As Kia goes from strength to strength its new Cee’d hatchback can now seriously rival mainstream European offerings, say Iain Dooley, PA senior motoring writer.

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Kia Cee’d 2 1.6 CRDi ISG

Price: From £18,295 on the road

Engine: 1.6-litre, 126bhp, four-cylinder turbo diesel

Transmission: Six-speed manual driving front wheels

Performance: 0-62mph 11.5 seconds; top speed 122mph

Economy: 74.3mpg

CO2 emissions: 100g/km

Ask any musician and they’ll tell you that it’s not the first album that causes all the headaches – it’s the second. If you’ve had a surprise success with the first one everyone is waiting for something better second time around, and it’s hardly surprising that the pressure causes some artists to falter.

Dragging this slightly tenuous metaphor into the car world, history is littered with parallel examples. However, you won’t find Kia listed as one of them. For the last decade the Korean company has built up a solid reputation for steady improvements.

The trend took an unexpected turn for the better with the arrival of its Cee’d family hatchback. Developed to rival the likes of Ford’s Focus, the Cee’d was proof that the Koreans understood the complex European market. Sales grew and, predictably, so did the Kia’s reputation.

For 2012 there’s no sign of the second, problematic album, sorry, car. Building on the success of the first-generation car – which sold almost 55,000 in the UK alone – this second-generation model promises sharper looks, improved quality inside and out plus a greater focus on economy and emissions.

It’s no accident the more mature exterior styling now compliments other recently-launched cars such as the Picanto and Optima. The same is true inside, with it borrowing heavily from the larger Optima in terms of switchgear design and control layout.

Space is also important in a family car, and the five-door Cee’d offers enough for front and rear occupants. The boot is a good size, boding well for family or company car duties.

It’s all very well nailing the basics but the Cee’d also moves the stereotypical Korean car game on with the likes of the more frugal petrol and diesel engines plus an all-new direct shift gearbox (DSG) – a first for Kia. If the original Cee’d was tasked to look and feel the same way as comparable European cars, this second-generation model takes it all a step forward with a very Euro-like ride and handling character plus comes with all the toys you’d expect of something developed by the established players.

From the quality ambience of the cabin to the tasteful use of bright coloured trim, it’s clear that Kia has stepped up a gear in its bid to secure more buyers. The liberal sprinkling of kit at all levels – from the basics such as air-conditioning to power adjustable mirrors, a split-fold rear seat and an audio unit with USB connectivity – to options such as leather and easy-to-use satellite-navigation, panoramic roof and xenon headlights are further proof of Kia’s determination to tempt drivers who would have swiftly dismissed the previous generation.

Adding further temptation is the car’s engine line-up, which boasts sub 100g/km CO2-emitting 1.6-litre diesel alongside a 1.4 diesel and both 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol units. Engine stop-start has been retained on this Cee’d for 1.6-litre cars, while there’s a choice of gearboxes depending on the engine. Alongside the familiar conventional automatic unit is the all-new DSG option.

Newly developed by Kia and Hyundai, this gearbox brings Kia in line with the many other makers who have taken the plunge with this better-than-average efficient approach to changing gear.

The default transmission is a six-speed manual unit, but the DSG offers a smoother and faster shift plus potentially better economy. Available for the 1.6 petrol models, it’s easy to see this combination’s appeal around town.

With the Cee’d experience now much improved, there’s no longer any hint of a compromise in the way the car drives and rides. The supple suspension coupled with willing and refined engines ensure you get the a very Euro-like driving and ownership experience.

In that sense Kia has made another significant leap forward – now the Cee’d can be sensibly and rationally compared to any number of traditional European rivals in a positive light.

The car has all the right kit, good looks and performance to match. Factor in Kia’s generous seven-year warranty and what’s not to like?

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