Kia’s new Ceed hatchback – which goes on UK sale on 1 June 2012 – wants to make you doubt yourself. Should you really buy that Vauxhall Astra, Renault Megane, Toyota Auris or A.N.Other family hatch, when you could switch to the up-and-coming Korean brand? We’ve driven the entry-level 1.4-litre Ceed (or cee’d as Kia badges it in a crime against punctuation) to find out.
In 2007, Kia hailed the first-generation Ceed as its breakthrough car, designed for Europe and built in Slovakia. Priced from just £10,995 for a 1.4-litre S model, the competent and good value Kia snared around 58,000 UK buyers (and 430,000 western Europeans in total). Just five years later, Kia is introducing the more sophisticated, pricier, second-generation Ceed.
Sophisticated? Check out these plush Ceed features: active headlamps that follow the road’s curves, full length glass roof, automatic parking assist, Kia’s first dual-clutch transmission and ‘Flex Steer’ variable assistance steering at the push of a button. Admittedly all these options are offered on rival cars, but they mean your neighbours can’t sneer at your Ceed like Seoul looking over the border at backwards P’yongyang.
The five-door’s exterior design is classy and handsome. Some flourishes are reminiscent of Chris Bangle’s BMWs – the bowed bodysides, the headlamp eyelids which look lifted from an E60 5-series – but shorn of Bangle’s Hollywood slasher film excesses. Yes, it’s a bit generic Astra-cum-Seat from some angles, but it’s a great-looking car.
The interior appeals too. The architecture has strong hints of Audi: stereo and instrument panel grouped on a plastic dais and angled towards the driver, black gloss- or silver-painted highlights around the U-shaped central cubby. And the leather-wrapped wheel and stickshift feel silky smooth to the touch, while the indicator stalks have a robust, precise feel and trigger a subtle tick-tock. It’s not bulletproof: the compartment between the front seats is made of brittle plastic, as are some switches. Overall though, the Ceed feels solid and well-built.
The Ceed platform is carried over from the Mk1, so the body is again suspended by MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear axle. The 2650mm wheelbase is identical, although the new Ceed is a little longer overall and stands slightly lower than its predecessor. Kia has focused on boosting legroom and headroom for the front passenger, but not at the expense of rear passengers. A six-foot tall passenger’s knees will just touch the backrest of a similarly sized driver, who’s cranked down the seat to its lowest position. That means there’s sufficient space to avoid appealing to the European Court of Human Rights. And the boot swallows 380 litres of luggage (more than the Astra/Auris/Megane), and that’s before you lever out the seat squabs on their flimsy hinges and fold the 60:40 seat backs flat, to liberate 1318 litres of stowage.
What’s it like to drive?
The entry-level Ceed runs a 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, developing 99bhp at 5500rpm and 101lb ft at 4200 revs. In fuel-conserving EcoDynamics trim with lower-rolling resistance tyres and stop/start engine management, the 1.4 returns 50.4mpg and emits 130g/km of CO2 (47mpg/139g/km without EcoDynamics). Those output and efficiency figures are competitive compared with rivals’.
The 1.4 feels smooth and sufficiently refined below 4000-odd revs, but acceleration is unsurprisingly modest. You’ll be rowing away at the sweet, precise, six-speed manual ‘box to overtake at A-road speeds, and you’ll need to leave a considered gap. But the 12.8sec 0-62mph sprint is quicker than most of its rivals, including the base Focus, Astra, Octavia, Civic and Auris.
In the UK, the entry-level Ceed will roll on 16-inch steel wheels, which pack out the wheelarches sufficiently to render the 17-inch rims an unnecessary evil. On 16s, the suspension rides quietly over urban potholes, though the set up is firm. However, there’s noticeable tyre and wind noise at motorway speeds, despite Kia increasing rigidity, insulation and window thickness compared with the Mk1.
The stiff-legged ride isn’t coupled to steely body control. Tip into a corner and the front end kneels heavily on the loaded wheel, with the opposite rear corner rolling noticeably upwards: it’s a bit ungainly. The brake pedal feels a bit rubbery but the stoppers work fine; just make sure you have all four tyres firmly planted before braking heavily, else the Ceed appears a bit panicky. Dynamically, the chassis doesn’t feel quite as grippy and settled as rivals’.
Top spec cars get adaptive steering, activated by a button featuring a steering wheel with a volume graphic. The normal setting feels nicely weighted if a little uncommunicative (as is sadly the norm these days); regardless, it’s Kia’s nicest rack yet and much more consistent than the flighty Rio supermini’s. Engage ‘comfort’ and the steering responds with the manic lightness of a balloon – fine for parking manoeuvres – while sport becomes doughier and fights driver inputs.
With every generation, Kia’s cars climb in price, quality and desirability, and the Ceed Mk2 is no exception. Specs will be revealed closer to the UK on-sale date, but expect prices to start at around £13,995 – parity with Ford’s lead-in Focus, more expensive than the cut-price Astra – though with superior equipment levels and a seven-year warranty. It’s a showroom strategy that has helped make Kia Europe’s fastest-growing car brand, along with lashings of new cars.
So woe betide humdrum brands without new metal and a compelling sales story. Increasing numbers of punters will listen to their doubts about those mainstream family hatches, and take a Kia test drive. While the Ceed might not quite match the class leaders dynamically, it looks great and there are many rational reasons to buy it. And that, for many people, will be more than enough.