Following the best-selling Seltos and Sonet crossover SUVs, the Kia Carens seemed like a great addition to the line-up when it was announced in 2022. With tremendously competitive pricing, Kia equipped the MPV with a range of engine and gearbox options, well-executed design, and of course, a comfort and practicality-focussed cabin. In order to keep the Carens up to date, earlier this year Kia introduced a new 160 bhp turbo-petrol engine for the Carens, ensuring that even the slightly performance-focussed buyer doesn’t need to settle for less. With prices starting at about ₹12 lakh, ex-showroom, it already looks like a strong contender for the family car of choice; we took it for a drive to understand if it actually is one.

Declared the Indian Car Of The Year last year (among other awards), it’s clear that the Carens had got the seal of approval from top automotive media, including this newspaper. And with more than 1 lakh units sold, the market has responded to it equally well, too. Priced between ₹10.45 lakh and ₹19.45 lakh (ex-showroom), it appeals to a wide variety of customers: from those looking for a seven-seat MPV to buyers after a more family-focussed alternative to the usual array of compact SUVs. The Kia’s rivals include cars like the Maruti Suzuki Ertiga and its better-equipped, six-seat version, the XL6, since the Carens can also be specced with either six or seven seats. Engine options include a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol (with a manual gearbox only), a 1.5-litre diesel (with both clutchless manual and automatic options available), and the new 160 bhp, 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol, which is available with a choice between a clutchless manual and a dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

With a 20 bhp and 10+ Nm advantage over the previous engine (a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol), it’s a step up in terms of power for the Carens

With a 20 bhp and 10+ Nm advantage over the previous engine (a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol), it’s a step up in terms of power for the Carens

Good fuel economy

The new engine definitely adds momentum to the Carens’ already decent pace. With a 20 bhp and 10+ Nm advantage over the previous engine (a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol), it’s a step up in terms of power. While some enthusiasts might not be too pleased with the absence of a manual gearbox, the choice between a six-speed clutchless manual and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is likely to cover the needs of a modern MPV buyer. The icing on this cake is a claimed fuel economy of 16.8 km/l, which is a testament to how turbocharging yields not only greater power benefits but fuel economy, too.

Comfy interiors

The Carens isn’t just about the engine; it’s a widely-appreciated MPV and that continues pretty much unchanged. Its design isn’t a work of art, but even with its long fuselage, it looks attractive. It’s far from dull, certainly, and the presence of LED headlights, a large grille up front, and 16-inch alloy wheels makes it more than presentable. The interior, on the other hand, is where one can see how some extra effort has been made to keep comfort on top. The airy cabin provides versatile seating, and the second row folds easily to enable access to the third row. Both of these can obviously be folded to maximise the car’s luggage-carrying capacity. For times when the Carens will be used to ferry passengers and not for shifting house, buyers will be pleased to know that it comes with a comfort-focussed ride. That it can handle a variety of road conditions is a bonus.

The well-appointed cabin scores highly in how it’s put together, and those looking for features will like it, too. There’s a large panoramic sunroof, which makes the cabin appear more special than in other MPVs. Bits like a large 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Bose speakers, a wireless charging pad and so on are now commonplace in some other cars, but not necessarily in this segment, and the Carens deserves a pat on its back for these. Like the XL6, the Carens also has ventilated front seats, which is a welcome inclusion. The safety aspect hasn’t been overlooked, either, with six airbags being offered, in addition to active safety features like traction control, stability control and ABS with EBD. Unfortunately (like the Ertiga), the Carens scored only three stars at the Global NCAP crash tests in 2022.

The Carens doesn’t revolutionise anything, but with its new 160 bhp petrol engine, it definitely has an advantage in the MPV segment. It rides well, has an upmarket interior, and we are glad to report that the crucial feel-good factor (a little rare in cars in this segment) is quite possibly the highest in the Carens. Kia has designed the model line-up to suit nearly every buyer’s pocket, and to appeal to a younger crowd, there’s also a matte-paint version called the X-Line available.

In terms of its sales numbers, at around 5,000 units every month, it’s a strong performer. It outsells the XL6, although it’s nowhere close to the Ertiga. Where the Carens excels is the manner in which it feels like a well-specced car. With the added push (literally) from its new turbo-petrol engine, it drives like one, too.

© Motoring World