(Pocket-lint) - The grammar police can stand down. The third-generation of Kia's family hatch is now officially called Ceed (rather than cee'd). The original spelling was always a particularly misguided slice of marketing flimflam, given that it was attached to a very down-to-earth car.
The first-generation Ceed (yes, we're sticking with that name for all gens now!) arrived in 2006, along with Kia's first seven-year warranty, and this peace of mind remains one of the car's most appealing features. The long warranty suggests a well engineered vehicle that has been solidly screwed together.
That's an impression reaffirmed by our time behind the wheel of the latest generation. Nothing rattled or grated or felt flimsy or cheap across our two days spent with the new Kia Ceed. The Korean brand has clearly set its sights on chasing Volkswagen Golf levels of quality, and it's really not very far behind...
The first of the Ceed breed projected a chunky, upright demeanour and was followed in 2012 by a more rakish second generation, created under the leadership of former Audi designer Peter Schreyer.
The wedge-shaped lines of the second Ceed gave it a sense of dynamism, but also the slightly desperate air of an ordinary car trying hard to seem sporty – like donning a Lycra yellow jersey for your cycle to work.
Happily the latest Ceed, which was first revealed at the Geneva motor show in March 2018, looks a lot more comfortable in its own skin; more like a successor to the straightforward first-gen than the overwrought second attempt.
With its long bonnet, horizontal lines and fuss-free flanks, the new Ceed is also very on-trend – sharing these simplified traits with recently revealed designs like the new Mercedes A-Class and latest Ford Focus.
Wider and lower
The new Ceed is a couple of centimetres wider and the same amount lower than its predecessor, while retaining the length of the outgoing generation, so it very much feels like a Ceed in terms of drive and interior space.
However, these minor changes do mean the proportions have shifted for the better. A little extra overhang at the back and less air beneath its nose and the road, the latest Ceed looks a lot more like a car with its wheels in the right place.
Four trim levels are offered in the UK from launch: 2, Blue Edition, 3 and First Edition. Nothing like keeping it simple.
All levels get four "ice cube" LEDs within the headlamps, providing an eye-catching pattern of daytime running lights. At the back, the bean-shaped horizontal lamp clusters are partly encircled by twin pinstripes of red light, serving as distinctive daytime markers at the rear. Full LED headlamps are fitted to Blue Edition and First Edition cars.
The new Ceed's cabin is appealing and usable, with an easy-to-reach touchscreen jutting up from the middle of the dashboard, level with the instrument cluster and angled slightly towards the driver.
The most commonly used controls remain in hardware, with a line of infotainment knobs and buttons ranged above a layer of heating and ventilation controls – which we think is a good thing, as all-touch setups can be tricky to use when driving.
The Ceed's overall control layout is probably preferable to clearing away all the buttons into the touchscreen, but it can take a while to work out which buttons do what. A few hours and days into ownership, however, and you'll no doubt know your way around without coming unstuck.
A third rank of buttons appears in First Edition models, which feature heated and ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel. In the lower grades this third button module is entirely absent, avoiding the misery of blanks reminding you of luxuries you don't enjoy.
Upper trim levels are perhaps trying too hard with the amount of shiny metallic trim scattered about the cabin. All models feature eye-catching stitches across the top of the dashboard, which on closer inspection turns out to be moulded into the plastic – a rare hollow note in an otherwise well played interior.
The Ceed's instrument cluster looks surprisingly sporty and a little at odds with the rest of the car. It's deeply dished, with a pair of round dials sitting behind angled glazing that is prone to catching glare on sunny days.
The cluster includes a 3.5-inch monochrome centre display that is upgraded to a 4.5-inch colour unit from the 3 grade and up.
The main touchscreen is a 7-inch unit in the entry-level car, growing by an inch and gaining TomTom sat nav features throughout the rest of the range. Even the basic screen reacts swiftly and supports swipe-based interaction, with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay fully supported, including voice interaction. A reversing camera is also standard across the range.
Two 12-volt sockets are provided in an open cubby at the front of the centre console, alongside a quick-charge USB socket and AUX-in connector. A DAB radio and Bluetooth streaming support are standard throughout the range, too, while First Edition models gain a Qi wireless charging tray and eight speaker JBL audio upgrade.
Most models get a traditional leather-bound handbrake lever in the middle of the car, while the First Edition has an electronic parking brake with the option to automatically hold the car whenever it stops. The electronic brake can also be chosen at the 3 level as part of an upgrade pack, if you're happy to pay the extra.
The Ceed's laid-back looks are matched by its driving characteristics, with the new car remaining remarkably serene and smooth over the patched and pockmarked roads of our test route. We drove the British-spec Ceed in the mountains of Slovakia, close to the factory where the cars are assembled.
A new 138bhp 1.4-litre T-GDi (turbocharged gasoline direct injection) four-cylinder engine makes its debut in the new Ceed, and is probably the most tempting choice. It offers a smooth and surprisingly quiet delivery but can whip the car to 60mph in 8.9 seconds.
Drop a window and you'll realise how much effort Kia has put into cabin insulation, because the noise parping out of the exhaust pipe is actually quite fruity. Enthusiastic drivers may even be disappointed that they can't hear more of this rasp on the move.
A little more engine noise filters through from the smaller 118bhp 1.0-litre T-GDi engine we tried, with its growly three-cylinder thrum making the Ceed seem as eager as a puppy.
The First Edition and 2 models we sampled didn't feel particularly engaging to drive but they both offered safe, solid and predictable handling. Kia's standard 6-speed manual transmission felt neat and tidy, while a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is an option with the 1.4 petrol and 1.6-litre diesel engines (and the choice option, we feel).
First Edition models fitted with the automatic DCT gearbox also gain Lane Following Assist as standard, a semi-autonomous cruise control function that handles steering, braking and acceleration on dual carriageways and other well-marked roads, operating between rest and 81mph.
We were not able to test this specific system, but all new Ceed models feature a haptic lane keeping feature that provides a firm corrective shove through the steering if you stray over a line without indicating. It can be switched off but we found it a fairly welcome intervention and left the system active – a decision that is generally not the case with lane alerts that simply beep idiotically at normal B-road driving.
In the otherwise well-equipped First Edition Ceed, adaptive cruise control is not available unless you specify an automatic gearbox. A dumb cruise control with speed limiter is fitted to the manual version, but is less useful on busy UK roads.
Automatic models also feature a drive mode selector to switch between normal or sports shift patterns. Sport mode also makes the throttle more eager and adds weight to the steering's feel.
Prices and economy
The Ceed range starts from £18,295, which buys the 2 trim level with manual gearbox and 1.0-litre petrol engine. Choosing the 1.6-litre diesel adds £1,250.
The 1.4-litre T-GDi petrol is the only option with the Blue Edition, starting at £21,095 for the manual version. An automatic transmission adds another £1,100.
All three engine choices and both transmissions are offered with the 3 trim level, which runs from £20,705 for the 1.0-litre manual through to £23,055 for the automatic 1.6-litre diesel.
First Edition cars again use the 1.4-litre petrol engine only and cost £25,750 for the manual car and £26,850 for the automatic.
Some economy and CO2 emissions figures remain to be confirmed, but the figures that have been published are not especially impressive. For example the Blue Edition 1.4 petrol car with 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox is rated at 50.4mpg on the combined cycle, with a 127g/km rating – figures that won't trigger any panic among rivals, some of which (such as the Skoda Octavia) duck well under 120g/km with a comparable gearbox and engine combination.
The new Ceed is not as striking to look at as the previous model, but it takes a big step forward in interior comfort and refinement.
It feels solidly built and comes with a long warranty, also offering a competitive roster of high-tech equipment. The controls retain a sensible mix of digital and hardware interfaces, and some welcome luxury touches appear at the top of the range, such as heated and cooled seats.
Kia has not quite reached Volkswagen levels of interior fit and finish, but it's not far off, and the Korean car now feels a cut above some of its less prestigious European rivals.
Alternatives to consider
Still the benchmark for cars of this size, VW's semi-premium status is justified by its tasteful interior and all-round refinement, though equipment levels tend towards the miserly. The current Golf is also a little geriatric, having arrived in 2012 with a facelift in mid-2017. The new eighth-generation Golf is due in late 2019 and will no doubt raise standards another notch upwards.
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Like the Kia, the Peugeot has a new, slicker style than before – it's actually not dissimilar in the way it looks. However, the Peugeot has a cleaner and higher quality interior, and the drive is spiced up by the smaller steering wheel and high up dials. The tech lags behind, but as an alternative choice, it's an interesting one.