Kia’s ability to suc-cee’d

Kia's new cee'd can now take on the best in its class, says Andy Russell.

When Kia introduced the cee'd to the UK five years ago it really was sowing the seed for the future of this go-ahead brand.

As Kia's first European-designed, engineered and built car it put what had been a worthy but rather dull brand on the road to success – helped enormously by its industry-leading seven-year warranty and the government scrappage scheme – notching up nearly half a million sales exclusively in Europe with some 55,000 of them in the UK.

Now Kia is building on that with the second-generation cee'd which goes from being new kid on the block to a serious player in the mid-range family hatchback market, no mean achievement against the big-selling Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf.

The first thing that strikes you is how much more dynamic the new cee'd looks. Slightly longer than the original, it's narrower and lower, sitting closer to the ground giving it a more sporty stance in a design of bold curves and sharp styling.

Four engines combining strong economy with low emissions are offered with 98bhp 1.4 and 133bhp 1.6-litre petrol, the latter also available with the new double-clutch automatic gearbox, and 89bhp 1.4 and 126bhp 1.6-litre turbo diesels with the bigger engine having a conventional six-speed automatic option.

I drove the 1.6-litre turbo diesel which, with a respectable 126bhp and punchy mid-range performance, feels brisk provided you keep the revs up. Below 2,000rpm it feels a little flat so you need to use the six-speed manual gearbox to keep it on the boil but it's not a hardship given its slick, positive shift.

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Once up to speed it cruises comfortably and quietly on the motorway, pulling around 1,900rpm at an indicated 70mph, with barely noticeable engine and road noise. It's also extremely economical – in rush-hour toing and froing I saw 57mpg overall and mid-60s with a run.

Kia has also put great effort into making the cee'd a match for the best in class when it comes to ride and handling. The new model retains the 2,650mm wheelbase – one of the longest in its class – between the front and back wheels but wider front and rear tracks mean it has a bigger footprint. The result is predictable, confident cornering with the well-sorted chassis keeping body roll in check while supple suspension soaks up bumps and lumps with the minimum of fuss for smooth progress. Most models get three modes for the electric power steering – 'comfort' takes the strain out of parking, 'normal' and 'sport' which gives a weightier feel at speed to improve stability although you are hard-pressed to notice the difference.

Cabin quality is testimony to Kia's aim to move the cee'd upmarket – it's tasteful, extemely well finished and feels as good as it looks with squidgy plastic trim on contact points on top of the fascia and doors and lots of brightwork highlights around the air vents and clear, recessed instrument to add to the interest factor

The driving position has a good range of adjustment making it easy to find the ideal set-up and logical, straightforward controls and switches are easy to find and operate. Cabin storage is plentiful and the double 12-volt points alongside the USB port and auxiliary jackpoint are ideal if you need to charge two electronic gadgets at the same time as is now frequently the case.

That long wheelbase also means plenty of space inside with loads of legroom in the back and decent headroom. But it's not been at the expense of boot space which has grown 40 litres to a class-leading 380 litres with a low sill that aids getting things in and out. Fold the 60/40 split rear seat backs flat – unfortunately you have to flip the cushions upright first but it's not difficult – and you have a long, flat floor and cargo capacity grows to 1,318 litres w.

Four well-equipped, easy to understand trims levels are offered – 1, 2, 3 and 4. All feature air-conditioning, electric/heated door mirrors, Bluetooth phone connection, steering wheel audio controls, daytime running lights, stability control and management systems, hill-start assist and six airbags.

Level 2 adds 16in alloy wheels, cornering lights, electric folding door mirrors, leather trim on steering wheel, handbrake and gearlever, electric back windows, cruise control with speed limiter and reversing sensors. Step up to 3 for dual-zone climate control, automatic headlights and wipers, electric front seat lumbar support, 7in touchscreen European satellite-navigation and reversing camera while cee'd 4 adds 17in alloys, leather upholstery, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, electronic parking brake, keyless entry and ignition. A 4 Tech version has panaromic sunroof, 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat, a system to aid parallel parking, lane departure warning and adaptive xenon headlights.

The original cee'd raised Kia's game immensely but this new model means it can now compete with and even beat the big boys from a level playing field.

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