When the 'dust cloud' settles, this will live long in the memory
We took to the road to celebrate the sunshine and the first day home of the youngest one from her travels around the southern hemisphere. Our circumnavigation was more of modest dimensions than hers, but so suited my purpose of trying out the Kia Carens that I was positively enthusiastic about all suggestions of where we should go.
Dublin city centre early in the crystal morning. Bulloch Harbour, Dalkey, in the late afternoon breeze, along the east coast, into the midlands, the M50, the Phoenix Park, Woodfield Bog – the country unfolded in great swathes of sun and green to embrace us.
The 1.7-litre diesel had no bother pulling us up steep, narrow coastline hills or cruising on the M4. Good engine with excellent pulling power but low on the old acceleration performance.
The stories of her travels, my boring old remembrances tumbled out as I put this new compact-looking MPV (multi-purpose vehicle/people carrier) through varied paces.
It manages, with a reasonable degree of success, to pack in three rows and seven seats. We dropped the second-row centre seat to give us a table back. Handy for the soft drinks, sweetie things and elbow room.
While the chatter went on and on, my thoughts drifted. Would we have driven as much and as easily in a family saloon?
I suppose in doing so I picked on the central choice many a family faces these days. They might not need seven seats, but do they see the greater flexibility (using four or five of the seats, flattening some for luggage etc) as a better package than a saloon?
Not to mention that higher, more dominant driving position.
I'm not taking sides here: so often it is horses for courses. The relevance of the Carens, however, is that the price (around €27,000) is in the same league as the entry-level models of many a family saloon.
I didn't like the old Carens much. Indeed I came across a few on our journeys and they looked what they were: bulky, almost awkward looking and sloppy to drive. By contrast this is more compact (20mm shorter, 15mm narrower and 40mm lower) but they've upped the wheelbase by 50mm, pushed the cabin forward and that generates more interior room.
It also had a more succinct, precise feel to the chassis and steering. Of course the two rear seats are less than copious. We just turned them down so we had a flat floor space. The second row slides forward a decent distance, creating fair access to the back two, but you need to be agile for these things.
The rest of the cabin suited our needs. We were comfortable and cool (decent air-con blow).
We got into a lot of seaside traffic and narrow roads. I managed to negotiate them and park without trouble, thankful this wasn't a bulky people carrier. Unlike a few people in their Range Rovers and larger people carriers. One lady tried for five minutes to get into a space without success. We nipped in no bother when she departed in exasperation.
We drove in along a dusty bog road that powder-dusted a film of grey all over – laughs at the 'dust storm' we generated. Some of us remembered when we needed a tractor to go there. We changed Ralph McTell's classic to hum: "It's a long, long way from Kia to here."
This is the sort of car that doesn't do anything really extraordinary. It has few gimmicks, but the more I drove the more I realised how even a keel it maintained regardless of the task. One of the better MPVs. Unspectacular in a reassuring sort of way.
Okay, so on the practical side, they've improved it a lot. But these cars have to look well, too, even with a coating of bog dust. Families want a little bit of style. The last one did not have it. I liked the look of this from the front: the new grille sets it off.
I'd knock it for its boring dash, though and fairly innocuous looks from the side and rear. But I can't overlook its unruffled service over several days, especially on a day out that will rest long in the memory.
* Kia Carens, seven-seat MPV/people carrier, 1.7-litre diesel (115bhp, 129g/km, €270 road tax).
* Standard equipment (TX spec) includes six airbags, alloys, LED daytime running lights, cornering lights, electric windows, steering mounted audio controls, voice activated Bluetooth, ESC and emergency stop signal. EX spec adds auto light controls, dual-zone air con, rear parking sensors/rear view camera, LED rear lights, rear privacy glass, folding mirrors and seat back tables. Platinum adds leather upholstery with heated front seats, 10-way electric driver's seat, panoramic sunroof and front parking sensors.
* Prices start at €26,490, with EX spec at €27,790 and Platinum at €31,790. Remember delivery and related charges are extra.