Good: solid quality, spacious cabin, price, equipment, warranty, dynamically well sorted
Not so good: too thirsty in daily driving, noisy at higher speeds, gimmicky steering settings
You know the theory of the 27 per cent-ers? Actors and actresses who, while not necessarily as much a mega star as the likes of Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts, are nonetheless solid and enjoyable. The kind of performers who flesh out supporting roles and make the movie that they're in at least 27 per cent more watchable. Kevin Bacon. Stanley Tucci. Amy Adams. Tom Hiddlestone. Lisa Kudrow. You get the idea.
That's what the Kia cee'd is. It's not got the out-and-out showiness of some of the more recognised models in the segment. It's not a Golf, nor a Focus nor a Peugeot 308. It doesn't have the sheer hefty quality or quasi-luxury image of the Golf. It doesn't have the sharp handling of the Focus and it doesn't have the understated handsomeness of the 308. What it does have is sufficient of those values, and a few more besides, that make it a compelling performer, one apt to steal the performance from the side of the stage...
There have been some very subtle changes to the exterior styling for this mid-life upgrade. There are new bumpers and new radiator grille, while at the back you've got new bumpers (again) and some LED lights. Not dramatically different, but it's still a good looking car so that's OK. Our test car was significantly enlivened by wearing the GT-Line pack, which includes a chunky body kit, egg-crate grille for the radiator and rather fetching four-point fog lamps, which look more than a little Porsche-esque.
Inside, again, the changes are subtle. There are some more chrome flashings, updated upholstery designs (partially piped in contrast on this GT-Line model) and some improvements to the overall quality levels. Not all that different though - the cee'd remains a simple car inside, with big, easy to use buttons, clear, simple dials and an old-fashioned stereo system that actually is much easier to connect your mobile phone to than some of the shiny new touch-screen setups. The steering wheel is particularly nice - it looks and feels as if it's from a more expensive car than the rest of the cabin.
There's lots of space and the boot is pretty decent (although rendered a little shallow on our test car by an under-floor storage tray - useful but we'd rather have the extra volume). Inside, the seats are genuinely comfy (some of the more established European and Japanese names could learn something from Kia when it comes to seat design) and there's good leg- and head room in the back, albeit the rear seats are a little dark and gloomy thanks to that fast-rising window-line.
Up front we find Kia's new 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, following the current trend for down-sized petrol power. It's an engine that should make a lot of sense to a lot of buyers, and it's pleasingly refined around town, with a sweet little gruff exhaust note when you rev it hard. The power band is a little narrow though - below 1,500rpm it's utterly dead and there's not much truly happening until you've got 2,000rpm on the clock. Then it pulls strongly, even sportily; but realistically, even though the redline stretches to 6,000rpm, there's not much point in venturing beyond 4,000rpm.
That would make it, you'd think, really economical, but it's a bit of a double-edged sword. On longer journeys, especially motorway runs, the cee'd 1.0 is impressively frugal, and should get you to the sunny side of 45mpg. Around town though, that economy takes a big dive, in spite of the standard-fit stop-start system, and you'll be lucky to keep it above 35mpg. That's not great, and it makes the cee'd considerably thirstier, overall, than a Volkswagen 1.2 TSI or a Peugeot 1.2 PureTech.
It is nice to drive though. The steering can be adjusted through three selectable programmes - Sport, Normal and Comfort - but that's a total gimmick in our opinions. Nonetheless, underneath there is actually some communication between driver and tarmac. That's a good thing too, because the cee'd chassis is well balanced, and it has a very Ford-like feel to it - firmly sprung but well-damped and controlled. It's only dynamic black mark is that there's just too much tyre noise at higher speeds on motorways and main roads. You may even find yourself running out of radio volume if you like listening to subtle music or spoken word pieces behind the wheel.
Still, for €22,550 with a long list of standard equipment (that GT-Line body kit, the multi-function steering wheel, Bluetooth, iPhone integration, nice upholstery, smart alloys) we'd put up with a bit of tyre roar. While the facelift hasn't changed much, and while the new 1.0-litre engine is left somewhat hanging by slightly underwhelming consumption figures, the cee'd retains its ability to undermine the performance of the bigger, more obvious stars. Kevin Bacon would be proud.