Refrigerators are not merely for keeping the fish fresh anymore. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month (January 2007), there were models that came with, among other things, Internet browsers. Why the inventors think you might want to check e-mails or watch YouTube while getting ice is anybody’s guess, but mixing and matching ideas and appliances is pretty much the name of the game today.
Kia describes its newly arrived Carens as a Crossover Utility Vehicle. It’s unclear what that means precisely, although the Carens’ Sportage-inspired nose seems to suggest that Kia is meshing SUV with MPV to create CUV.
The Singapore car has a slightly different specification from the car we drove in Hamburg, Germany late last year (2006). For one, it has a locally fitted head unit. Sound systems on new cars don’t usually feature large in Torque, but this is one of the first we have come across that offers Bluetooth connectivity. So you can consider the Carens to be an MPV-cum-SUV-cum-communications device. One at a bargain price at that – $63,999 including COE.
Not only can it be used as a hands-free interface for your mobile phone, but the head unit can also play the MP3s stored in the phone. Like with the web-enabled fridge, I don’t know why anybody would want to play the Black Eyed Peas’ My Humps ring tone over the car’s sound system.
On the whole, the Carens seems to have harnessed the best of all worlds. It has the rugged styling of an SUV, but not associated traits like an insatiable appetite for fuel and clumsy dynamics.
When it comes to the driving experience, the Carens is better than most products in the SUV and MPV camps. Underneath it is a modified platform that originated from the Kia Magentis/Hyundai Sonata. The Magentis/Sonata may be only dynamically passable as sedans, but the same level of verve in a crossover sets it apart from the pack.
The suspension setting is firm, without being harsh, and the steering has a nicely meaty and accurate feel. Only the engine lacks some polish. Near-silent at idle, the 2-litre 145hp/189Nm engine is a diligent worker, but it also likes to grumble when stretched. And you can always use more grunt in a heavy seven-seater.
The Carens is actually shorter than the Magentis/Sonata. This contributes to its agility, but it doesn’t help in fulfilling its mission as an MPV.
Even with the generous range of adjustments afforded by the seat rails, seating room for seven is only acceptable. That’s not too bad for its size. Yet, a little more packaging ingenuity would have made this multi-faceted CUV more multi-talented.
Read our 2009 comparison of Kia Carens, Suzuki APV and Proton Exora.