Thirty Thousand Kilometers with a 2011 Kia Carens

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It may not look it, but the UN-chassis Kia Carens is the thinking enthusiast’s perfect daily driver. This presupposes that this writer is an enthusiast who thinks, of course.

The Carens isn’t a striking looker like its corporate cousins at Hyundai. The front end looks like an anime-fied dugong with a Schreyer schnoz. The side profile is much better, except for the dinkyness of the 15-inch steel casters, as the designer managed to make it more car-looking and less Toyota Innova-like. The rear is most tasteful, with an almost Teutonic restraint that wouldn’t feel out of place sticking out of a middle-class European family’s garage.

The optional roof rail, absent from the spartan LX model, hides the fact that the Carens is merely an overweight Kia midsize sedan. The addition of a cheap Thai roof rack adds utility while adding SUV pretensions to the exterior.

The interior is well-packaged. The Carens has three-row seating, surprisingly seating seven splendidly. That is at the expense of cargo room, but that’s what the roof rack is for. Most users will be operating the car with the rear jump seats stowed, making it a five-seater with rear legroom rivaling many an executive express. Plus, cubby holes everywhere, perfect for stashing stuff you’ll see again in seven years. A sunglass holder can be found overhead, near the darkness-bashing maplights, which after more than a year remains empty because this writer is too cheap to buy some tinted eyewear.

The engine, a 140hp SOHC four-pot CRDi diesel, is paired with a well-ratio’d, short-throw 6-speed manual transaxle that makes speeding sensible for the spendthrift. This writer, a 25-year-old whose ideal Sunday is spent maneuvering a stupidly-powerful car in conesport races, gets 9km/l driving his daily route despite his leaden soles. On the expressway, the car can exceed 190kph and consume upwards of 12km/l, but not at the same time. Its thirst is surprising considering that the Carens weighs a not inconsequential 1620kg, measured from a truck scale in Meycauayan, Bulacan.

Operating the car takes some getting used to. The starting procedure is reminiscent of yours truly’s ’98 Elantra, where the clutch pedal has to be depressed to get the motor cranking. The clutch pedal itself has a wide engagement band, where the uninitiated will have to go through some embarrassment as they will kill the engine every time they lurch from a standstill.  The foot-depressed parking brake eliminates the dead pedal, makes it nigh on impossible to undertake handbrake turns, and is worrisome when the driver second-guesses himself when parked on a gradient. Shifting to reverse is just like this writer’s previous daily driver, a Hyundai Getz CRDi. Going backwards is enabled by lifting the dog-collar on the gear stick and moving the latter to the left of where first gear is.

Driving control quirks once understood, you and the car will be like frat members and have a secret Korean handshake going on as everything jells.

The Carens is not exactly nimble. Its longish 110-inch wheelbase does not lend itself to lateral transitions. Not a slalom car, then. But negotiate a medium-speed curve and the car will have plenty of grip – a lot of body roll and minimal steering feel, but plenty of grip nonetheless. Understeer will be found at the limits of handling, but if you have found understeer with your family strapped in around you, you ain’t a good parent. Should the handling not be impressive, the right pedal is more than enough to make amends and peg-leg burnout you out of the turn.

Even with driver-induced shenanigans, the cockpit will remain serene. Insulation fit for a sound studio snuffs out almost all of the raspy engine note and the mayhem that you would most certainly leave behind. The JVC head unit pumps out average sound quality from the bassy door-mounted speakers, but the fascia buttons tiny and the tinier remote easy to misplace.

This Titanium Silver Carens is used almost everyday. In the family garage, it is the most used vehicle on a km/year basis, just clocking 30,000km a month before this writing from its purchase from Kia Alabang on November 2011. 1,800km was added in four days of encircling the north of Luzon Island discovering Enrile’s luxury car stash at Santa Ana, Cagayan, and visiting our “Ilocano”, i.e. kuripot roots at the two Ilocos provinces. Another five hundred kilometers was done in less than 48 hours driving to and from Baguio just to meet a university friend’s famous racecar-driving relative.

Drive the Carens and the kilometers just fritter away. It will eat up yardage faster than Sharon Cuneta eating McChicken.  Big and comfy inside, the Kia sips V-Power Diesel like a sommelier and still drives like a car on the twisty mountain national roads.

Maintenance and repair history is without much histrionics. The parking brake was adjusted in the 5K PMS, an annoying driver seat squeak was stamped out at 10K, and it has been regular maintenance till present. We expect continuous and hassle-free motoring for the duration of the 5-year/160,000km vehicle warranty.

Consider the fact that choosing to acquire the unit was the result of perusing a car buyer’s guide and looking for a sub one million peso diesel car with a manual gearbox. We had in mind a racier model like the Ford Focus or Chevrolet Cruze, but they were beyond budget and only available with a slusher box. Homely looks and family man pretensions aside, we are quite happy with the Carens. The upcoming 2013 Carens to be released this May will have big shoes to fill as far as we’re concerned.

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