get the option to create different user profiles in different languages even. Kia has fitted the Carens with a swathe of “Kia Connect” connected car features, all customisable from the infotainment system. The user friendliness and stacking of features in the central display grants it an easy 8/10, only quips being Kia could have put a bit more thought into the positioning and responsiveness of the screen.
The Kia Carens doesn’t have driver’s display customisation options, but believe it or not, the company has made sure to put 64 different colour options to the ambient lighting system. I just fathom at times, what makes these multinational companies with the smartest brains out there, churn out these strategies.
Got it, it’s a hit and miss. What about the rest of ergonomics?
The centre console is built like it is to last. There are physical (although capacitive) buttons galore all the way, for which Kia gets a full on thumbs up from us. There is a wireless charger with a function to cool your phone while charging! The gear lever is also of a considerably good quality, and the DCT shifter even gives you a good feedback when you slot it into the P-R-N-D’s. You also get a couple of cup holders on the centre console along with an arm rest, while protruding in the middle is the physical hand brake lever.
The dashboard has a veneer piano black finish with intricate design elements on it, giving you that Rolls Royce-like feel on a budget. Damn, there is even a Porsche-like passenger side cup holder on the dashboard! A dual zone climate control is missed here, but it is acceptable for the price of course. You have a Bose sound system equipped but it is “Bose” by just name, not by quality; could have been slightly better.
On the right, the window control switches are of very good quality, absolutely no complaints there. As for storage space, it is aplenty. Apart from a comfortable space to keep a 1 litre bottle, the door pockets are big enough to accommodate another smaller sized bottle and still have space for other stuff.
Now, let’s shed some light on one of the greatest gimmicks in the automotive industry: Nature Themes. So what that basically does, is that one can select certain nature themes (say, a rainy or windy weather) and the car will play such sounds from the music system. I do not know who will put to use of this trick, but well, it is there! Just to remind you: there is still no driver’s display customisation.
Overall, the front side setup of the interior gets a respectable 9/10, solely because of the price bracket it is catering to.
Seems convincing. Middle Row?
Jumping into the middle row, it is a mixed bag in here. We had the captain seat variant on review, but the Carens is also available with bench seats for a seating of 3 in the second row. Let me start with the positives: the car gets a small sunroof to let a good amount of light in.
The roof has mounted AC vents (not just blowers) to keep you cool, especially helpful in the absence of ventilated seats. There is a control knob on the centre console but that only lets you change the fan speed of the rear vents. Quality is decent and just gets the job done. The left rear seat also gets an airplane style tray, which does come in very handy more often than not. But on the right side, you have a “smart air purifier” fit behind the driver’s seat, although again not sure how much of it is really effective in cars; it’s no Tesla’s “Biohazard mode” after all.
Unfortunately, that’s about where the goodies end. The sunroof: Kia has, for some reason, cheaped out on one of the most important things Indians now love in their cars. Then Kia themselves know that Carens as a car will cater to a major section of owners who will spend most of their time in the back seats only, and still, they managed to NOT put ventilated seats at the rear. Once again Kia’s feature selection baffles me.
Speaking of seats, oh boy. Call me generous, but seat comfort is blatantly average. Some might even consider it non-existent! You sit on them and you expect them to have a certain degree of comfort but the rear seats are nowhere near what you might expect from it. They are a lot stiffer to my liking and could leave you wishing for a softer bum support. Being a chair seat, it is also smaller than what you’d expect, but you do have the luxury of having an armrest. Credit where it’s due, the armrests are in fact, fairly comfortable.
Long drives could be a “pain in the ass”, literally. Hauling long distances is definitely not something to look up to in the Carens. Although normal city commute can be a breeze, but you’ll still have that yearning sense of a slightly softer chair. Kia should definitely fix this in the upcoming iteration of the Carens by giving slightly bigger seats with better bolstering and a significantly softer seat for that matter.
Oh boy. It’s that bad?
It is not “bad”, per se. But comfort could have been a LOT better. Basically it just gets the job done.
Anything good at the back then?
Of course there are many! Headroom is plenty for almost anyone and the large windows give you ample view outside. Windows have sunshades pre-fitted, and make the cabin look elegantly airy. A nice touch by Kia is a little space on the doors to keep your phone right below the door arm rest, an intelligent utilisation of space. The rear seats have a good amount of reclination, and there is absolute acres of leg room and knee room. Again, credit where it’s due.
Lower down, there are two USB type-c charging ports for your electronic devices; a good effort at future proofing the car. Overall, the second row is not the place you’d particularly love to be, yet it just gets the job done.
It’s an interesting proposition, then. Third Row?
Coming to the Carens’ USP; one of the things the brand is banking a significant number of its sales on: the third row seats. Having had a below average experience in the seats in front, I had low expectations from the 3rd row. But, I was in fact surprised at Kia’s attempt at making it usable, and in a good way!
Yes, not affirming that the seats are more comfortable than the ones in the middle row. They are basically the same, if not slightly stiffer. Looking back from the front might give you a claustrophobic feel but use the one-touch tumble function of the 2nd row of seats to get behind and you are greeted to a surprisingly spacious bench seating configuration. That said, knee room is plenty but there is not at all any room to stretch your legs out front. Headroom is no slouch either, me being 5’11” could sit up straight very well. The only scenario where you might have some concerns in the 3rd row is if in front of you, your grandma suddenly decides to sit with as much leg room earthly possible, you’re left with next to no knee and leg room. Even then it is suitable for a child!
Jokes apart, with any average adult male sitting in the second row, you will also have an average knee room at the back. But realistically, those seats cold be of very good use to kids, 2 at best. You have USB type-c charging sockets and cup holders on either sides so that the kids don’t bother you. Roof mounted AC vents, reading lights and adjustable headrests make it all the more likeable. All in all, the third row is a very respectable 7.5/10 for Kia’s effort to make it as usable as possible.
Boot space is of a normal standard as in a 7 seater MPV (ahem pardon, Kia calls it an RV). Practically, the boot can accommodate 2 average sized suitcases with enough space to keep a few more backpacks on top as well. In fact, all of this with the third row folded up! Needless to say, boot space utilisation is top notch in the Kia Carens, and deserves a very special mention.
It’s a Kia. How safe am I in the Carens?
When you’re talking about safety measures, neither of the Korean siblings come to your mind at first. In fact, Kia and Hyundai has particularly had a bad reputation for safety, with body structures being deemed “unstable”. But this time around, Kia has tried its hand in fixing said reputation with the Carens. It gets what the brand calls a “Robust 10 Hi-Safety Package”, an array of features standard across all variants. This feature set includes 6 airbags, ESC, BAS, HBC as well as downhill brake control. The Carens gets disc brakes on all four wheels with tire pressure monitoring. Reverse parking camera is present with proximity sensors all around the car, although as mentioned, a 360-degree camera is a sure miss.
That said, the crash test results of the Carens do paint out a very gloomy picture. On paper one might assume with all that safety tech at hand, the Carens should have performed respectably well. But alas, it is again a disappointment. Global NCAP results for the Kia Carens come up with a concerning 3-Star rating for both adult and child occupant protection. With all of above features being as standard, mind you. Add to that, the structure of the Carens was AGAIN rated as unstable and unable to withstand further load. You can read more about that here.
Now, whether Kia understands the necessity of a safe mass-market car is not known, but as a consumer, you must be make sure you are getting a car that can provide you and your loved ones as much protection as possible.
Alright, enough about the interior. How does driving the Kia Carens feel like?
Now, coming to the part where a rather smaller section of Carens owners will be in: the driver’s seat. We drove both the diesel 6-speed automatic and the Petrol 7 speed DCT, but let’s talk about the steering feel first.
As mentioned, the Carens gets a slightly smaller steering for a car of its size, and if you are all fine with small steering wheels, it gives you the feeling that you have good control over the car’s dynamics. You chuck the steering a bit into any direction, the car points its nose there immediately. I am all up the small steering bandwagon, never thought I’d be saying this but yes! The steering is light as well, but weighs up evenly and nicely as you speed up. The seat even puts you at a tall enough seating position which makes manoeuvring the car all the more of a breeze.
Now to driving: first up, the automatic diesel.
The diesel auto isn’t the punchiest of powertrains in its class but in urban conditions where it isn’t under pressure, the engine is extremely smooth and efficient. Do take note, that this 6 speed gearbox is the only option that Kia has to offer in the Carens in the diesel automatic family. Although it lacks that mid and top range grunt, it should definitely be one of the choices on the book. The gearshifts are absolutely not unpleasant. In comparison to the Alcazar, the Hyundai-born’s gearbox had a ton of lag but surprisingly enough, the Carens has done away with most of it.
Then, the petrol DCT.
Putting the gear stalk to D, press the accelerator and you slowly creep off the line. Not to say laggy, but the gradual growth of power keeps the car as comfort oriented as possible. Just like the diesel, the engine is fairly refined and smooth and doesn’t make unnecessary noise when you put that foot down. Do expect the Carens to pull you back to your seat every time you press the gas, it just won’t. But put your hands on the gorgeous steering wheel and cruise along the road, the car will enjoy the ride as much as you would.
Paddle shifters are present, but unless you particularly want that overtaking prowess from the car, you really wouldn’t bother using them. This powerplant and DCT combo’s response could be slightly quicker, yet you will not find yourself complaining against it all that often. In fact, we would say one of the Carens’ strengths is its behaviour in city traffic. The car takes almost little to no effort to manoeuvre and when you do put that foot down, albeit a slight laziness, the 1.4L turbo petrol will get you to your wished speeds in just a bit.
Kia has given the Carens three different drive modes, and the steering calibrates according to that. Most notably, Sport Mode gets the steering to weigh up a lot earlier than it does normally and just gives you that marginally better feedback from the road. Kia claims the Carens to have best in class braking, and they haven’t disappointed in that regard. It is nothing special, but not too bad either.
That said, we would certainly reiterate that the car is capable of handling better numbers and the fact that you get only an 115BHP naturally aspirated engine option when the competition is offering up to 200BHP for the petrol variant is something that might keep the petrolheads a quarter mile away from either of the Korean showrooms.
Needless to say, if chosen among whether the diesel or the petrol in the automatic range, the Diesel would any day be our pick because of that low end pull with 115BHP and 250Nm of torque. But if you are looking for some turbo power, you can bank on the 1.4 T-GDi petrol and its 140BHP and 242Nm output mated to the DCT with closed eyes.
Not too shabby! Finally, what about ride comfort?
The ride and handling setup is quite user friendly which is typical for a family vehicle. During our drive on the highway, we got to push the car at good speeds on the curves and boy there was absolutely no moment of nervousness even at ambitious speeds. What we really liked is that the car resists any kind of drama when it is being pushed at high speeds or on sharp curves. A strong reason in this favour is the relatively lower centre of gravity and the not-so-tall body design.
Talking of the suspension, Kia has done a decent job in tuning its springs. Road noise is almost zero as you only get the slight hum of the 4-pot engine while driving. The suspension does iron out most of the jittery surfaces, but do not expect much from dealing with potholes. That said, it’s not like you do not feel any of the road imperfections; a slightly softer suspension could in fact have been better. Again, it just gets the job done for a car that costs south of 10Lakhs. Carens gets a set 16inch wheels as an option, and in the end you’d be glad that they are not any larger for the sake of road comfort.
Oof, that is a lot of words! So, in summary: should you go for the Kia Carens, or not?
To answer this question, ask yourself another question. Do you need a 7 seater that is modern and feature-laden, around INR 15Lakh? If yes, without much contemplation, go for the Carens. At this price bracket, the most you get is the XL6, which Maruti doesn’t refresh with features at all, for some reason.
Almost every carmaker in India today is busy making SUVs because most of us want one. Hence, new segments and sub-segments are being explored by all vehicle makers in India but one company that has managed to turn heads this year is Kia, which is very particular that the Carens is a recreational vehicle and not an SUV making it another segment in the Indian automotive industry. The Kia Carens has the right proportion of things that the Indian consumer has been long wanting for! Just like at the time of Seltos, Kia has done a lot of homework before launching a car in India and that’s very evident here.
Smaller things like one touch operation for the seat, ventilated front seats and a massive dealer-service network compared to any other new manufacturer are some of the things that strongly indicate that the ball is in Kia’s court this time. Because, in India for a car to sell well, the dealer service network is as good as the car itself. If that’s not enough the extensive 8 colour palette could be an icing on the cake to take this RV home.
We really appreciate Kia for taking the feedback on the safety concerns seriously and offering 6 airbags as standard across this car, however, Kia hasn’t done enough to make it really safe. Airbag count doesn’t mean much if the structure becomes unstable in a frontal collision. Safety should be high up the list for anyone looking for a people mover, and Kia doesn’t particularly shine here. But what are your choices then? The other cars in the segment really aren’t any better. The Suzuki’s are worse in safety, and if you need better protection, you have to shell out a lot more money and go for XUV700 or the Innova.
With that said, should you buy the Kia Carens? If most of your travelling time is to be urban commute, the Carens is good enough in terms of comfort but very good in terms of its feature-set. Then, if the 3rd row is your priority, look no further. If you wish to drive the Carens more often that be chauffeured in, you might have a look into the XUV700 or the Innova, but the Kia is not too bad for the price either (the latter two are a lot more expensive as well). If you are fine with it having sub-par safety (although you absolutely shouldn’t be), Carens should be the overall package to go for here.
The price bracket which the Carens dwells in is basically populated just by it and the Suzuki’s. And the Kia Carens is a better car in every possible way!
So, our verdict is simple. If the Carens is a car that ticks all your boxes, go for it and you shall not be disappointed (except for the safety part, again)!