Kia Cee'd

OK, Kia's new hatchback has a name that won't win any friends, but it's fun and, for the price, there's plenty of room, says Sean O'Grady

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Price: From £10,495 to £14,245
Engine: 1.4 litre and 1.6 litre petrol; two versions of a 1.6 diesel; 2.0 litre diesel follows
Transmission: 5-speed manual (6sp on 2 litre diesel); auto option (petrol)
Performance: (120mph and 0 to 62mph in 10.8secs (1.6 petrol); 44.1mpg (60.1mpg on the diesel)
CO2: 125 (1.4 petrol) to 165g/km

Does the Kia cee'd deserve to succeed? Yes, although this plucky little hatch will have to contend with quite a few obstacles on the way. Mainly that name. Given that Kia itself isn't exactly a glittering marque, you might have thought the company would find this new model - described by the company as the most important in its history - an especially appealing name. It has to go head to head with some very homely sounding rivals. Golf. Focus. Astra. Civic. All proper words that mean something. But cee'd?

The Korean company's PR people will tell you that the name works on several levels. The car has been designed in Europe and will be built in a factory in Slovakia. Much effort has been expended on making it conform to European tastes - deeper exhaust note, better quality trim materials, more conventional styling, more NCAP safety stars, that sort of thing. So cee'd is partly a play on the French abbreviation for European Community (CE), even though that particular appellation is defunct. Partly it's derived from its project name, ED, and partly it punningly reflects Kia's hopes that this hatchback will sow the seeds of success in Europe. (By the way, "Kia" derives from the Korean "ki" meaning arise, and the "a" stands for Asia. Nothing to do with Kia-Ora.)

So now you know, and you can be fully prepared when people ask you "who?" and "what?". If you can bear that nomenclature, then the cee'd has a great deal to recommend it.

It's fine value. The basic cee'd costs just £10,495. It is, in short, a Ford Focus-sized car for Ford Fiesta money. Admittedly, for that modest outlay you'll have to put up with steel wheels and a less powerful 1.4-litre petrol engine, but you'll still get all that room, plus rake and reach adjustable steering column, driver and passenger seats with height and lumbar adjustment, front electric windows and central locking.

All the cee'd range enjoys independent rear suspension, which gives them tidy handling. And - most crucially of all - every cee'd enjoys a seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty. However, you need to know that the main "bumper to bumper" warranty only runs to five years (like sister company Hyundai's guarantee ), with the extra cover being restricted to the engine and gearbox. The company sometimes does well in reliability surveys, but I'd still wonder whether it will be quite as trouble free as a Civic.

Kia say that most sales will come from the 1.6-litre petrol-engined version, with the middling "GS" trim. For that you'll get alloy wheels, remote central locking, a six-speaker sound system and body coloured and electric door mirrors. All for £12,245, quite a discount on the equivalent models from, say, VW or Ford, although there's a catch; you may not see so much of your money back.

Kia cars have traditionally endured lower residual values than their more mainstream rivals, and you have to take a view as to whether that seven-year warranty and the improved appeal of this new car will mean it will be as easy to sell on in 2010, say, than an equivalent Golf. Kia says it expects the residuals to be on a par with the Astra. Maybe, but I'd be inclined to scepticism. I'd also look at the Skoda Octavia and Seat Leon as strong Golf-based good-value competitors, and, if you can wait a couple of months, a similar new model from Hyundai will be launched.

Where the cee'd succeeds best is out on the road. We tried the 1.6 petrol and 1.6 diesel models, and they were great fun. It really is a very competently engineered chassis. Surprisingly, too, the cee'd is quiet at rest. Engine noise has been very well suppressed indeed. The cee'd feels light but well planted on the road, and after a few miles you become very confident in its abilities. The electric steering system was well weighted and suited the character of the car.

You also begin to appreciate the thought they've put into the interior. Forget all those nasty grey plastics, shiny switchgear and nylon seats. Kia sources its components from the same people who supply Peugeot and Volkswagen. It's all quite tastefully done inside. The mock aluminium trim around the centre console lifts the interior without it seeming cheap or tacky. The glow from the salmon pink dials, however, takes some getting used to.

Two failings let our test cars down. The air-conditioning system - or "fully-automatic climate control" as Kia calls it - didn't seem capable of keeping us cool (yes, cool) during our drive in the South of France. Check this out before you sign on the dotted line. We were also a little disappointed that this new design didn't have a proper sat-nav system, even as an expensive option. The cee'd could also do with a little more "bling", bigger alloys and more chrome as on a Seat Leon. Even so, I enjoyed the cee'd. I'll remember that name, and for all the right reasons.

The rivals

Skoda Octavia from £10,990 (5-door)

A Czech competitor for the Slovak cee'd. Quality and durability should be assured due to its Golf underpinnings. Not as much fun to drive, however.

Seat Leon from £11,495 (5-door)

How about this Happy Shopper version of the Golf, here with added "auto emocion" and sexy Latin styling? Holds its value better than the Skoda.

Chevrolet Lacetti from £9,595 (5-door)

Don't be fooled by the stateside name: this is old-school Korean value, made by Daewoo. Only expect to see 25-30 per cent of your cash back after three years.

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