► 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. But Kia may have 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.
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.
On UK sale from 1 August 2018 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.
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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 is first out of the blocks as all three cars are renewed in the next year or so. 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 six-foot me to sit behind myself, with a little shin-rubbing the only contact with the seat in front.
The third-gen Ceed will be available as five-door, 625-litre-lugging practical estate and GT warm hatch, with a Merc CLA-style shooting brake destined to follow around the turn of the year. 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. The shooting brake, shown as a concept at last year’s Frankfurt motor show, should adopt the Proceed name from the discontinued three-door, and run the higher output engines as it carves a higher price point.
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.
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.
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 we’ll have to wait until UK costs and specs are revealed to know if the new Ceed is compelling value. But one thing’s for sure, it’s certainly a good steer. Over to you Ford Focus…
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