IAIN ROBERTSON 

IMG

Clever Kia knows precisely how to titivate and tease its customers, reports Iain Robertson, and loading up the specification is a sure-fire method of drawing attention, while boosting performance and positing comfort levels at new peaks.

There is no avoidance of the fact that the consumer is more confused about making a car choice than ever. The days of simple L, GL and GLS trim levels remain but they still factor-in masses of conflicting information, not least when confronted by an accessories brochure that often works against price listing conventions.

It was a move instigated by German carmakers, who felt that personalisation should take precedence over small, medium and large trim dimensions. Giving it the alternative name of customisation, by which go-faster stripes, roof-rails and extra illumination can make model denominations even harder to discern, the precept was that the lesser priced model in a line-up could be made to look better than the unadorned top version; the psychological impact being customer satisfaction at the bottom end. However, that does not eradicate dissatisfaction at the top end. Like a never-ending merry-go-round, the lists of extra cost items grew like Topsy.

IMGOf course, Kia operates its design centre in Germany, even though it builds this car in Slovakia. Most of its design team is German. Most of its design team came from other German brands…hardly a surprise there. Fortunately, if simplification to a numerical formula (1, 2, 3 and First Edition) is but a teensy step towards removing confusion, Kia could be described as having achieved it. There is also clear visual and financial delineation between those trims.

With a starting price of a moderate £20,795 for a 1.0-litre manual XCeed in ‘2’ trim, justifying the leap to a listed £29,195, an £8,400 increase, for the top version, 1.4-litre T-GDi, in 7-speed automated-manual gearbox form, involves deep faith in the brand. Firstly, I should point out that a manual 6-speed ’box is available in First Edition form at £1,100 less, although I sampled the former version.

IMGAs Kia’s Capri-for-a-new-generation, which is what I believe it to be, apart from looking the business externally, the First Edition XCeed provides a techno-fest for the button pushing brigade. Almost impossible to list its extensive features in this space, let me summarise by informing you that it has an automatic parking system, blind-spot monitoring system, intelligent speed limiter, forward collision avoidance, lane-keep system, semi-autonomous steering assist, emergency braking and skid avoidance, among an array of autonomous and semi-autonomous driver aids and safety systems. The most annoying of them is the Steering Assist function, which presages any changes of roadway direction by imposing a nudge and tug in the new direction felt subsequently at the driver’s fingers. It is detestible. Fortunately, it can be switched off for that particular drive session, although its automatic default position is ‘on’.

Yet, this top version of XCeed is also packed with luxury features that include the leatherette and yellow/black patterned cloth upholstery, a panoramic sunroof with automatic roller-blind, electric tailgate, electrically adjustable and heated front seats with the outer pair heated in the rear, a 12.3-inch programmable touchscreen, wireless mobile-phone charger and an eight speaker JBL hi-fi system. It goes a long way towards justifying the ‘all-in’ price tag, meaning that there is no earthly need to pore through a 40-page colour brochure, seeking extras that nobody else will have specified. Yet, they are all standard equipment and will be appreciated by the buyer spending the extra wad of cash…not that ‘cash’ is needed in today’s transactions.

IMGPower is provided by Kia’s familiar, 138bhp turbo-petrol engine, displacing 1.4-litres and driving through the aforementioned, twin-clutch automated-manual gearbox, which lacks sadly a paddle-shift mechanism. Personally, I think this is an unfortunate omission, as I am not alone in feeling that an automated-manual transmission can work more efficaciously with the steering wheel mounted shifters. The decent power output is enough to whisk the 1,345kgs hatchback from 0-60mph in a modest 9.2s (manual: 9.1s), to a top speed of 124mph. Its 40.4mpg official fuel consumption figure is conservative, as I attained around 45.5mpg on the test. It has a 134g/km CO2 rating, which equates to a road tax of £210 (all official figures are WLTP).

Leaving the gearbox to its own devices allowed me to concentrate more on the steering and handling agility of the XCeed. It offers a degree of driver sympathy in that sustained throttle-off exercises, such as when relying on engine braking downhill, will effect downshifts automatically. When it does not do so, the ‘manual’ aspect can be selected using the gearstick (slapped to the right) in a fore and aft sequential motion.

IMGApart from a lot of road noise, which I attribute to the low-profile 235/40 section tyres (although it was prevalent on the lesser-wheeled 1.0-litre version too, which suggests some additional NVH work may be necessary), the crispness in steering and suspension responses supports the sportier impression that Kia wants to impart in this model line-up. The ride quality can become a little ‘nuggety’ on some give-and-take surfaces but it is generally quite smooth, refined and capable of dealing with driver inputs most competently.

Thanks to copious levels of mechanical grip, the XCeed can cover ground at a remarkable pace and packed with creature comforts and one of the best driving positions that I have experienced in any car of its dimensions, it is very easy to understand why Kia has so few problems in converting customers to its models. In ‘First Edition’ trim, you will not want for much (except perhaps those steering wheel mounted shift paddles) and the support of a seven years warranty is a very potent acquisition incentive.

Conclusion:        Packing everything except the kitchen sink into a compact machine is a great way to avoid consumer confusion and there is no denying the fact that this version of the Kia XCeed, even at a fairly hefty price tag, is a genuine cork-popper.

IMG