Kia Cee’d estate sports new appeal

Kia's sharp new Cee'd estate hasn't put style over function says, motoring editor Andy Russell.

Estate cars are now as much lifestyle accessories as load-luggers with many people putting the desire for style ahead of the need for space. The days are gone when the estate version was a boxy back end grafted on to the big-selling saloon or hatchback.

Reflecting this trend, estates come with a variety of names – Tourer, Touring, Station Wagon, Sportwagon and there's a couple of newcomers with estate versions of the Jaguar XF and Mercedes-Benz CLS called Sportbrake and Shooting Brake.

It's all about replacing the estate car's humble workhorse reputation with a more dynamic, more desirable image. And for some car-makers it has paid dividends with the estate outselling the saloon.

Kia is the latest to play the name game with its second-generation Cee'd shedding the original 'SW' tag to become the Sportswagon – literally spelling out its sharper styling, more dynamic design and honed handling and ride quality.

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Slightly longer and narrower but lower than the original, it's more eye-catching with the upward sweep of the lower window line – which, unusually in this class, meant different rear doors to the hatchback – and sloping roof giving it a more athletic stance.

It's not style over substance. Kia has not lost sight of the Sportswagon having a practical purpose. It is aimed particularly at business-users, expected to account for more than half of sales, who want a spacious estate with low running costs both to the company and the driver with a low personal tax liability.

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So engine choice is limited to turbo diesels – 89bhp 1.4 and 126bhp 1.6-litre – combining high fuel economy and low emissions. The 1.4-litre unit is only in '1' spec which, though the entry model, is well-equipped as standard with air-conditioning, Bluetooth, steering wheel audio controls, USB port and MP3 player jackpoint, stability control and management systems, hill-start assist and six airbags.

Both engines pick up smoothly and willingly from low revs but need to be stirred into life for swifter progress via the precise six-speed manual gearbox. Fortunately refinement is their strongpoint and they remain muted and smooth.

On paper the bigger engine looks considerably brisker but I was pleasantly surprised by eagerness of the 1.4-litre unit and its ability to cruise comfortably and quietly at motorway speeds. And with more than 67mpg on the combined cycle and carbon dioxide emissions meaning company car drivers are taxed on only 15pc of its attractively low price, no wonder Kia has high hopes of it proving popular.

Whether a business-user or a private owner, you can't fail to be impressed by the amount of space inside given the compact body size. The long wheelbase between the front and back axles means generous legroom all round so six-footers will be happy in the back and headroom is ample.

You won't have any trouble loading four people's luggage in the roomy, well-shaped 528-litre boot, made even more practical with a low, floor-level sill and underfloor storage compartment and side load areas. Fold the 60/40 rear seat backs flat and load space rises to 1,642 litres. If that isn't enough for the family holiday roof rails are standard to take a rack or box. Top models have sliding rails and straps in the boot to secure and separate loads and a high-level luggage barrier so loads don't fall on to the back seat.

The Sportswagon will also win over drivers with its excellent ride quality whether poodling on pock-marked urban roads or hacking along motorways. The handling is competent and assured making it easy to drive on twisty roads with decent body control through corners.

The more upmarket image is also evident in the cabin with quality trim, a clear and simple dashboard with recessed dials, logical controls and well-placed switchgear that are intuitive and easy use.

Available in 1, 2, 3, 4 and 4 Tech trim levels you get a lot for your money. Cee'd 2 includes cruise control, cornering lights and reversing sensors while 3 gains automatic headlights and wipers, dual-zone climate control and 7in touchscreen satellite-navigation with reversing camera. Range-topping 4 has leather seats, keyless entry and ignition, electronic parking brake and heated steering wheel and 4 Tech adds panoramic sunroof, power-adjustable driver's seat with memory and parallel park assist and lane departure warning systems.

It's not difficult to see why Kia has high hopes for the Cee'd Sportswagon. It's a great-value all-rounder, able to lug large loads over long distances comfortably with low running costs and that seven-year/100,000-mile warranty gives the peace of mind that it will continue to do so for a long time.

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