► New 2018 Kia Ceed reviewed
► We test Korea's new Golf rival
► Third-gen Ceed from £18,295
'The power to surprise.' That's Kia's marketing slogan, and has been for some time. And Kia has finally managed to surprise us, as the all-new Ceed hatchback pulls a rabbit out of the hat in a way you really won't have expected: it's really sharp to drive, and that’s not just the GT model, either.
No really. You feel it the moment you wind on the steering for the very first time: if you're even milimetres off dead centre and the nose responds, following your line like a hypnotist drawing a subject's eyes across the room.
The rack’s weighting would satisfy Goldilocks – not too heavy, not too light – and it remains consistent and progressive as you add lock. Whether swooping along undulating country roads or trundling around town, the accurate Ceed is a rewarding car to pilot.
Priced from £18,295, this third-generation family hatch has undergone big changes to make it handle. Stiffer front springs and new mounting points for the softer anti-roll bar work in harmony with an independent rear suspension featuring a revised design of the trailing arm bushings, anti-roll bar and rear shocks. The result is a hatchback with great body control, cornering flatly and with lots of grip from the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres. There’s even a cheeky nip of the inside front wheels’ brakes, to help tuck in the nose and pivot the car through bends.
The trade-off is a firm, if mechanically cultured, ride (tested solely on the biggest, 17-inch rims). The Ceed feels sucked to the road, closely following its topography, tied down at cruising speeds and bouncing and jostling over high frequency bumps. The ride and handling team developed the car on UK roads as well as Germany’s Eifel mountains, so it shouldn’t be flummoxed with our bombed-out tarmac. But beware this is a car that will tickle enthusiasts more than cosset comfort-lovers: it’ll even cock a wheel if you go for it in corners.
Browse Kia Ceed for sale
Woah there, steady on and give me the range overview…
Okay, the Ceed is Kia’s answer to the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, and was the first to be renewed of the three. It’s designed and engineered in Europe for Europeans, with fewer conflicts and compromises than if developed to satisfy Asian or American tastes as well.
This Ceed has the same overall length and wheelbase as the outgoing car’s, though the wheels have been shifted forward to decrease the front overhang and boost the rear’s. That triggers a 395-litre trunk, second in class only to the Peugeot 308’s, and it’s super-accessible thanks to a low lip. The roof has been dropped and the body widened, improving the cab-backwards proportions, and boosting shoulder room. To maintain 3-4 inches of headroom, the seats are mounted lower. And there’s just enough room for a six-footer to sit behind another six-footer, albeit with a minor amount of knee grazing on the seats.
The third-gen Ceed is available as five-door hatch, a 625-litre-lugging practical estate and GT warm hatch, with an old-gen Merc CLA-style shooting brake called the Proceed (no more three-door hatches here). Executives tease that a fourth bodystyle could follow, more likely to be a crossover than saloon or coupe given the public’s appetite for faux-4x4s.
And the engines…?
The entry-level powerplant is a 1.4-litre naturally aspirated engine, which will guff out 142g/km of carbon dioxide: this 99bhp unit is best avoided for your driving pleasure and social conscience. The other familiar engine is the Picanto and Stonic’s 1.0-litre turbocharged triple, with 118bhp. Then there are the two new engines that we tested, the petrol 1.4-litre T-GDI (for turbocharged and gasoline direct injection) and a common-rail diesel 1.6-litre CRDI. Both these engines have tailpipe filters to reduce emissions, and meet the latest Euro 6d TEMP standard.
The 1.4-litre petrol is like so many turbocharged four-cylinders: blessed with a broad band of acceleration from pretty low revs (about 1300rpm), but with a soundtrack that’s more vacuum than Wagner. The 138bhp unit has plenty of punch to overtake the ageing vans, Audis and Mercs that promenade the Portuguese roads around Portimao; 0-62mph takes 8.9sec with the six-speed manual gearbox.
That is the Ceed’s weakest link: its throw is ill-defined at speed, collapsing into a mess quicker than an England penalty taker (as CAR went to press). The 1.6 engine ticks over unobtrusively at motorway speeds, and wind and tyre noise are perfectly acceptable. Over 50miles of mostly B-road driving, the trip recorded 34.4mpg – the official figure is 47.9 to 50.4mpg, with CO2 emissions ranging from 128 to 135g/km.
Is the new 1.6 diesel any good?
The 134bhp diesel is grunty and generally smooth, though it transmits a few more vibrations to the cabin than the petrol. This Ceed’s responsive turn in and overall agility feel marginally blunted by the heavier engine in the nose, though it still steers sweetly and rides firmly.
We tested the diesel with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, available at launch on the 1.4 petrol too and coming in due course for the 1.0 triple. The DCT can handle more diesel torque than the manual – peaking at 236lb ft – which shaves three tenths off the manual’s 10.2sec standstill to 62mph sprint.
The DCT shifts smoothly in normal mode, and makes light work of a long stretch of fast corners, swapping between fifth and sixth and kicking down to fourth to accelerate out of particularly tight bends. This transmission comes with a Sport mode, but it seems superfluous with the standard set-up hitting the spot. A quick spurt in a petrol DCT in Sport mode did suggest a sharper the throttle response, which can be a bit two-stage in normal mode.
Your fingers may go feeling for wheel-mounted paddles to shift gear manually, but they’ll search in vain. You can take control by pulling the gear selector back for down and push for upshifts, but it’s a bit ungainly and dated.
And that cockpit also looks a bit retro, and not in a good way…
It feels like Kia lavished so much attention on the exterior design and the dynamics, they only had time to install the last-generation dashboard. The vibe up front is overwhelmingly black and plastic. Ergonomically it could be a 2012 car, with chunky standalone air-con controls, black plastic keys for infotainment functions and twin analogue dials (though a digital cluster is promised for 2019). It won’t appeal to digital natives – there’s a knob which can adjust the map’s scale! – but more traditional customers will feel perfectly comfortable, and there’s nowt wrong with that.
And while this kind of interior may not appeal to those desperate for something futuristic and tech-heavy, there’s virtually no leg to stand on if you want to criticise the Ceed’s ergonomics. Because there are buttons for all major functions, because the controls are simple and because it isn’t trying to be too fancy, it’s incredibly easy to just get along with how this car works. Something that can’t be said for many button-scarce dashboards of its rivals.
Not that the Ceed doesn’t have its share of cutting-edge tech. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless ‘phone charging, automated parking, forward collision warning and blindspot monitoring. And the Ceed can drive itself on the highway, if you set the active cruise to maintain its distance from the car in front, and activate the lane keeping assist to trigger boundaries which the steering stays within.
What about the Ceed GT?
A familiar 201bhp 1.6-litre turbo petrol, mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. It’s good for a 0-62mph sprint in 7.2 seconds, and will reach 143mph top speed if you should find yourself in such a place where you can reach that.
On start up, you’re made more than aware that this is a little different, with the kind of bark from the engine and snarling exhaust that you’d expect from something much more impolite than a humble Kia Ceed. Granted, some of it is piped into the cabin, but even outside the car the sports exhaust is quite a shouty one. We like.
The GT also sits lower on stiffer suspension than the regular car, which should afford it a more engaging, sportier feel.
What else is different to a normal Ceed?
Apart from the bigger engine, the only main differences are cosmetic. Outside, there’s a more aggressive looking body kit with deeper bumpers, plenty of piano black trim and larger 18-inch wheels with red details dotted around the car.
Inside, it’s a similar theme with plenty of glossy black plastics with red details, a set of suede/leather sports seats and a flat-bottomed steering wheel. And a Sport button.
The changes are minimal then, and while the regular Ceed’s cabin is nothing to write home about, it does feel premium enough inside to feel like it’s worth paying the extra for, and the extra GT additions add a bit of interest. The best part about it inside is that everything just works. Everything’s easy to find and simple to operate. And that’s all we ask for in a car like this.
The good bits
As soon as you slot yourself into the heavily sculpted suede sports seats, you’re immediately aware Kia has managed to nail the driving position. You sit nice and low, there’s a wide range of adjustment and all the controls just work. The leather steering wheel has a nice feel and the seats are an excellent blend of comfortable and supportive.
The engine is also worth talking about. That sounds like an obvious statement in a warm hatch, but it’s surprising how eager and lively it feels for something that’s not a full-bore hot hatch. It feels strong from low revs thanks to its 195lb/ft well of torque to call upon, and is keen to rev to the redline and push on.
And when you do push on, the Ceed’s tidy handling and well-sorted chassis come to light, with a keen turn in and minimal body roll. There’s some understeer to contend with if you push too hard, but that’s not entirely surprising.
Then there’s that sound. It may sound a bit synthesised, but the immediate thought when you start it up is one of surprise and delight. You don’t expect this car to be as loud as it is, and we like that.
The not so good bits
Back to the sound for a second. We like the naughty exhaust and the fact it gets louder in Sport mode. But what we’re not as keen on is the fake but that’s piped into the cabin. The exhaust is almost loud enough, and the engine fairly meaty, so most would be happy with that. It’s not a deal breaker though, and it’s also a pretty good sound for one that isn’t entirely organic.
And while we like the GT-suitable looks of this range-topper, anything with some kind of sporty pretentions could always look a bit meatier and get away with it. Still, Kia has managed to make a well-balanced car that’s very much deserving of that GT badge on the boot.
The main issue some will have with the GT is that it’s quite pricey. Yes, the performance is good, but at more than £25,000 it’s knocking on the door of the regular Hyundai i30 N with fifty more horsepower.
On the flipside, the Ceed does come loaded to the roof with kit that the i30 doesn’t offer.
Kia Ceed: overall verdict
Kia has manufactured some 1.3 million Ceeds since production began in 2006. Obviously this third-generation moves the game on big time, with decent new engines and a stepchange in dynamics. But prices have been creeping up, and the most desirable top-spec models command some high cash prices. But one thing’s for sure, it’s certainly a good steer, and it comes packed with equipment that you’d have to pay extra for on plenty of its rivals. However, so is the Ford Focus…
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