IAIN ROBERTSON 

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Declared by Kia as its ‘fourth model in the Ceed range’, Iain Robertson ponders over its place in the market and believes that XCeed delivers a more emotional extension than its maker may have contemplated, which is sheer genius.

Kia Motors is in an invidious position at present. It has made the transition from ‘budget’ to ‘popular’ status, more by way of gentle shuffling than sudden jerks. If price parity is a key consideration, in league with its market shift, it has more than managed that chore and dispensed with insta-affordability in a fell swoop.

While you will receive zero argument from me on the perceived and actual high-quality of the end products, I realise that I am not alone in harbouring a teensy grumble about Kia departing its original remit. In that respect, it is not dissimilar to Skoda, which no longer boasts about affordability, preferring to indulge in ‘clever’ descripts, as a means to divert attention away from both design and price close proximity with the other VW Group brands.

IMGAlthough I am not suggesting that Kia is on ‘shaky ground’, its direct and headlong battle with other mainstreamers, while fruitful in some respects also places immense pressure on the brand to maintain momentum. Yet, there exists still a tranche of the new car market that considers Kia to be a lower-priced proposition and, once confronted by ‘normal’ price tags, those ‘buyers’ will dis-count Kia. To be totally unfair, I am starting to think of both Audi and BMW as Kia’s more abundant hunting ground, as XCeed is certainly in A3/1-Series territory.

To exceed at anything demands effort be expended, with excellence in mind. Kia’s play on words infers a typical ‘X’ standing for ‘crossover’, which is currently the fastest growing segment of the new car scene. Despite the insinuation, supported by a 44mm ride height increase over the regular Ceed and the application of black wheel arch surrounds and silvered underbody ‘skids’, the brilliance of XCeed is that I posit it as being somewhat closer to a spiritual five-door successor to the original Ford Capri. The Capri was a gamechanger in its day back in the late-1960s and I believe wholeheartedly that the new Kia XCeed can play a similar role today, in a much-changed new car market that is predominated by business user-choosers.

IMGIn typical Kia form, the core trims are ‘2’ and ‘3’ and I shall cover the rather special ‘First Edition’ in a subsequent report. With a starter model (1.0 ‘2’; the silver car) priced at £20,795, there is no fear of driving an ill-equipped base version and a comprehensive specification will keep customer expectations on a high. Kia is extraordinarily clever at producing cars that people desire and the spritely, 118bhp 1.0-litre turbo-petrol engine, driving through a deliciously ‘snikkety’, 6-speed manual gearbox, delivers a 0-60mph dash in 10.9s, a top speed of 115mph, a readily achievable 45.6mpg (having touched 51mpg on test) and CO2 emissions posted at a modest 124g/km (£170 road tax).

As you may be aware, I love these slightly off-beat three-pot engines. As one of the punchiest in the class, I expected a zestier delivery but its kerbweight of around 1.3 tonnes does hold it back. It is best to shift up early and let the torque do its job. It can certainly cover ground at a decent pace, which is much to its credit.

IMGWhile the 1.0-litre is sure to be immensely popular, moving up to trim grade ‘3’ (the red car), which is also available for both 1.0-litre and 1.4-litre petrol engines, gave me the chance to appreciate Kia’s on-going support for diesel. I applaud Kia for not buckling to the present diesel antipathy, as its refined and clean 1.6-litre CRDi unit with 6-speed manual gearbox is a true delight to experience both bottom-end punchiness and broadly similar performance figures to the 1.0-litre, albeit with a 118mph top whack, significantly better mid-range pull, fuel economy potential of an official 52.3mpg (I attained 59mpg and feel that the mid-60s will be possible) and CO2 emissions of 109g/km (£170 road tax).

The step-up from ‘2’ to ‘3’ is noticeable, with 18.0-inch diameter alloy wheels (an increase of 2.0-inches), leatherette/cloth upholstery, automatic air-con, privacy glazing and sat-nav, working through a 10.25-inch touchscreen, and more besides. It is enough to justify the £4,550 price increase for the 1.6-litre turbodiesel over the entry-level 1.0-litre petrol model. The mildly annoying but, fortunately, switch-off-able steering assist (featuring on all XCeeds), gives unobliging nudges about bends and direction changes through the steering wheel to the driver’s fingers. It is part of a comprehensive array of semi-autonomous driver safety programs inherent to the XCeed (and an increasing number of new cars), with the ‘3’ level gaining from more technology including pedestrian and cyclist detection for its collision avoidance system. Thank heavens, some of them can be switched off…although the default setting is always ‘on’.

IMGThe entire XCeed family benefits from 20% enhanced damper and spring rates, which provide a significantly sportier ride quality than the regular Ceed. If anything, the diesel, thanks to slightly heavier nose weight, is more dynamically improved and its electrically assisted power steering feels more connected than in the lighter 1.0-litre. It is an impression continued over longer amplitude bumps, with which the 1.0-litre becomes ‘jostled’, while the diesel feels more controlled. On more mixed quality surfaces, both cars can become a little agitated and even fidgety, which becomes wearing for the driver.

Yet, grip levels for both variants are exceptionally high and ‘roll-free’ cornering agility gives huge confidence to a press-on driver. With plenty of cabin space adjustability and a decent boot, the XCeed goes a long way towards exceeding Ceed expectations, which is surely what Kia always intended for its newcomer.

Conclusion:      Apart from seriously good and head-turning looks, Kia’s 5-door coupe hits the road running for the brand and adds credibility to my ‘Capri’ analogy, as there is nothing else quite like it on sale today.