Kia cee'd (2012) review
by Tom Stewart (25 May 2012)
Before we start, let's first dispense with some of the basic cee'd FAQs. Like its predecessor, the all-new Kia cee'd was designed and developed at Kia's Frankfurt design studios and technical centre, and it's built in Slovakia specifically for the European market.
The first-generation car was initially given the in-house codename of ED, an abbreviation of European Design. When this was combined, again in-house, with CEE (Communauté Économique Européenne), along with an apostrophe and a soupcon of lower-case creativity, it's not hard to see how the cee'd name came about.
Aside from pioneering a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty and having sold over 55,000 in the UK alone since 2007, the first cee'd also found fame over the past two years as the Reasonably Priced Car in the Top Gear TV series. The show's website describes its "Cee-apostrophe-d" as "a very averagely priced slice of Korean reasonableness".
Apart from it being a little less Korean than that implies, with prices ranging from £14,395 for the basic entry-level 1.4 petrol to £23,795 for the top-spec 1.6 GDI petrol with six-speed dual-clutch auto transmission, it's a fair description of this new second-generation model too, although these days £23,795 would also buy you, for example and in no particular order: an Audi A3 1.8TFSI S line S tronic, a 170bhp 2.0JTD Alfa Giulietta Lusso, a BMW 116d Sport auto or even a Lexus CT200h SE-I, not to mention any number of Astras, Civics, Focuses, Golfs, Leóns and so on ad infinitum.
Pricing aside, first impressions of the all-new cee'd are good. It looks lower, sportier and more up-market than the original 2007 and facelifted 2010 versions, while the dash design and interior ambience are now much closer to those of premium sector models than was previously the case.
Kia predicts the 1.6 GDI 6-sp manual in level 2 (of four) trim will be the private-buyer best-seller, and its perceived high build quality with low noise, vibration and harshness were all immediately apparent once on the move. That said, at speed there is a little wind and tyre noise, but in these respects the new cee'd is impressive.
Shame the same can't be said of the 1.6 GDI engine. With direct petrol injection, continuously variable valve timing, 133bhp, ISG (Intelligent Stop and Go) and either a six-speed manual or dual-mode double clutch (DCT) transmission it stacks up well on paper, but with just two aboard plus overnight hand luggage the 1.6 GDI cee'd can struggle to maintain speed on an uphill motorway gradient, while acceleration from lower speeds is lacklustre at best.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing Kia is in something of a muddle with the many of the cee'd's official performance, mpg and CO2 figures, but take it from me, on the road the 1.6 GDI's performance is flaccid.
Kia is justifiably proud of its new DCT transmission, developed in-house in conjunction with a specialist German transmission firm. It's lighter, it will deliver superior fuel economy than the old torque converter auto, and its gearchanges are both smooth and swift, but the DCT is likely to be left in auto mode by 99% of owners 99% of the time as, competent though the new cee'd is, it's no enthusiast driver's car.
Kia will be importing the 1.4 petrol-engined version too, although as it's not expected to be a big seller it wasn't available to drive on this launch. Another reason for this might be that with "just" 99bhp and 101lb/ft it's probably even more lethargic than the direct-injection 1.6.
With a much more generous 192lb/ft the 1.6 CRDI manual is a noticeably livelier and more willing performer, despite its even more moderate 126bhp. Depress the throttle and it responds with some enthusiasm, and it hustles along the motorway with adequate verve, although I'd wager that the 1.6 CRDI's performance figures will be lower than the 1.6 GDI's, albeit with superior economy and CO2 emissions.
As usual, buyers seeking the added punch of the turbodiesel, not to mention the 1.6 CRDI's zero-road-tax 97g/km and 76.3mpg (on 15" wheels), will have to pay for these benefits in other ways as at £18,295, the level 2 CRDI manual is £1100 more than the equivalent 1.6 GDI. Kia isn't alone in perpetrating this diesel price premium policy, but quite how manufacturers can continue the scam, decade in, decade out, remains a mystery. (Editor's Note: Tom Stewart is not Rufus J Flywheel in disguise, however much the last sentence may imply that he is.)
The smooth surfaces of the Swiss launch route put most UK roads to shame, but the consensus is that the new cee'd will still ride pretty comfortably in the UK. No grumbles concerning its braking, steering, grip or handling either which, though not exactly fun from a die-hard enthusiast's perspective, are all utterly safe and predictable.
Although looking lower and sleeker than before, there's no shortage of headroom in either front or rear, while rear legroom is surprisingly generous, no doubt due in part to the new cee'd slighter greater overall length. At 380 litres (seats up) boot space is adequate.
Standard equipment on all trim grades is good, while the array of gizmos and goodies on the top-level Tech 4 model would fill a side of A4 and make many Audi A4s seem spartan and rudimentary.
In Kia's words, the first cee'd "instantly elevated Kia from the ranks of the worthy-but-dull". This all-new model takes that Ford/Renault/Vauxhall-level progression a stage further by knocking at the door of Audi and BMW strongholds. For some, Kia's long warranty and general reasonableness will be compensation for its less exalted brand image, but to really make an impression in highly profitable Audi and BMW land it's going to need that bit more spark in terms of performance and driver satisfaction.