Kia improves its Cee’d with tremendous tactility
The recent recipient of further mid-life refinements, the latest Kia Cee’d is providing proof positive, suggests Iain Robertson, that a German design base for a large volume carmaker can be a veritable boon.
Touch is one of our most vital of five senses. While I would not be alone in being lost without sight, sound, taste and smell, it is the sense of touch that can prove to be the most rewarding. It is intriguing to note that many motoring writers relate readily to the sound of an engine, as it sings up and down a throttle induced register.
They also relate to the smell of a car’s interior, because the essence of treated hide is almost as beguiling as freshly baked bread. A few years ago, Castrol, the vehicle lubricant manufacturer, produced a 40% castor oil engine lubricant that provided an instantly recognisable and wondrously uplifting ester once heated and burnt. Sniffing the R40 in the ether remains a rare treat at motor race meetings and on rallies. It is a pity that it is not really suited to the wider temperature demands of the modern road-going motor vehicle.
Naturally, all of us can thrill to the visual treats presented by some car designs, however rudimentary might be their intentions. While some recent supercar and hypercar designers have tended to concentrate on the more visceral definitions of their machines, sprouting air penetrating blades, spoilers and diffusers, there is very little than can beat the head-turning potential of an early, unadorned Porsche 911, a Jaguar E-Type, or a Lamborghini Countach.
Equally, some of the more mundane runabouts possess a fine line in design, even though they are created for specific purposes of transporting up to five persons on public highways. Herr Peter Schreyer, of Kia and Hyundai fame, is one of those seminal car stylists capable of making the mundane look more meaningful, a feat that he has achieved sublimely with the latest Kia Cee’d. As Toyota-ordinary as its market positioning intends it to be, this five-door hatchback manages that consummate challenge of being visually attractive, if not thoroughly arresting, while providing a sensual appeal that past practice highlights is not truly the remit of mainstream car manufacturers.
The ultimate dream of the volume manufacturing design chief must be to have his product revered, even though its sheer ‘ordinariness’ obviates such an accolade. Well, I doff my cap at Schreyer and his Frankfurt-based team. It has achieved the ultimate goal, in my eyes at least. However, there is a lot more to the appeal of the Cee’d. I love its overall feel. Whether just pawing the paper-thin exterior panel shut-lines, or touching the interior trimmings, the overall feel of the latest Kia Cee’d is now so refined and well-detailed that it is little wonder that, even to the average cynical British car-buyer, this is a brand and model that has tremendous purchase and traction in the market.
However, I want to stick with feel for a few moments more. Possessing an ethereal quality that not too many masculine road testers like to boast about, for fear of showing ‘nancy-boy’ tendencies, it is an all-encompassing aspect that is too readily ignored. The ability to slip behind the steering wheel, without opposing thread stiction between strides and upholstery is an important aspect but only after grabbing the exterior door handle and discovering that it possesses the well-oiled and machined appeal of a Saab 9-5 sedan, or its Swedish counterpart from Volvo. As the door is pulled to and it closes with a satisfyingly deep and secure clunk, the immediate impression is of an attention to detail that has finally come together in this one model.
Yet, in adjusting the steering column and the seat height, as well as the electric lumbar support, to be aware of that magical combination of space in abundance, thanks to an innate understanding of the ’larger’ Germanic/ Northern European human stature, is another slant on enhancing the feel of the product. However, the sheer tactility of the soft-touch surfaces, the blend of leather and cloth in the seat fabric and even the shiny piano-black finish to the steering wheel trim and centre console are elements of the thorough care applied to detailing the interior of the Cee’d. There are no sharp edges, or unsightly trim gaps. Everything gels in a timelessly elegant manner, which ensures that engagement with occupants is a comprehensive result of research and knowing what car buyers want, even at this level.
Powering the Cee’d is the latest generation 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engine. There are 1.4 petrol and diesel as well as 1.6 turbo-petrol alternatives (a new 1.0-litre turbo-petrol ‘triple’ is due later in the year) but the Ecodynamics 1.6CRDi unit sits happily in the middle of the range, developing a modest but adequate 126bhp and driving through a six-speed manual transmission that is as slick and efficient as any of the best developments from the Far East. You only notice the compression-ignition clatter at low speeds, which is not majorly intrusive anyway. Boasting a decent 192lbs ft of torque, constant gearshifting is not essential and the customary diesel benefits are present for the taking. High overall gearing and ‘start-stop’ technology gift the Cee’d an Official Combined fuel return of 64.2mpg, although, as is customary, only the truly light of foot will manage to breach 60mpg. My average for the week’s test was an eminently respectable 54.2mpg, in a genuine mix of town and country motoring.
Emitting 100g/km of CO2, which corresponds to zero-VED charge and a lowly Group 13 insurance rating, living with a Cee’d harbours penny-pinching prospects. Yet, its overall performance is as good as anything else in the class, perhaps feeling slightly better than its conservative 0-60mph claim of 11.2 seconds, before coursing on to a top speed of 119mph.
Crack open the hatchback rear door and a well-shaped space greets the owner, with some additional below floor and behind wheel arches slots for smaller items. The rear-facing reversing camera is a slightly too after-thought ‘wart’ on the rear door, even though its benefits, visible in the dash-centre screen, are blindingly clear. That centrally located touch-screen also houses Kia’s take on in-car multi-media, with neatly styled buttons for the stereo, which converts instantly to sat-nav, or the aforementioned camera. Below the screen are the HVAC controls and the super-efficient air-con. In fact, buttons is the theme for the cockpit, with the steering wheel spokes carrying an abundance of them. To be fair, I was not particularly cheery about them to begin with, despite their first-class tactility, but I did become familiar with the layout fairly speedily and soon appreciated the immediacy of access.
Continuing that overall impression of tactility, the Cee’d’s handling is superb. While the damping (thank the Good Lord) and spring rates are not Teutonically rigid, there exists a reassuring firmness to the suspension that does not discourage spirited cornering. The car remains very neutral up to surprisingly high speeds, when it adopts a gentle and ‘safe’ amount of understeer that can be countered readily by a simple lift off the accelerator pedal. On typical fenland roads around Lincolnshire, where successions of what appear to be gentle troughs and peaks on the road surface that can soon get a car sorely out of shape, the Cee’d took them in its stride and, although I was aware of their severity, the car simply and competently absorbed them.
Body roll is well-controlled and bump absorption is on a different, higher level of proficiency. The car’s steering action, the weight of which can be adjusted through three parameters (Normal, Sport, or Comfort) via a switch on the steering wheel, is a delight, providing solid feel to the driver’s fingers. However, it is the all-round independent suspension employed by Kia that sets the tone for its outstanding overall dynamic appeal.
Conclusion: From the subtle use of chrome accents, the ‘tiger’s nose’ grille, the rearward sweep of the multi-faceted headlamp units and even the new bonded-in windscreen, the Kia Cee’d is torsionally stiff (up by 51% over its predecessor) and hugely rewarding to drive, factors that belie its fairly conventional drive-train. Boasting the refinements of well-equipped premium branded models, albeit at a value-for-money price tag, a midfield Kia Cee’d 3 costs just £20,495, which makes it one of the true bargains of the mainstream sector. That it is inexpensive to live with and just feels so good is much to its credit.