They know they cannot just imitate European styling – they need to offer build quality close to the standards expected from Europe's volume manufacturers and provide the same kind of technology and packaging, but at a lower price.
This is why the previous Kia Carens might have struggled up to now. It offered the appearance of a compact MPV, with up to six seats, but had little of the versatility of mainstream rivals and only had a solitary petrol engine. But with one of the most rapid model update schedules in the industry, the Carens has been given a much-needed makeover and the option of a common rail diesel engine.
The Carens was only launched in the UK two-and-a-half years ago, and the new model arrives at the same time as a revised Magentis.
Paul Williams, managing director of Kia Motors UK, said: 'The new Carens offers great potential for Kia as the mini-MPV market is the second-fastest growing segment of the UK market.
'The success of the Sedona has shown the way. The revisions to the Carens have made it a much stronger proposition and the introduction of a turbodiesel, with an automatic option, gives us a clear opportunity to win new customers.'
The line-up has been changed from the old SX and GSX to LX and SE, while air-conditioning has been made standard across the range, but prices have been maintained so the entry-level car still starts at £9,995 on-the-road.
The 1.8-litre petrol engine offers 14% more power (at 124bhp) which would help with the extra weight of the new car. It has the added bulk of bodyshell reinforcements to help with crash protection. The six-seater version is no longer offered, leaving the Carens with five seats – the preferred choice of the majority of drivers of small MPVs. Standard kit on the entry model includes anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, remote central locking, front fog lamps, front wiper de-icer, body-coloured door mirrors, metallic grain dashboard, and luggage net hooks.
The SE features side airbags, parking distance sensors, alloy wheels, roof rails, climate control, single CD player, rain-sensing wipers and leather steering wheel and gear knob.
It all adds up to more than you would get on many van-derived MPVs in this price range. Kia also offers a three-year/ unlimited-mileage warranty with free roadside assistance including cover across Europe.
Behind the wheel
THE diesel Carens was the only model available on the UK launch – a drive from Ashford in Kent to Brussels, using the Channel Tunnel – a total of about 150 mostly motorway miles.
The common rail diesel is certainly audible at idle and it is louder than some rivals, such as the 90bhp HDi engine in a Citroen Xsara Picasso. But the Carens promises better performance from its 112bhp.
Changes to the outside are welcome. None of the test cars was finished in the optional two-tone colours of the original Carens and I hope Kia UK has banned the look here. The new look gives the Carens a smart appearance, while the saloon-type rear light clusters make it look more distinctive in a world of rear-windscreen level lamps.
There is a neater centre console, which looks far more up to date with metallic effect trim, while the rear seats now fold – a glaring omission on the previous model.
It is reasonably comfortable and on the move the diesel engine settles down nicely. Although we didn't get much of a chance to try the Carens on sweeping B-roads, the comfort-bias of the suspension and tall sides resulted in the expected body roll. I would need to drive the car on some more challenging roads to assess its effect on body control and grip.
The gearchange is much improved and is far slicker than the previous model.
A FAR better Carens provides a stronger challenge to the key players in Europe, but it still has to rely on its low price to tempt customers. While the latest Carens is competent and good value, it is unlikely to be anyone's first choice.
|Kia Carens fact file|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||124/6,000||111/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft):||119/4,900||181/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||110 (auto:106)||107 (auto: 106)|
|0-62mph (sec):||12.0 (auto:15.0)||13.5 (auto:14.0)|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||34.9 (auto:31.0)||40.4 (auto:37.2)|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||191 (auto:215)||185 (auto:205)|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||55/12|
|Service intervals (miles):||10,000|
|Prices (OTR):||£9,995 - £12,895|