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Will it be third time lucky for Kia’s Europe-only hatchback - or are established rivals from Ford, VW, Seat and Honda still the better buy?

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Over the course of the past decade, the Ceed has been the instrument through which its globally ascendant creator has sought to convince the most discerning car buyers in the world that it deserves a mention in the same breath as Volkswagen, Toyota, Renault, Nissan, Ford, Peugeot, Citroën and others; and that it can make cars of matching style, quality, performance and dynamic sophistication as those brands do.

The larger Kia Stinger has lately taken on a talismanic role in that mission and the popular and handsome Kia Sportage crossover has, at times, assumed a similar one.

Kia has gone against two generations of tradition and dropped the apostrophe from this name. It was coined as an acronym, with the ‘CEE’ part a reference to the European Economic Community

But the Ceed – an entrant into the important European C-segment hatchback market that was designed in Europe, is built in Europe and is sold exclusively in Europe – is greater proof than you’ll find anywhere else of how much European market success and esteem matters to the firm’s global bosses.

With this third-generation Ceed, Kia rolls its VW-Volkswagen Golf-rivalling hatchback onto a new model platform in a bid to make a more telling dent in the regional segment dominance of its European car-making rivals.

The car gets a new compact diesel engine, too: the 113bhp 1.6-litre U3-generation CRDi in the entry-level sub-£20,000 example we’ve chosen to test. Stand by to find out how much closer either may bring Kia to the European market eminence it covets.

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Kia Ceed 2018 road test review side panning

The handiwork of Kia design luminaries Peter Schreyer and Gregory Guillaume is immediately recognisable on the Ceed.

At the front, there’s the familiar ‘tiger nose’ grille and castellated upper windscreen, and you may just be able to make out the hints of Stinger GT in the swept-back headlight design and lowered, widened, front air intake. Move your gaze backwards, though, and the latest Kia becomes much more nondescript, almost to the point of becoming forgettable.

I can’t help but feel the design team responsible for the Ceed spent all of its time on the Stingeresque front end before giving up on the rest. From many angles, the design leaves me cold

Its lines, profile and overall appearance are certainly handsome, but it’s a sort of derivative handsomeness you can’t help but think has been designed with uncharacteristic conservatism. In a lot of ways, it looks a lot like several other C-segment hatchbacks launched in the past few years and, in that respect, it’s the sort of car you might have expected from Kia five or 10 years ago.

As for the hardware, the Ceed is based on Kia’s new K2 platform, which allows its width to swell by 20mm, while its roofline dips 23mm closer to the ground. It has grown in overall length, too, now measuring 4.6m – an increase of 95mm. The wheelbase remains the same at 2650mm although the cabin has been shifted back by 68mm within it, lending the Ceed a ‘cab-rearward’ profile that supposedly improves occupant protection in the event of a collision while also improving visibility around the A-pillars.

There’s a transversely mounted 1.6-litre four-cylinder diesel engine up front in our test car, although 1.0-litre and 1.4-litre petrol powerplants are also available. The diesel develops 113bhp at 4000rpm and 207lb ft is available between 1500rpm and 2750rpm. This is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission.

Front suspension, meanwhile, is by MacPherson struts and an anti-roll bar. A multi-link arrangement with trailing arm and anti-roll bar are employed at the rear. Kia has fettled the front spring rates, ratcheting up stiffness by 40%, and the torsional rigidity of the front stabiliser has been reduced by 22% – the aim of these modifications being greater mechanical grip and more incisive handling, causes also helped by the car’s wider axle tracks. At the back, a 10% drop in effective spring rate is intended to give the Ceed a more pliant ride.


Kia Ceed 2018 road test review dashboard

In much the same way that you can get behind the wheel of any VW, cover up the badge on the steering boss and still know what you’re driving, the same is true for the new Ceed.

This interior’s mix of materials, its graphics, its infotainment system and the haptic feel of its switchgear all seem familiar; and none will do quite as much for the reputation of Kia in Europe as a Volkswagen Golf’s fixtures and fittings do for the standing of VW. That said, the Kia’s interior is attractive enough at eye level.

That rather busy-looking cloth upholstery is fitted as standard on 2 models. Full leather is standard on First Edition models only

The 7.0in floating touchscreen that comes as standard with 2 specification crowns the dashboard in a neat and tidy fashion, and the various infotainment, heating and ventilation controls are integrated cleanly. The shiny soft-touch plastics on the dash top do an unconvincing impression of leather, though, the faux stitching in particular looking untidy; and in a place where a nicely grained slush-moulding would have been better.

Scan towards the footwell and some cheaper-looking materials come to the fore. Hard plastics are used on the lower door cards, the centre console and the lower dash, and the door bins aren’t lined, allowing loose items to rattle and slide around noisily inside them. Although features like these might be forgiven on a value-oriented family hatch, they will need to be addressed if Kia wants the reputation for quality that it has talked about targeting.

The touchscreen doesn’t feature any noticeable drastic change to its software or graphics compared with what we’ve seen in Kia’s other recent market debutants. Its menus are quite intuitive but its responsiveness and visual appeal could both be a touch sharper. As such, it lags behind Volkswagen’s Composition Media system but is on a par with Ford’s Sync3 set-ups.

At this level, you get DAB radio, USB and Bluetooth connectivity and a reversing camera fitted as standard. Sat-nav is not included, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with their corresponding mapping apps, provide smartphone users with a perfectly suitable alternative. Those who prefer their Ceed to come fitted with its own navigation software will need to upgrade to the £21,995 Ceed 3 trim level, which also adds a larger, 8.0in screen.

The six-speaker sound system is powerful enough to satisfy the needs of your average punter, although audiophiles will probably find it ordinary.

The front seats are fairly large, comfortable and sensibly (but not overly deeply) bolstered, their cloth upholstery feeling a bit harsh to the touch but no doubt helping to hold your backside in place. The steering column adjusts for rake and reach and makes settling into your preferred driving position easy. Those in the back will find leg and head room are in relatively generous supply, too. The Ceed isn’t quite as accommodating as a Honda Civic or Skoda Octavia but yields to little else in the class on that front.

As for the boot, there’s 395 litres of space on offer (more than you’ll get in a Ford Focus or Golf), all of it accessed via a suitably large aperture. There is a reasonable lip to navigate, although the boot floor can be raised to make loading easier.


Kia Ceed 2018 road test review engine

Relatively clattery diesel engines have been a cause of criticism of Kia’s cars over the past 20 years, but the Ceed’s new diesel seems to be cut from a different cloth.

The new-generation U3 diesel feels as well isolated in the nose of the Ceed as almost any like-for-like diesel in the hatchback class. And although there’s a faintly rough quality to the timbre of the noise that it makes when it’s working, the Ceed’s engine proves highly competitive for outright measurable quantity of noise: it’s quieter at 50mph, by our measurements, than an equivalent diesel-powered Renault Mégane, Vauxhall Astra and Mazda 3.

16in wheels are standard fare for Ceeds in 2 specification and they look slightly lost within their arches. Larger 17s are fitted to Blue Edition, 3 and First Edition variants

Next, after that improved mechanical refinement, you might notice how long-geared the Ceed seems. A longer final drive ratio is something that Kia Europe offers as part of an optional Eco pack available on the 1.0-litre turbo petrol and 1.6-litre diesel versions of the car. However, rather than complicate the buying process and miss out on the ‘standard’ taxable emissions gains it delivers, Kia UK simply fits the pack as standard on its lower-grade petrol and diesel derivatives.

If you want a 99g/km Ceed, then, you have to buy a Ceed 1.6 CRDi 2; and if you want to avoid the long cruising legs, low-resistance tyres and lowered suspension springs necessary to optimise the car’s efficiency, you simply buy 3 specification or above.

Even if you stick with a 2 model, as we did for the purposes of this test and as anyone with one eye on their benefit-in-kind tax liability surely will, you’ll get a car that narrowly dips under 10sec to 60mph from rest – faster-accelerating in that respect than a like-for-like Mégane 1.5 dCi (11.1sec), Astra 1.6 CDTi 110 (10.8sec) and outgoing Focus 1.5 TDCi 120 (10.9sec).

The Ceed has all three beaten on 30-70mph acceleration through the gears, too, although not on in-gear acceleration. Here, the car pays a penalty for its long final drive ratio, needing more than 18sec to cover 30-70mph in fourth gear where the Ford does it in little more than 12sec.

On the road, those long gear ratios are occasionally problematic, too. Ushering the car into motion takes a more deliberate juggling of clutch and accelerator than some will be used to, and managing the powertrain into higher gears at lower speeds takes care as well. Third gear is best for urban motoring and avoiding sixth advisable on anything other than a decently quiet motorway on which you can choose a cruising speed and stick with it. The gearlever moves in light and accurate fashion through the gate and has adequate, although not outstanding, mechanical feel.

The clutch itself is medium weighted and pleasant to use. Both controls make the regular changes necessary to maintain an assertive stride in the Ceed easy to execute. The engine response and usable operating range, meanwhile, also contribute to the Ceed’s respectable overall drivability, both being better than those of some small-capacity diesels.


Kia Ceed 2018 road test review front tracking

Our 2-grade test car represents the entry-level diesel offering in the Ceed range for the time being, although a more affordable 1 model is expected at a later date.

Coupled with the 113bhp 1.6-litre diesel, the Ceed is priced from £19,545. That gets you 16in alloy wheels, automatic headlights, cloth upholstery, a reversing camera and a suite of active safety systems. There’s the 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system, too. Where value for money is concerned the Ceed makes a strong case for itself. A comparable Volkswagen Golf is in excess of £2000 more expensive and slightly less practical and the new Ford Focus is some £1200 pricier.

The Ceed indicated 76.4mpg on our touring test, which replicates a 70mph motorway cruise. If you drove it with economy in mind, you could probably see an indicated 80mpg

The Kia is expected to withstand depreciation very solidly, and competitive personal contract deals on the car, supported by a manufacturer-backed deposit incentive, are already on offer.

There’s also plenty of credit to award here in recognition of the Ceed’s real-world fuel economy. We recorded in excess of 70mpg on our touring test – and that was accounting for calibration of the car’s trip computer after brim-to-brim testing, which proved to overestimate that economy by 8%. On that front, this is definitely a car that would repay a high-mileage driver for keeping faith with diesel.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Kia Ceed First drives