Is the Kia Carens more than just a grown-up Seltos with an extra row of seats? Read to find out!
Is the Kia Carens more than just a grown-up Seltos with an extra row of seats? Read to find out!Shot by Rohit G Mane

2022 Kia Carens First Drive Review: A sensible 7-seater?

The Kia Carens is all set to launch and shake up the 7-seater SUV and MPV segment with a rival to the Hyundai Alcazar, MG Hector Plus and Maruti Suzuki XL6

The 2022 Kia Carens is just around the corner! Much like the Hyundai Alcazar, the fact that Kia was working on a 7-seater version of the Seltos was never in doubt. But when you approach the Carens, it looks and feels nothing like the Seltos. The styling is drastically different. Poke your nose on the inside and the interiors are a sea change as well. And under the skin, the reengineering is significant. This isn’t a Seltos platform with longer overhangs — the wheelbase has been increased and a lot of proper work has gone in to making the Carens its own thing. The driving dynamics are obviously different as well, but before we get to the driving, lets take about the way it looks.

2022 Kia Carens Styling

Let’s start up front and I’d like to say that the Carens is a very distinct looking car. You’ve got sleek looking headlamps, there’s no Tiger nose grille and instead you have something very different — unlike anything we’ve seen on a Kia before. In fact, it almost looks like an EV with the solid face and the actual grille lower down in the bumper — you can see all the cooling addenda behind there. There's also a liberal dose of chrome. And honestly I’m not surprised. Did you see how much chrome Toyota put on the Hilux for India? Chrome helps cars sell and the Carens doesn’t shy away from it.

It does have some SUV-like styling cues. First there's the stance, the bonnet remains quite upright and not sloping forward. You’ve got the black cladding that runs all the way around the car, and it gets roof rails as well. All of this are typical elements that carmakers use when wanting to design an ‘SUV’. In profile, it is actually quite a clean design- not too many cuts and creases. But there is more chrome — this windowpane, the door handles and even this little inlay here gets chrome. There are 16-inch wheels and yes, they do look slightly under-tyred. But you know who doesn’t care about that? The guy sitting on the inside enjoying the brilliant ride quality. When we’re talking about it from this angle — there’s another thing I wanted to talk about — the wheelbase. This is stretched out over the Seltos. And so is the Alcazar and my first assumption was that it shares its wheelbase with the Hyundai. But it doesn’t. It’s 20mm longer, making it the longest in its class — even longer than the Tata Safari and the Mahindra XUV700.

I like the way the taillamps are designed as well — it all looks very sharp and well styled. More chrome on the bumper at the rear isn’t a surprise and overall, the Kia is a very distinct looking car. There may be a number of SUVs/ MPVs around but the Carens looks nothing like any of them and stands out in a crowd.

2022 Kia Carens Interiors

The interiors are a highlight of the Carens. The dashboard design is nicely styled — the touchscreen sitting flush with the dash and everything placed very intuitively around. There's a digital instrument cluster — similar to the Creta’s but Kia has done its own number with the colours and interface. The infotainment screen itself is a 10.25-inch unit -- the same hardware as the Seltos. In terms of equipment, the Carens does very well for itself. It gets an 8-speaker Bose sound system, ventilated seats, an air purifier, a suite of connected car features. However, worth noting is the fact that it doesn’t get wireless CarPlay or Android Auto — you’ve still got to use cables to access them. You also don’t get a panoramic sunroof — and that's because the second and third row’s AC vents are roof mounted.

Comfortable second row but the air purifier eats into knee room a fair bit
Comfortable second row but the air purifier eats into knee room a fair bitShot by Rohit G Mane

The variants we tested were six seaters, with captain seats in the middle row but there is a 7-seater also on offer with a bench there instead. Worth noting, is the fact that the six-seater is only available on the top-variant and no where else. Space in the second row is actually good — there’s good knee-room and head-room on offer. The seats themselves are comfortable and the second row is a very pleasant place to be. However, I do have some complaints here. The air purifier is mounted behind the driver's seat and in this position, it eats significantly in to knee room. This isn't so much of a problem when you slide the second row all the way back, but move it forward to make room for the people in the third row and you will hit your knees against it. Also, the roof mounted air-con vents should work great as they blow cool air directly at you but they don’t feel very well put together -- the vents feel flimsy and the whole roof liner shakes when you try to adjust them.

The air purifier is located rather strangely
The air purifier is located rather strangelyShot by Rohit G Mane

Getting in to the third row is fairly easy. You have a one-touch tumble feature for the second row — push a button and the captain seat folds all the way forwards on its own, opening a large door aperture to climb in. Space is reasonable at the back. With the second row slid to a position that doesn’t have my knees rubbing up against the air purifier, I actually had about an inch of free knee room in the third row. You don’t sit too close to the floor either, so that means your knees aren't pointed skywards which is a welcome change from some other 7-seaters. There are also cupholders and a USB C-type port in the third row making this a reasonably comfortable place to be. Adults can fit in here, and it won’t just be restricted to kids and people you don’t particularly like.

Before we move on to the driving, one thing worth pointing out is the safety suite that Kia is offering. There are 6 airbags as standard across all variants and this is very welcome. There's also a suite of electronic safety features including hill descent control, ESC and TPMS to name a few. What we don't know yet is how the Carens will crash — it hasn't been picked up by the GNCAP yet and that is something we're going to have to wait and see.

2022 Kia Carens engines

The Carens receives the same powertrains as the Seltos
The Carens receives the same powertrains as the SeltosShot by Rohit G Mane

The Carens gets the same drivetrains as the Seltos. You’ve got three engines on offer — a 1.5 nat-asp petrol, a 1.4 turbo-petrol and a 1.5 diesel. While the nat-asp doesn’t get the option of an automatic, both the turbo and the diesel get one giving buyers a huge range of choice.

We first drove the 1.4-turbo and this is the engine to have if you want sprightly performance from your Carens. It makes good outputs — 138bhp and 242Nm — allowing the car to pick up the pace with enthusiasm despite the fact that it is larger and heavier than the Seltos. Refinement is good as well — in fact, the Carens has impressive NVH levels in general, blocking out a lot of road and tyre noise in addition to the the sounds and vibes of the engine. The turbo-petrol’s performance is its highlight and gets the Carens moving along most effortlessly from the three, and should be the one to pick if you're going to be doing a lot of thr driving yourself. The DCT is a nice bit of kit as well, keeping you in the right gear and I never really felt the need to reach for the paddles (yes, the automatics have paddles!). The drive modes work as advertised — Eco dulls the responses and prioritises economy. Normal is what I drove it in most of the time and found performance to be adequate, but Sport mode actually gives you a little more urgency in the performance.

The diesel engine has lower outputs making 113bhp and 250Nm, and it doesn't feel as sprightly as the turbo-petrol. It doesn’t get a DCT either, instead getting a more conventional automatic and that dulls the sensations of responsiveness from the drivetrain as well. That said, the diesel is a proper workhorse that should deliver great fuel economy with adequate performance — and with petrol prices being what they are, a frugal alternative can look very appealing.

2022 Kia Carens ride and handing

The Kia Carens is set up for comfort — that fact is made obvious from the moment you start rolling in it. A couple of things add to this sense of comfort. Firstly, the smaller 16-inch wheels with high profile tyres and secondly, the long wheelbase. Both go a long way in keeping this car riding confidently. Smaller bumps are ironed out with ease and it deals with larger potholes without losing composure. It doesn’t iron everything out, some small bumps to filter in to your backside but it is never uncomfortable or bothersome. A typical Indian road does not bother it in the slightest. At the same time, it isn’t overly floaty and bouncy at high speeds. It stays tied down and allows you to carry highway speeds without feeling unsettled in the slightest.

Being set up for comfort meant that the Carens wasn't going to be too enthusiastic around the bends
Being set up for comfort meant that the Carens wasn't going to be too enthusiastic around the bendsShot by Rohit G Mane

However, the flip side of that is the handling and it was never going to do well in that regard. The steering allows you to place the car well but doesn't have much by way of feel. Body roll is plenty and it doesn’t feel too comfortable being pushed hard around bends. Thing is, the Carens isn’t a car that you should be driving too hard anyway. You can always feel its size. It is designed for comfort and when driven in a manner that flatters those attributes, it shines.

2022 Kia Carens verdict

Irrespective of price, the Kia Carens is a unique offering for sure
Irrespective of price, the Kia Carens is a unique offering for sureShot by Rohit G Mane

The Kia Carens is an interesting proposition. It doesn't try too hard to be an SUV and instead focusses on the important bits like comfort and practicality. It nails a lot of important bits — ride quality, ergonomics in the cabin, third row accessibility and even boot space. A lot of its success will rest on its positioning. Will it be positioned above or on par with the Seltos? We’ll have to wait and see. I suspect it will be priced more affordable than the Hyundai Alcazar, for sure. It misses out on a lot of frills like the panoramic sunroof, 360-degree camera and that console in the middle row while retaining the smaller 1.5 petrol that should lower its entry price. That could put it in an interesting space, undercutting all these 7-seater SUVs and being a cool-looking, practical family car that also won’t break the bank.

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