Kia has made it on to Top Gear. The Korean company has provided three examples of its Golf-sized cee'd to the BBC 2 show, where it has replaced the Chevrolet Lacetti as the "Reasonably Priced Car" in which star interviewees attempt to set a fast lap time on the TG track.
The BBC's mission is, famously, to "inform, educate and entertain". Top Gear certainly entertains more than just about anything else on TV, making it one of the Corporation's best shows, and one that has appeal far beyond the ranks of the hard-core car enthusiasts at which it was originally aimed.
However, TG doesn't really do much to inform and educate its audience about motoring subjects, which means that one of the most significant trends of recent years – the rise of budget brands such as Skoda, Kia and Hyundai with excellent products that can look the established western European and Japanese competition in the eye – has really passed the programme by. This isn't really Top Gear's fault; too many serious topics would ruin its distinctive appeal. But it does perhaps highlight the need for the BBC to introduce a more serious companion motoring show to TG if it is to fulfil its mission as a public service broadcaster properly.
While Kia will get plenty of exposure as a result of the new arrangement, providing its cars to Top Gear also has its risks. The previous Reasonably Priced Cars, the Suzuki Liana and the Chevy Lacetti, were the butt of a great deal of (admittedly fairly good-natured) humour on the show; they were perfectly adequate cars, but in the UK market, they were also-rans. The cee'd, while certainly very reasonably priced, is a completely different proposition - a serious, fully-fledged competitor for the best cars in its class, albeit one with a badge with which many British buyers are still unfamiliar. The danger is that the cee'd may come to be bracketed in TG viewers' minds with its predecessors as a slightly naff, cheapo product, rather than getting the respect and recognition it deserves.
The Reasonably Priced Car slot probably works best for a manufacturer that normally has so little exposure or enjoys such an undistinguished reputation that having its products gently made fun of every week on TV is a plus. That may apply to, say, Proton or Ssangyong, or even the pre-cee'd Kia. But these days the company has probably moved beyond the "all publicity is good publicity" stage in building its brand in the UK – and the cee'd, in particular, certainly needs the right kind of exposure, rather than just any old exposure, if its fine qualities are to be conveyed appropriately to potential buyers. The first Top Gear featuring the cee'd wasn't very encouraging from that perspective.
Still, if nothing else, Kia's competent mid-ranger is bound to set far better lap times than the Liana and the Lacetti in the long run, which will help a bit.