Published on Sunday 1 March 2015 16:40
Ten Second Review
The second generation Kia cee'd impresses with its more efficient engines, its improved quality indoors and the sheer array of high end features that are incorporated. It's no longer a cheap car but it remains a good choice if you're searching for value, especially in 1.6-litre diesel guise.
The thing with being fast-tracked to the top of the tree is that things happen, well, fast. Where most manufacturers will replace a car when it's seven years old, Kia isn't playing that game. It can't if it needs to get where it wants to be, so it has cracked the whip and rolled out a second generation cee'd just five years after the original car made the rest of the family hatch market come over all self-conscious. In those five years, Kia shifted 430,000 cee'ds in Western Europe alone, including a few made famous as Reasonably Priced Cars on BBC's Top Gear.
The challenge facing Kia now is to launch a car that lives up to the expectations of the market. Beforehand there wasn't a great deal expected of the cee'd. We thought it was going to be a vehicle we would patronise, claim that it offered a lot of metal for the money and such like, but it was shockingly close to the class best. The second generation car will also have to be a lot better than merely cheap and cheerful. Let's try it in the form most British buyers will want, equipped with a 126bhp 1.6-litre CRDi diesel engine.
Kia continues to knock over the preconceptions. Where many of its rivals have a simple and cheap torsion beam rear suspension, the cee'd instead opts for a sophisticated multi-link arrangement. This generation car leaps into the vanguard with the adoption of Kia's own dual-clutch sequential transmission. The body is 45 per cent stiffer than before and the steering system now offers a Flex Steer system for improved driving dynamics. This system delivers three operating modes - Comfort, Normal and Sport - allowing the driver to vary the level of steering assistance and the weight of feedback, in order to best suit the current driving conditions and the driver's personal preferences. We'd expect this sort of thing on an Audi options list, not fitted to a Kia. Perhaps we were wrong to think Kia had used its quota of surprises with the first generation car.
Despite the Flex Steer cleverness, steering feel still isn't this car's best feature and overall, it won't be a first choice for dynamic drivers. Does this matter? Probably not. The performances figures for the 126bhp 1.6-litre CRDi diesel we tried (0-60mph in 11.5s on the way to 122mph) are quite sufficient and overall, a seat at the wheel of this car is a very pleasant place to spend your time. The driving position is excellent, the seats and the wheel feel good and all-round visibility is better than many rivals: in fact, thanks to those quarter windows in the front pillars, it's better than its cousin the Hyundai i30. Though there's perhaps a touch more road and wind noise than you'd get in, say, a Golf, the muted engine note ensures that refinement levels are quite good enough to encourage lengthy journeys, though on them, you might find the ride a touch firmer than many will expect.
Design and Build
The first cee'd was quite a handsome thing. The silhouette was a little retro but the detailing was neat. This time round, the cee'd has a far more contemporary stance that's both longer and lower than its predecessor, giving the five-door hatchback a more wedgy look. The overall length is increased by 50 mm (to 4,310 mm) and overall height has been reduced by 10 mm (to 1,470 mm) by lowering the ride height. Don't be fooled by the fact that the wheelbase is the same 2,650 mm, it's not a carry-over chassis. The track width is 17mm wider at the front and 32mm wider at the back but the bodyshell width is actually 10mm narrower,which gives the car a voluptuous shape, helped by the availability of 17 or 18inch alloy wheels.
Although the wheelbase is the same, the increase in overall length means more space inside, especially for luggage. Front seat occupants have 12 mm more headroom and 21 mm more legroom, while rear passengers gain 5 mm of shoulder room. The total cargo capacity rises significantly to 380 litres (up 40 litres) while the split-folding rear seats can be dropped to a fully flat position for maximum utility.
Market and Model
Kia has made its name on offering keen value for money and that doesn't appear to have changed. What has changed is that the cars are no longer conspicuously cheap. Prices for this cee'd range start at around £14,500 and you'll be paying from around £16,500 for this 1.6-litre CRDi diesel. This reflects the fact that, in driving quality and capability up, Kia's costs have risen commensurately. In many ways that's an inevitability of climbing merging with the mainstream but the latest cee'd moves the game on in a number of ways. It starts bringing the sort of technology that was once the preserve of the premium brands to a more affordable price bracket. Yes, the likes of Ford and Vauxhall have been doing this as well, but Kia certainly doesn't shy away from some very high end features.
There's a bright TFT high-definition instrument binnacle, dual-zone climate control, powered driver's seat adjustment with memory and a full length (1,045 mm long) powered panoramic glass sunroof. Depending on which trim you opt for, there's LED daytime running lights, fixed cornering lamps, and HID headlamps that turn the low beam to match curves in the road and enhance the driver's night vision. There's also the Parallel Park Assist System (PPAS) where the car uses its sensors to steer itself into a parking space. All you need to do is control the accelerator and brake.
Cost of Ownership
No car in this sector can afford to go to market with second-rate economy and emissions figures. Gone are the days when a low sticker price would more than mask the fact that the engines were a decade out of date, and if there's one thing that carbon dioxide-based taxation has done, it's driven manufacturers into a race to develop ever smarter and more efficient engines. Kia is no exception and the latest clutch of engines deliver respectable numbers.
As with other Kia models in Europe, the cee'd is available with fuel-saving technologies developed under the company's EcoDynamics label. These measures, which are offered on both diesel and petrol models with manual transmission, include ISG (Start/Stop), low-rolling resistance tyres and an alternator management system (AMS). Some flesh on those bones? The 1.6-litre 126bhp diesel cee'd returns a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 76.3mpg, while CO2 emissions start at just 97 g/km. This comes courtesy of an ISG Start/Stop system.
As for that 7 year or 100,000 mile warranty which, since it can be passed from owner to owner, should help the impressively strong residual values, it's worth pointing out the 'bumper to bumper' complete car warranty is only five years, with the extra two years of cover being restricted to the engine and gearbox. There's also a long 12 year bodywork warranty.
The Kia cee'd is the perfect example of a car that's absolutely right for its time, especially in the 1.6-litre CRDi diesel guise we've been looking at here. All the planets have aligned and delivered a vehicle that does the right thing at just the right time. Global economics have played to its advantage, but one can't help but feel that even without an enforced age of austerity, this car would have succeeded through its sheer depth of engineering. Kia is not a company that is easily contented with its position, but in striving to improve its wares, it risks being subsumed into the morass of the middle market. That time is not quite yet and the cee'd is still the car to choose if value is a key driver in the buying decision.
Get a bit excitable with some of the options and it's possible to build yourself quite a pricey car and it's worth realising that the used market isn't quite ready for that just yet, so step carefully. Choose the right car with the right engine and it's hard to get things too badly wrong. It's still a Reasonably Priced Car. The producers at Top Gear will need to look elsewhere for something appealingly inept though.