Kia plugs in to broaden Ceed line-up but misses a trick on pricing
Judicious enough to stick to a solus model format for its all-new PHEV version of the Sportswagon model, states Iain Robertson, Kia plays a clever game in scooping up both private and fleet buyers keen to advance into the electrified motoring scene.
Every car salesman is taught a broadly similar message, should they undertake induction and sales training courses. Firstly, to highlight the relevant benefits of a product and not its features, because benefits declare what that feature does for the individual customer. Secondly, they are educated in how to respond directly to open questions, like how, which, what, where, when, why and who and not to presume that a possible objection is being raised. Thirdly, when asked about price, they need to diminish the value of the question by piling on the benefits but maintaining eye contact, for the sake of sincerity.
When confronted by a price tag of £31,315 for the trim level ‘3’ Ceed Sportswagon PHEV, which is a hefty hike up from either petrol, or diesel variants, that same salesman is going to have to learn the art of a non-blinking response, while avoiding a look of mild lunacy. I mention this up front, because I have absolutely zero issues with any other aspect of the Ceed in plug-in estate car form. Price is going to be the ‘elephant in the room’ regardless, especially as we emerge somewhat changed, somewhat chastened, from our self-imposed, government promoted period of isolation.
The whole electrification movement has become charged with profits bolstering exercises for the automotive sector. You could fairly call the bandwagon a ‘licence to print money’ and Kia is not alone in having hopped aboard. Yet, away from the issues related to impecuniosity, a more enhanced need for austerity and a sun-filled promised land of electrification, the technology Kia has devised for its new PHEV is not, most unusually, power-packed.
In fact, it may surprise you to discover that, rather than making spurious claims about rocket-sled acceleration times, Kia is approaching the PHEV scene in a significantly less leery manner. Much like its Niro model, because it is the same power unit, a 1.6-litre GDi petrol engine is linked to a 44.5kW electric motor and an 8.9kWh lithium ion battery pack that produces a mere 139bhp and a respectable 195lbs ft of torque. Featuring brake energy recovery and over-run harvesting but hooked up to a 6-speed twin-clutch automated gearbox, its electric-only range is given as a modest 35.4-miles. Naturally, this is more than the average daily commute and is capable of providing that vital EV mode for city centre use. It even produces a 59dBa warning approach ‘noise’ for added security/safety. The battery can be recharged partly by its energy recovery system but plugging it into a 3.3kW charger whips up maximum charge in just 2.15 hours.
Kia has always been very good at servicing customers’ needs and the latest TomTom sat-nav fitted to the model provides a practical circular range that highlights available plug-in points and, thus, parking opportunities. Although it is still preferable to get the petrol engine running periodically, to stop it from ‘self-poisoning’, the Ceed PHEV could survive on an electric charge, without ever dipping into its petrol reserve. Mind you, with a 0-60mph time of 10.5s, a top whack of 106mph, a fuel return of a WLTP verified 188.3mpg and CO2 emissions as low as 33g/km, its driver can don a most smug halo of redemption. The driving experience is well-rounded and unhurried.
Mind you, while not as base-heavy as a Soul EV, even though the chassis dynamics are well resolved, Kia cannot conceal completely the bulk of its battery pack and electric motor. Having built-up enough momentum to barrel into bends, the Ceed relies a lot on first-rate grip and, although body roll is well controlled and the slightly blunt steering gives off a whiff of remoteness, its deportment is stable but can be felt through the driver’s seat.
Advancements in car and car-to-car communications technology have been lumped into this new model, using the latest eSIM to retrieve and update live data, which includes mapping, weather, points of interest and even parking opportunities, displaying availability, pricing and location, all readable from the 10.25-inch central touchscreen. From a range of ‘widgets’, the screen can feature three separate, programmable functions for comprehensive driver information. Naturally, ADAS features are of the latest variety, factoring in extra safety and security functions.
Kia’s design stance has been managed imaginatively. It is a most sporty looking estate car, with easy access to its well-detailed interior, which boasts Audi-like fit and finish to mouldings and switchgear. There is plenty of space in the cabin for four large adults and the hatchback opens to reveal a decent boot of 437-litres that can be extended readily to 1,506-litres, when the rear seats are folded forwards. It is also a quiet environment for occupants, thanks to the application of good sound-deadening and its refined powertrain. Marginal increases in dimensions have gifted the Ceed a more mature and grown-up appeal, which lifts it considerably above its notional Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra rivals, which, good as they are, lack the high quality that impresses so much in the Kia.
Yet, I cannot avoid the elephant. Kia, like Skoda and Seat, used to be regarded as a ‘budget’ brand. Of course, ‘budget’ does not equate to ‘cheap and nasty’ but it does infer a value-for-money stance. While I can partly comprehend VW Group’s insistence on higher prices (to settle its ‘emissions cheat device’ legal claims), Kia’s is less easy to spirit away. It is abundantly clear that the South Korean manufacturer, albeit with the Ceed range having been designed, developed and built in Europe (at Zilina, Slovakia, where wages are lower), wants to become a more upmarket marque. However, its price escalation has almost mirrored that of Skoda, which is not of the same ilk.
Conclusion: There is much to admire in the many ways by which Kia has developed its product range and captivated buyers across various social strata. My advice, which should not be too hard to achieve, is to desire the products but argue the prices downwards.