Engine: 2.0 litre diesel
Performance: 0-62 mph in 12.6 seconds, 39.8 mpg
CO : 189g/km
Worth considering: Citroën Picasso, Ford Focus C-Max, Renault Scenic
This week, a minor milestone in the history of The Verdict. We make great efforts to take the test to every corner of the kingdom but we haven't previously been able to give readers in Northern Ireland the chance to take part. Now, thanks to the help of Kia in organising this week's test, we've managed to correct this omission - and with our test of the new Carens, we're catching up with the Korean company at an important stage in its development.
Kia hasn't always made the most interesting cars but it does represent one of the more interesting stories in the motor industry. Over the last few years, it has largely renewed its range with models like the handsome Sorento SUV, the understated Magentis saloon, and the perky Picanto. With the arrival of this new, smoother-looking version of Kia's small-to-medium people-carrier, that process is almost complete, leaving only the awkward-looking Sportage in need of a restyle.
But the good news about the Carens isn't confined to its fresh new styling. I was particularly impressed by the work Kia has put into this car's interior, which is one of the best I've seen in a Korean car. Dark hues have replaced the light greys that used to dominate, while fussy detailing has been eliminated. The materials used seem to have been upgraded as well, and the Carens has a smart integrated radio; previous Korean models tended to have standard slot radios that looked like afterthoughts.
The Korean manufacturers also have keen pricing on their side; the price we have quoted in the specification table is for the top seven-seat LS model fitted with a diesel engine and an automatic transmission; the Carens range starts at a much keener £11,995 for the basic petrol-engined five-seat model fitted with a manual gearbox, making it rather cheaper than most European competitors.
Incidentally, the Carens' automatic transmission is one the few areas where it falls behind a bit; like the similar boxes fitted to other Kias and Hyundais we've tested recently, it has just four speeds, although this only feels like a limitation if you are pressing on - unlikely if you have a full complement of passengers on board.
Anyway, as solid an advance as the latest Carens undoubtedly represents, it is, in many respects, just the curtain-raiser for what I suspect will be Kia's real star, the forthcoming Golf-sized Cee'd. That car, designed in Europe, built in a new Slovakian factory and backed by a seven-year warranty, is the one that really promises to worry the mainstream European car-makers.
Stephen Posnett, 30, project manager, Belfast
USUAL VEHICLES: FORD PUMA MILLENNIUM AND YAMAHA R6
On first impressions, the new Kia Carens has some rather nice design cues and gives the impression of a big car in a small car body. There is an ample supply of storage pockets close to the driver and quite basic seats, but I don't know if I'd ever get used to the foot-operated handbrake. I drove the automatic first, with mixed feelings. Although it was nippy, the driving experience seemed very isolated from the driver. It seemed to hold on to the gears just that bit too long, which was unnerving. What a contrast with the six-speed manual transmission. I loved it! Plenty of torque, and unbelievably low RPM in each gear.
Ian Faulkner, 62, publisher's editor, Cambridgeshire
USUAL CARS: VW POLO, SKODA OCTAVIA
I'd never driven an automatic but once I was shown the basic controls, I found the car was extremely easy to drive. My immediate thought, as the Carens was diesel-powered, was that the engine was surprisingly quiet compared to other diesels I'd driven. The car's manoeuvrability in confined spaces was excellent. I was very happy with the comfort of my seat and the legroom, which I thought could easily accommodate people taller than me (I'm just over 6ft), and was impressed by the clarity of the dashboard and the outward visibility. The car had a good, chunky, solid feel to it. A slight drawback was rather limited boot space in a family car.
Robin Hewitt, 66, retired head of music school, Belfast
USUAL CARS: MERCEDES 320, MGF AND SKODA FABIA
The Carens was roomy, with good head and legroom. Good visibility all round, and a comfortable driving position aided by the adjustable steering wheel. The right-hand indicators are quirky - I kept switching on the wipers - but I found the other controls user-friendly. The parking brake is easy to apply, but the release lever was a big stretch for my left hand. The automatic four-speed car seemed to hunt for the right gear at urban commuting speeds. On country roads the car rolled around a bit and the tug on the steering wheel when accelerating from a bend was disconcerting. The brakes, though, felt very secure.
If you would like to take part, e-mail email@example.com or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.Reuse content