Price: £14,195, cee'd range from £11,895 on the road
Engine: 1.6 litre four-cylinder turbodiesel, 89 horsepower, 235 Newton metres of torque
Transmission: six-speed manual
Top speed: 107 mph
Acceleration: 0-60 mph in 13.5 seconds
Fuel consumption: 67.3 mpg (combined cycle)
CO2 emissions: 110 g/km
Rivals: Hyundai i30 Comfort 1.6 CRDi, Ford Focus ECOnetic, Skoda Octavia Greenline
When Kia launched the cee'd less than three years ago, it really made the car industry and the motoring press sit up and take notice. The Korean company recognised that while it was already highly successful in the Asian and North American markets, it needed to come up with something special in order to break through in Europe; that “something special” was the cee'd, a car designed and built in Europe for Europeans.In fact, the only other manufacturer I can think of that in recent years has made such a large, even transformational, advance with the launch of a single model is Skoda, which made a big jump forward with its first VW-based platform-sharing model, the 1996 Octavia. Like the Octavia before it, the cee'd caused a stir in the Golf/Focus bracket by immediately, as a new entrant, matching the standards set by the established class leaders – but at a much lower price. While the Octavia had VW-style build quality on its side, the cee'd came with an unbeatable seven-year warranty designed to reassure buyers thinking of switching to an unfamiliar brand.
So how has the story developed since the cee'd first appeared? Well, Kia's stock continues to rise; the recently-introduced funky Soul MPV and the smooth second-generation Sorento are good enough to suggest that the cee'd wasn't just a flash in the pan but early evidence of a permanent shift under which future Kias would be much more competitive with leading European and Japanese products. On the other hand, while Kia has sold 230,000 cee'ds in Europe, I'm not sure that the average buyer has yet caught on, even now, to the advances the Koreans have made in the last few years. That's not surprising – perceptions take a long time to shift in the motor industry.
Now, the cee'd itself has changed with the arrival of a package of mid-life updates. Given the underlying soundness of the original product, many of the alterations are just minor tweaks. There is a set of styling changes which leaves the cee'd's basic shape unchanged but gives it something of the new Kia family “face” that the company's chief designer, ex-Audi man Peter Schreyer, has developed in order to make the company's cars stand out a bit more from the crowd – in particular, there is a distinctive new grille design with a pinched-in centre section. Other small improvements affect areas such as trim and audio equipment. As before, the cee'd's cabin is attractively laid out, with just a few plastic items being perhaps a little harder or shinier than they would be in, say, a Golf.
Curiously, some of the biggest improvements are made in areas where the original cee'd was strongest. For example, across the range, there a number of tweaks designed at improving what the industry calls NVH (noise vibration and harshness), an area in which I can hardly recall the cee'd attracting any criticism at all.
The most obvious example of Kia fixing something even though it wasn't broken in the first place is the replacement of the original car's 1.6 litre diesel engine with a new power unit, designated U2. Not every reviewer was as positive about it as I was but I considered the previous diesel engine to be very impressive, at least in terms of its refinement; when I organised the Independent's “Verdict” test of the diesel cee'd a couple of years back, one of our reader-testers was initially briefly fooled into thinking that he was driving the petrol version of the car, and I'm not entirely sure I wouldn't have made the same mistake myself if I hadn't been in the know.
Anyway, the U2 has a number of changes over the previous U1 unit such as a variable geometry turbocharger and a chain-driven camshaft; that last item may sound like an obscure technical detail, but if you've ever had to fork out for a mid-life cam-belt change on, say, one of VW's engines, you'll appreciate Kia's decision to opt for the rugged chain technology, which allows service intervals to be extended to 30,000km (or annually). My impression from trying it is that the U2 is at least as refined as its predecessor.
Perhaps just as important as the introduction of the U2 engine is the appearance of a new six-speed gearbox, which is also available in conjunction with some of the revised cee'd's carried-over petrol engines; where fitted, the six-speeder brings worthwhile improvements in terms of cruising ability, economy and CO2 emissions. In fact, the five-speed 'box still used in some petrol versions of the revised cee'd represents what I think is probably the revamped model's only significant weakness; it has a rather short top gear by today's standards, which makes for rather busy motorway cruising - although this isn't as noticeable under UK motorway conditions as it is at the higher speeds that prevail in some other European countries. Other than that, the cee'd is the same competitive all-round package as before in terms of space, handling, comfort and so on.
Of all of the variants of the revised cee'd I have had the chance to sample, the most interesting was one fitted with the U2 engine, six-speed manual gearbox and ISG (“Idle Stop & Go”). This is Kia's take on the stop-start technology that several manufacturers are starting to fit to their cars – in some cases (for example, the Mini and the manual version of the Land Rover Freelander diesel) as standard, in others as part of the spec of a special “eco” model. Kia has taken the second approach and ISG is fitted to a special “EcoDynamics” version of the cee'd. EcoDynamics is to Kia, roughly speaking, what EcoNetic is to Ford, or Ecomotive is to Seat.
At present, the diesel EcoDynamics cee'd is only available with the mid-range “2” trim level with the less powerful (89 horsepower) version of the U2 engine at a price of £14,195, the same price as Kia charges for the same car without the EcoDynamics package but with the more powerful 113 horsepower variant of the 1.6 litre diesel. That seems like a fair trade-off to me, especially for more economy-minded owners who do a lot of town driving.
The ISG system itself works well; the engine cuts out when the car is in neutral and the clutch is released but restarts quickly when first gear is engaged and the clutch pedal is depressed. Getting a smooth restart with a diesel is a bit harder than it is with a petrol engine, which is presumably why diesel models with stop-start are still a comparative rarity, but in the cee'd's case there is very little of the sort of shuddering you might expect when the engine kicks in.
So how does this version of the cee'd compare with the alternatives? Some buyers who are prepared to forgo ISG and its edge in terms of economy and CO2 emissions, and can live with a slightly more basic specification, could make a useful up-front saving by going for the cee'd 1.6 litre diesel with entry-level “1” trim at just £12,895. But it's against competitor models from other manufacturers that the £14,195 cee'd Ecodynamics really shines in terms of value. How can Ford charge £18,445 for the five-door EcoNetic version of its Focus, which has slightly inferior CO2 and fuel economy figures and no stop-start system? Even Skoda, usually a leader on value, charges £16,155 for its broadly comparable Octavia Greenline. Only the cee'd's sister car, the Hyundai i30, comes close for value – but so far Hyundai isn't offering a special eco version of that. Throw in Kia's seven-year warranty and it's quite hard not to choose a cee'd if you're looking for a competent and economical Golf-sized car and don't care about badges too much.Reuse content