What's this: a Korean Focus rival with a grammar-busting name?
Absolutely. This is the car Kia calls the Cee'd, with a rogue apostrophe to make punctuation pedant Lynne Truss – and us – blow a fuse. At CAR Online, this car shall be known as the Ceed. It’s a five-door hatch that’s Ford-sized, offers air con as standard, and is to be priced from £11k. This is the first Kia to be designed AND built in Europe, and comes with intent. Kia and parent Hyundai are hungry for European market share, at the mainstream players’ expense. It’s grown so far by undercutting them; now it wants to use value as an added bonus, not a proviso. The Ceed has to feel like a Focus contemporary. The Ceed is not only very focused, it's also offered with a mighty SEVEN-year warranty, valid for 100,000 miles. This is the best in Europe (literally so in the UK: it’s 150,000km elsewhere – 93k miles) and is very much an excuse in itself to buy it. Quite apart from the security, it proves how confident Kia is of the Ceed’s reliability.
Will it sow the Ceeds of love among Europeans...
There’s plenty to like. Inoffensive styling is packed with cues ripped off from others (Corolla nose, Mazda3 C-pillars, and so on) but strong shoulders and squat haunches give it an assured stance, and both panel gaps and paint finish say ‘quality’. For now it’s five-door only, with a three-door (probably packing a 2.0-litre turbo) and estate arriving later in ’07. And interestingly, during the press presentation, sketches of an open-top Ceed were spotted on the wall behind the designer…
What’s all this chat about ‘European-ness’, then?
Kia’s watched how Europeans approach, get into and operate a car. And fed all these observations to the designers. So, the doors have three-stage stays, not two, the lofty, firm seats’ position and adjustment range is spot-on, soft-touch plastics adorn the dash and it’s all bathed in red illumination at night. The stereo is factory-fit, one-touch electric windows feature all-round, metal-effect rings adorn the dials/heater controls/air vents, buttons have a satin-effect rubberised finish and, yes, damped grab handles abound. Higher-spec models even have a flip-key remote copied off VW. General quality and tactility are excellent and it doesn’t ‘smell’ Korean, either. The essentials such as commodious rear and ample storage are present too, mind. Mr. ‘A-to-B’, while baffled by the USB socket that plays MP3 tracks from memory sticks, will struggle to fault it.
Tell me Kia’s not pandered to Mr. Boring in terms of dynamics.
No; the engineers must have all been commuting in MkI Focus when developing the Ceed. Such is the surprising eagerness, the togetherness that more 2D Korean fare traditionally hasn’t delivered. Yes, like the first Focus, the ride is firm, with too much bump-thump, but the pay-off comes with very eager, direct steering and a confident front-end. You turn, it responds, with a decently-weighted (if not feelsome) rack supplying confidence. Press hard and it’s not as rewarding as a Focus, and the ESP (standard on top-spec, “maybe” optional on others) is intrusive, but for a Kia it’s a revelation. A multi-link rear (which chomps into the boot a bit) helps: you don’t get that on an Astra/Megane/307. The 1.6-litre petrol – the likely best-seller – is vocal on the motorway, but generally refined when not thrashed and surprisingly torquey. Tuned for European ears (which prefer lower frequencies to Koreans), it’s preferable to the quicker but throbbier 2.0-litre. The 1.6-litre diesel is a minor revelation – smooth, linear, gutsy, with a better gearbox. Firm brakes are good, too.
Is it expensive?
Kia spent E1.1bn building the factory and developing this car, but it’s yours for 'around £11,000'. That will be a 1.4 S; GS trim is £750 more, LS adds £1,000 and TS, £2,000. Fancy a 1.6? £750 more, which can be fuelled by 90bhp of diesel for another £750 (or £1,000 for the 115bhp version). Kia wants to offer lots of choice (having a plant in Europe means it’s able to) so will ultimately offer 12 paint colours, seven fabrics, five centre console finishes, even the choice of three headliner hues. Wow.
Shame about the name, because this is a serious car that should worry makers of the cars that it’s (almost) as good as, but £1,500 cheaper than. The first batch of an annual 10,000 arrive on 1 Feb, of which half will either be a 1.6-litre petrol GS or LS. After three years, not only will owners have another four years of manufacturer warranty, they also may have a car worth around 40% of that list price, if Kia achieves its aims. You have to fancy their chances of success.