Ollie Marriage 28 March 2012

Driven: the new Kia C-Apostrophe-D

The reasonably-priced car is back, and a direct threat to European hatches. Ollie Marriage reports

New Kia Ceed

Every time you read about Kias, you’re almost certain to also read about designer Peter Schreyer, the man behind the original Audi TT. But I’m not going to talk about Schreyer’s styling of this, the second generation Cee’d, as you can look at the gallery of pics and make your own mind up.
 
What I do want to talk about is Kia’s European incursion – which will bring us round to the Cee’d itself shortly. I can’t think of a company that has mounted a better planned, more aggressive, or commercially successful incursion into Europe. As you well know, Kia is Korean, but its cars – specifically this new Cee’d – aren’t. This is a European car.

See more pics of the new Kia C-Apostrophe-D


And not European in the same way as VW, Peugeot or Fiat. They are all national companies, bred to feed their home markets first and foremost. In their own way, this makes them a little parochial and inward-looking. Kia is European in the broadest sense of the word. It has no geographic loyalties. The C’eed I drove in Austria was designed and engineered in Germany, built in Slovakia, and registered in Spain. That alone is indicative of the company’s broader outlook. Kia genuinely seems to see Europe as a single market. The EU must love that.
 
Kia Europe is largely autonomous, free to design and create the cars it thinks the market wants. Its first success, back in 2007, was the original Cee’d, of which some 430,000 have been sold (and also, of course, secured itself a starring role on the Top Gear track). Now’s the time for its replacement. The temptation here for many firms would be to jazz up the looks a bit, make sure the CO2 is where it needs to be, add some new tech and send it back out to market.
 
Instead what we have are deep, well thought out changes – the kind you expect from an aggressive, successful company that still sees plenty of room to improve. Kia isn’t ready to consolidate yet – it’s still in the expansion phase.
 
So what we have is a bodyshell that’s a massive 45 per cent stiffer, which in turn allows much more careful tuning of the suspension. There’s also thicker window glass, more foam insulation in the window pillars, extra seals around the doors. Although the 2650mm wheelbase is carried over, the platform is new and the car is longer, lower and wider, plus bigger inside.
 
To be honest, you don’t really notice the extra few mm’s of shoulder and headroom, nor even the 40-litre larger boot. You don’t even notice the hugely upgraded interior design and quality for the first few miles. Instead, I was being quietly dazzled by the new Cee’d’s sheer refinement. It moves quietly and smoothly and expertly. It feels very professional. If the old one was white goods (and, in truth it was better than that), the new one is white goods by John Lewis.
 
It’s also a very nice car to be in. The ride is well padded, motorway wind noise confined to a rustle from the A-pillars. If you’re one of the vast majority who just want a family hatchback to use for your life, then this is a very nice one. Kia knows its audience, knows what pleases them.
 
It’s not sporty, and doesn’t pretend to be, so it seems almost unfair to have a go at it for not delivering on the thrills front. It actually copes reasonably well: good front end grip, reasonable steering accuracy, good chassis balance. It’s a well engineered car, but not an entertaining one.
 
Part of the blame lies with the drivetrain. The new direct injection 1.6 (no baby turbo engines for Kia yet – that surely is the next stage) is fine when surfing in the shallows, but becomes slightly boomy and harsh towards the top end.
 
There’s now a twin clutch gearbox too, and like the rest of the car, it does the everyday stuff unobtrusively. But you can tell this is a first effort – its reactions aren’t that sharp.
 
But the point is that this is a car for Kia’s core audience, those who don’t care about brand and image, but want a good, ordinary car. It’s for those who are persuaded by a seven year warranty and a good value price. Speaking of which, prices haven’t yet been announced, but given the level of progress Kia has made, it’s safe to assume that Top Gear’s current celebrity lap car will no longer be quite so reasonably priced…

See more pics of the new Kia C-Apostrophe-D

Not when it can be kitted out with all manner of interior gadgets. The options lists are rife with items such as lane departure, dual zone climate, LED running lights, a panoramic sunroof, an electric driver’s seat, a digital screen to replace the central dial, an electric handbrake. All of these were fitted on our test cars, and thus all the cars I saw had more buttons on the steering wheel than the last Bentley I drove, but I was impressed by the well thought out stowage, the general ergonomic excellence. The seat was rather firm and lumpy, but that might just have been me. The boot floor is definitely rather high.
 
Still, these are small drawbacks and do nothing to detract from a Kia that’s now a real threat to the European mainstream. The Cee’d used to be a second rank hatch, mentioned after the Focus, Astra, Megane, 308. Not now. I still can’t believe how quickly Kia is progressing, but the new Cee’d is a direct, focused threat to every other European hatch, even the mighty VW Golf. OK, so it might not have their readily identifiable mannerisms and heritage, but neither does it have their baggage. This is a second generation European Kia. And it’s as good as pretty much anything Europe has to offer.

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