Lambo’s racing division Squadra Corse builds its first ever bespoke road-going model
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What is this? It’s the new Kia Ceed. Kia has now given up the stupid-name vanity. Its badge now capitulates to what everyone always called it: Ceed. No longer lowercase-c-ee-apostrophe-d. Though it was camouflaged when we drove it, we can now show you what it really looks like in actual single-colour showroom paint. A rival to the Focus, Leon, Golf, 308, et cetera? Spot on. You might think 2018 is all about the migration to crossovers, but your standard family hatch is still a massive business. Here in Europe more than anywhere. Which is why the Kia was designed in Frankfurt and is built in Slovakia. So what’s new? Much of it. The bodyshell and structure are largely new, even if the suspension and some of the powertrain choices are carried over. The seven-year, 100,000 mile warranty remains. There’s some Kia Stinger around the nose, certainly. The arrangement of the grilles and lights has a relationship with the punchy sports saloon, if you screw your eyes up. All versions get ‘ice cube’ daylight running lights. LED headlamps are optional. Along the sides, the most obvious thing is the glass outline. It now has a half-moon shape, with a straightish lower border and a curved upper line. In the past, the bottom border kicked upwards at the rear. Could this change possibly be because Mercedes does it like this? Here’s another subtle but important matter which helps when you see the car on the road. The whole cabin has shifted backwards: the wheelbase and overall length are the same as before, but the front overhang is shorter and the rear longer. That’s no small effort, because it meant redesigning the crash protection zone. Does the inside carry on the themes? It’s tidy and easy to use. Like the Stinger, it relies strongly on switches rather than deeply hierarchical screen menus. Which is OK by us. The standard audio has a 7-inch colour central screen, the nav system is an 8-incher. It’s easy to use, and Kia always integrates phone mirroring very neatly. Heated and vented seats and a JBL hi-fi are on the options list too. Are we talking about tinselly own-brand consumer electronics, or nicely made branded goods? Generally the cabin’s class-average for design and perceived quality. Base models get modern textured cloth, high-ups are vinyl-ish leather. A padded and stitched dash-top is a ritzy touch that does a lot to lift the ambience, and all versions get that. Where there’s climate control rather than basic a/c, the control panel neatly puts the temperature readouts inside the dials. And to drive? On first acquaintance, it’s good. The three-cylinder petrol engine, at 120bhp, is louder than the rival one in a Golf, sounding more warbly like the Peugeot-Citroen one. It gets on with the job gamely. Throttle and clutch are well-calibrated for smooth town driving too. The main annoyance when shifting the six-speed’s lever is that your elbow clouts the fixed armrest between the seats. In corners it’s a quick-reacting thing, swivelling around you and keeping front and rear ends working equally. Not much roll, quite a lot of precision and feedback and even some throttle-sensitivity. Even the ESP calibration is quite loose. This was set up by people who like driving. The corollary is a fairly busy, firm ride, mind you. A candidate for a hot version then? Kia isn’t talking about that. No Hyundai i30N-style makeover is on the cards yet. The top petrol engine at launch is pretty tame, a new 1.4 turbo of just 140bhp, though a 200bhp-odd version is coming. If you still want diesel, there’s a new 1.6 unit, claimed to be clean-running thanks to SCR exhaust fluid. The chemical closely related to wee. Is that version any good to drive? It’s quite a refined engine. We tried it in the higher of the two available outputs, 135bhp (there’s a 115bhp version too), with the optional seven-speed twin-clutch transmission, which does a sanitary and attentive job. Because of the extra engine weight over the little petrol, it sits more solidly on the road, turns less urgently and playfully, and the ride isn’t so bobbly. Not so much fun, but more mainstream. Any more newness? There’s loads of tech. At the apex, an optional ‘level-two’ driver support system. The Ceed can stay in its lane, and spot the car in front and follow it at a respectful distance. It works in stop-start multi-lane traffic, and at up to 81mph. Among the standard safety tech will be Driver Attention Warning, Lane Keeping Assist and Forward Collision Warning, which comes with a Collision-Avoidance Assist. The pedestrian-braking part of the collision avoidance system is only an option, though. So’s smart cruise control and self-parking. Still, it’s a generous package. What’s it all cost? No news yet. It doesn’t go on sale here until autumn. Kia won’t be able to jack base-model prices far from where they are now (about £15,000), but the fully-loaded ones will be taking a leap northwards. Not implausibly.