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Extreme makeover for Kia Carens

2006-09-01 15:37

The new face-lifted Kia Carens.

John Oxley

Yes, the Carens has had a big makeover - in fact a complete re-design, with new engines, a new chassis, and a new interior.

But the most important factor that's been applied is the European Research and Development Centre in Russelsheim, near Frankfurt, Germany, where Kias are transformed to meet European standards and customer requirements.

The result, as noted straight away on the Carens, is that this new car FEELS European when it comes to ride, handling and interior noise refinement.

What's more it's now more spacious than its predecessors, and seems set to compete against well-established competitors such as the Toyota Verso, Opel Zafira and VW Touran.

All of these bode well for the car's launch in South Africa in early 2007, for most South Africans prefer cars which are sourced in Europe or which perform like European models.

There are two main engine options available - a 2-litre 16-valve petrol with variable valve timing, producing 106 kW, and a 2-litre common rail turbo-diesel producing almost the same power - 103 kW - but with the advantage of massive torque, coupled with superb fuel economy.


Both give the Carens good performance, with top speeds around the 190 km/h mark on all versions, coupled with good acceleration for this class of vehicle.

Indeed, testing the cars on the autobahn near Hamburg we managed to hit 205 km/h indicated, and that was in the automatic transmission version of the turbo-diesel. The car felt smooth and stress-free, and sat really solidly onto the tarmac, with no tendency to wander despite a very strong crosswind which was making the region's wind power generators turn like a Dak's propellers.

A little over 4.5 metres long, the new Carens features unique styling for the European market and offers seating for up to seven people.

A bigger and better model than the previous version, it embodies vastly improved quality, enhanced functionality and stronger styling with a bolder presence.

Longer, wider and taller than its predecessor, the latest Carens does not share a single panel with the old model and presents an all-new, thoroughly modern appearance - outside and inside the vehicle.

As far as styling goes the car has ?European-specific? frontal styling with a twin-chrome-bar grille, lower centre air-intake and front bumper with inset air-intakes or fog lamps.

Making best use of the wider cabin, which also has a lower floor and higher roof, the seven seats accommodate drivers and passengers of all shapes and sizes.

Tall people

The rear row seats will take two 1.8 metre tall adults in genuine comfort, while the middle and/or rear row seats fold down to create a flat-floored luggage area.

The engines, too, are brand new. The previous Carens came with an old 1.8-litre motor which dated back to the Shuma.

Transversely mounted and driving through the front wheels, the new 2-litre CRDi diesel engine has an electrically actuated advanced variable geometry turbo-charger (VGT) to ensure lively performance and clean emissions that meet Euro4 criteria. Power and torque are 103 kW at 4 000 r/min and 305 Nm from just 1 800 to 2 500 r/min. It's mated to either a 6-speed manual or 4-speed automatic gearbox.

The advanced 2-litre petrol motor makes 106.3 kW at 6 000 r/min with maximum torque of 188.8 Nm at 4 250 r/min. It gets either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed auto.

Of the two we found the diesel to be the most flexible, especially when mated to the auto 'box - which, by the way, features a sequential manual mode.

The high torque gives huge overtaking power on the open road, and on one occasion it was quite satisfying to note that we pulled away from a VW Touran on top end speed.

Ride quality was noteworthy. The fully independent suspension was designed to deliver a supple, comfortable ride on European roads, while the hydraulic power-assisted rack and pinion steering system was crisp and responsive.

Oh, and quite a few times we had to test the brakes. Despite having our lights on, quite a few drivers pulled out in front of us while we were travelling at high speed, but the all-disc braking system coped impeccably.


The interior space is quite remarkable. The new car is only a few cm longer than the old one, but clever packaging, including fitting a new flatter fuel tank (although it's still 60 litres) allows taller people to sit in the rearmost seats.

The quality is super, with no squeaks or rattles and excellent body fit and finish.

The high safety factor. This car includes ABS (with electronic brakeforce distribution AND electronic stability programme (ESP) as well as dual front airbags, front side airbags and full-length curtain airbags.

Leather trim is available, and on the road it's easy to forget you're in a people carrier - the car feels like a medium sized hatchback, but thanks to the long wheelbase, with MUCH better ride qualities. Didn't like:

The trim plastic is quite hard, and to free up space the car now has an American-type foot operated parking brake.

Prices aren't yet finalised, but Kia SA is hoping to land the top diesel automatic at around R190 000, with other models costing commensurately less.


This sector is growing, and with its more macho, almost SUV type styling the Carens for the first time becomes a genuinely strong competitor.

Certainly its pricing is competitive and it's a good performer dynamically.

Inside Wheels24

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