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KIA Carens is a seven-seat, compact MPV that represents value for money.

Carens has evolved from an ugly duckling to a swan over the years.

KIA's design boss Peter Schreyer (who has since become Hyundai's Chief Designer) has been more daring with Carens' exterior and the result is a more estate-like car rather than a boxy MPV. The fourth-generation is now one of the best looking cars in its class.

The new body sits on a longer wheelbase (+50mm) and this frees up more interior space. Remarkably, new Carens is shorter (-20mm), lower (-40mm) and narrower (-15mm) than the old model.

Inside, the classic MPV 2/3/2 seating layout is present but Carens is a mid-sized machine - so it is best described as a 'five plus two'- seater. All seats are individual and the middle three seats slide fore and aft separately, too. The last two seats pop up with a pull of a strap with little effort. In some markets a five-seat version is available, but KIA Ireland is only taking in the seven-seater. With just five seats in place the boot space is large. With all seven seats in place a couple of cabin bags can still fit in the boot.

Three trim levels are offered: TX, rising to EX and then Platinum. Standard kit is very good with LED running lights, alloys, air conditioning, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and voice-activated Bluetooth, to name a few.

If you want rear parking sensors then EX trim will give you this plus some other goodies like rear privacy glass, seat back tables, dual-zone air conditioning and a rear-view camera.

Platinum adds leather seats, powered driver's seat, better headlights, front parking sensors and a big sunroof. Our test cars were in Platinum specification and the points of contact had a premium feel. You clearly sense good attention to detail and solid build quality.

Another handy touch is the nice cubby in front of the gear lever that houses two power points, a USB and enough room for a couple of phones - plus there's a closable lid. The usual array of safety features are present like ESC (aka ESP), VSM (vehicle stability management), and emergency stop signal. A five-star Euro NCAP score is expected when the vehicle is tested.

Power comes from the tried and tested 1.7-litre diesel we know from the excellent Sportage. Two power outputs will be available: the six-speed manual gearbox version gets the 115bhp engine while the 'special order only' EX automatic comes with a more powerful 136bhp variant of the 1.7. The auto will attract a premium of circa €3,500 after VRT. With a starting CO2 figure of 129g/CO2, the Carens will cost €270 to tax annually.

On the road, Carens is hushed and refined, especially on motorways. The driving position is high and commanding. Our test cars were shod on big alloys (17-inch and 18-inch) and they were not so good on bumpy surfaces. Best advice would be to avoid the big alloys and go with the standard 16-inch wheels - also, there's less likelihood of punctures.

The steering is very light and on higher specified cars you can select one of three weight settings: Comfort (very light), Normal (still very light) and Sport, which though heavier, is still... light! Enthusiastic drivers will find Carens' steering and the lack of feel disappointing, but on the school run there will be no complaints from the vast majority. An electronic parking/hand brake is standard. The brake disengages automatically when you move off.

The MPV sector is small but important. Prices start at €26,490, which for a seven-seater with a seven-year warranty is very good value.

Michael Sheridan