Kia Carens: The sporty compact CRDi MPV
By Aida Sevilla Mendoza Inquirer IF you are shopping for an affordable common rail diesel-powered multipurpose vehicle, the Korean manufacturers make choosing a difficult task. Why? Because Kia Motors and its parent company Hyundai Motor Co. offer not one, not two, but three CRDi (common rail direct injection) MPVs to choose from: the Hyundai Starex, Kia Carnival and Kia Carens. But when it comes to a compact CRDi MPV, the choice narrows down to the 2007 Kia Carens since the Hyundai Matrix was withdrawn from the Philippine market a year or so ago. The Carens first entered with a 2.0-liter, DOHC, 16-valve gasoline engine. The CRDi variant showed up soon after, completing Kia's CRDi-powered foursome together with the 4x4 Sorento midsize SUV, the 4x4 Sportage compact SUV and the Carnival midsize MPV (which this column reviewed last August.) No competition With no other CRDi seven-seater compact MPV in competition unless you consider the D-4D Toyota Innova a compact MPV, the Carens enjoys a monopoly in this segment. The Toyota Avanza, Mitsubishi Fuzion and soon-to-come Nissan Grand Livina all have gasoline engines. This is not to say that the CRDi Carens needs monopoly status to gain market share. At a suggested retail price (SRP) of P875,000 for the LX manual transmission (MT), P925,000 for the LX automatic transmission (AT) or P1,050,000 for the EX AT, the CRDi Carens gives good value for money with the advantage of more frugal fuel consumption, thanks to Kiaís second generation CRDi engine technology, and the lower (by P5 per liter) pump price of diesel fuel. Specs The 2007 Carens' 2.0-liter SOHC 16-valve CRDi engine with variable geometry turbocharger (VGT) and diesel oxidation catalyst delivers 140 ps/4,000 rpm and 31 kg-m/2,500 rpm max torque through the front wheels. The MT is 5-speed while the AT is 4-speed with Neuro Fuzzy logic. In the United States, where it is sold as the Rondo, the Carens has a 2.7-liter DOHC V6 gasoline engine and a 5-speed AT whereas here, as previously stated, the gasoline Carens has a 2.0-liter DOHC engine and a 4-speed AT or 5-speed MT. However, given a choice between a V6 gasoline engine and a 2.0-liter CRDi engine for a compact MPV like the Carens, I'd opt for the latter anytime in view of the endlessly rising oil prices. Besides, the Carens' CRDi powerplant packs more than adequate torque to propel the 1,716-kg body forward at a fast clip. The seven-seater Carens may have been designed for family use, but it has a certain sporty flair and is surprisingly fun to drive. Suspension A carlike ride quality is traceable to a fully independent suspension (MacPherson strut up front, multilink with coil spring at the rear) with stabilizer bars and disc brakes fore and aft. Handling and steering compare favorably with a compact sport sedan's, although there is some body lean when tackling fast corners. The cabin is well-insulated from road and wind noise while the CRDi engine is not as noisy or harsh as older model diesel engines. The gear shift is conveniently located at the base of the center console stack. The high seats, high ceiling and large glass area provide good visibility and a spacious feeling although the thick C pillars somewhat obstruct the driver's rear view. The quality of the interior materials is above-average and the instruments and gauges are logically placed, easy to read and easy to reach. A total of six cupholders, three power outlets, two rear storage boxes and a small tray above the glove box are a few of the convenient standard features. 7 seats But what is most surprising about the Carens is that it neatly fits seven comfy, supportive, recline-able seats on a wheelbase that is only 4,545 mm in overall length. Front seat and second row passengers enjoy ample leg and head room, but the tight legroom in the third row makes it good only for children. The second row splits 60/40 and slides forward for easy access to the third row, which splits 50/50 and can be folded flat into the floor to create cargo space. With the third row seats up, there is no cargo space behind. Unfortunately, it is in the safety features that the Carens is parsimonious. Only the top-of-the-line EX has an airbag -- only one at that -- and keyless entry with alarm. No Carens sold here has ABS or EBD or Stability Control while the Carens sold in the United States has six airbags, ABS and anti-skid as standard equipment. Perhaps essential safety features were removed to lower the SRP but their absence, together with the generally low resale value of Kia vehicles, may make safety-conscious buyers balk despite the Carens' excellent quality and sporty performance. * * * TODAY'S BUMPER STICKER: Give Satan an inch and he'll be a ruler.
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