Kia Carens - return of the people-mover

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The Kia Caren, a station wagon that's also the cheapest seven-seater on the market. Photos supplied

A decade  or two ago, people-movers were all the fashion; for family-minded flexibility, we just could not go past vehicles like the Mitsubishi Chariot, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Previa.

Nowadays, thanks to the switch to SUVs, they are rarely seen as new vehicles.

So for Kia to add the Carens - a vehicle that by virtue of its tall shape and flexible and elevated three-row, seven-seater layout seems totally textbook MPV - into the mix is an intriguing move. Is this still what we want?

Well, Kia New Zealand contends the Carens can work, not as what it is but as what the company views it to be: a station wagon that is also the cheapest seven-seater on the market.

Kia NZ boss Todd McDonald says the Carens will be helped by its strong styling similarity to the Cerato. It is mechanically identical to the flagship four-door too, and is trimmed about the same level as the mid-range sedan.

The cabin is handily dimensioned for wagon-style duties. Capacity rises from 492 litres with the third-row seats down to 1650 litres with the second row also dropped, and more than 2000 with the front passenger seat folded flat.

Of course, that is load volume, and not necessarily reflective of how much weight it can cope with.

Kia has not supplied maximum capacity and I would be finding out more about that before laying down really heavy items on a floor that largely comprises folded-down, thin seatbacks. As is, the ''floor'' presents a slightly uneven expanse with some gaps through which small items might fall.

Regardless of how it copes with house-moving duty, there is an obvious MPV-ish bent for getting people from A to B. The front seats and the 35:30:35 split middle row, which slides, are better suited to adults than the 50:50 rear row, but all in all it will cope better with seven people than an orthodox station wagon with the same seat count.

What weakens the station-wagon story is the handling. While it has a resolute feel, the dynamics are certainly not wholly car-like, for the simple reason that it is taller, heavier and relatively softly sprung: Just par for the MPV course, really.

The engine delivers maximum power at 4700rpm so demands to be revved, a trait that might not be quite in line for a vehicle such as this. Those wanting more muscle produced at fewer revs can think about the special-order only 100kW/320Nm 1.7 turbo-diesel, though it will cost over $40,000.

Kia NZ provisions the Carens with alloys, remote central locking, air-conditioning, power windows, cruise control, trip computer, tilt-telescopic steering, six-speaker audio with MP3/CD player, Bluetooth with media streaming and steering wheel-mounted controls, folding heated wing mirrors, rear parking beepers and a luggage screen. The navigation option offered overseas does not reach here.


Kia Carens - return of the people-mover
At a Glance


Price: $37,990

Engine: 1999cc four-cylinder petrol, maximum power 122kW@6500rpm, maximum torque 213Nm@4700rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, ABS, BAS, EBD, ESP

Wheels, tyres: 225/45 R17

Fuel and economy: 7.9 litres per 100km, capacity 58 litres

Dimensions: Length 4525mm, width 1805mm, height 1610mm