Kia (and that other Korean brand) has over the past few years borne witness to several disastrous styling attempts, but it seems the design work is finally starting to filter through the range.
The all-new Carens' styling is refreshing, with clean lines and chunky detailing throughout.
The oversized headlamps and chrome-finished grille present a front that is rather imposing. At the rear, the neatly stacked light cluster and slightly concave tailgate area have a slimming effect, and the car, on the inside feels a lot larger than what its exterior proportions would suggest.
Overall, Carens is just over 4.5 m long and 1.8 m wide. But you'd never tell from the outside. The cabin feels huge, and leg- and elbow room is unlikely to be questioned.
Admittedly, there is nothing mind-blowing about the available luggage space when the third row of seats is in use, but this won't make too big a difference on short trips spent ferrying the munchkins about.
The second row of seats has a 60/40 split, and seats can be slid forwards and backwards and reclined for greater comfort and legroom. The third row is split 50/50. All seats in the rear passenger compartment also fold forward for a flat luggage area.
Only one powerplant - a 2.0-litre petrol unit - is being offered. The motor is equipped with CVVT technology and produces 106 kW at 6 000 r/min and 189 Nm of torque at 4 240 r/min.
The petrol unit is mated with a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual gearbox. The automatic is quietly efficient around town and you'll barely even notice it's only a four speed when shuttling about town or in the suburbs.
Should the driver feel the need to control his or her own shifts, this can be done by switching to manual mode, but the automatic is rather capable when left to its own devices, too.
The ride quality is good with the McPherson strut and multi-link rear suspension arrangement ensuring passengers are unlikely to be bounced about. It feels very solid, even on the bumpy bits. But while the 2.0-litre unit does bellow when being hurried, the cabin remains relatively quiet throughout.
There's one trim level, but this ensures the standard specification list is very comprehensive. This includes a high-mounted third brake light, underfloor luggage box, seat pockets for the passengers in the rear, and two rows of back seats that can be reconfigured into a host of different styles.
Convenience features include an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, climate control, power windows and side mirrors all round, power steering with tilt adjustment and remote keyless entry.
With regards to occupant safety, the Carens received a four-star Euro NCAP rating, and in South Africa is equipped with ABS, EBD and ESP, six airbags, six three-point seat belts and rear park distance control.
It is a pity that the fabulous 2.0 CRDi powerplant will not be made available in South Africa - for now, at least. Kia has stated that the pricing of the turbodiesel presents the biggest problem at the moment, though it is definitely planned for local introduction at some stage. On Carens' international launch late last year, I found the turbodiesel unit to be particularly sprightly.
There are several options available to buyers in this segment of the market these days, with the traditional standing of Renault's Scenic being challenged by the Mazda5, Toyota's Corolla Verso and the Volkswagen Touran.
But the Kia presents a serious challenge too. With prices of R209 995 (manual) and R219 995 (automatic) and the added value of Kia's 10-year/150 000 km factory warranty and a four-year/75 000 km full maintenance plan, the compact MPV segment could well experience a shake-up.
Service intervals for new Carens is at 15 000 km.