Better looking and better proportioned, the new Kia Ceed is gunning for top spot in the hatchback C-segment. Improvements to interior quality complement greater refinement and the new 1.6-litre diesel engine should be a popular choice.
In the metal
As if we didn't need reminding of just how quickly the Korean brands like Kia have evolved, the new Ceed now looks every bit as appealing and mature as its best European rivals. While it remains the same in overall length and wheelbase as its predecessor, the Ceed's proportions differ slightly to give it a more cab-rearward design. The windscreen's A-pillars move back by 68mm to the benefit, not just of appearance, but also the driver's field of vision.
The car's front is by far its best angle, and the 'tiger nose' grille design remains with some subtle tweaks. Slimmer headlight units now incorporate four-point 'ice cube' LED daytime running lights, and the reduced height emphasises the car's wider stance.
A reduction in front overhang by 20mm is countered with an extension of 20mm at the rear, which in turn contributes to easier cargo loading. There's a modest increase in boot space of 15 litres, but what's more useful is the lowering of the load lip, so it's easier to get bulkier items in and out. With the hatch closed, the rear bears some similarities to the company's compact crossover, the Kia Stonic. However, the styling in between the wheels is more generic for the segment, meaning its visual appeal, on the outside at least, is more determined by the paint and wheel choices, with the latter going up to 17 inches in diameter.
If the exterior design game has taken a cautious step forward, then the interior has leapt ahead. From the materials used to the overall design, the cabin of the new Ceed is now a much nicer area. The multifunction steering wheel has a hint of, whisper it, Mercedes-Benz, about it. Not only does it seem to be just the right size, it feels good in hand too. Easy-to-read and straightforward instrument dials include a small TFT display in between them and, from 2019, Kia will offer an all-digital instrument cluster.
The centre console is a simple affair with either a seven- or eight-inch touchscreen display perched on top of it (depending on specification grade). Nonetheless, sunny weather makes the top of the dash reflect more in the windscreen, and the satin chrome finish to some of the plastic trim pieces feels a bit cheap, especially in cars with automatic transmissions, as it covers the top of the selector surround. Softer plastics on the dashboard and along the top of the doors add to what is a sense of overall improvement, however. Rear passenger space measures out to be the best-in-class for rear shoulder room, while legroom is also one of the best at 883mm, though it is slightly less than the previous model's, curiously.
Despite an ongoing market shift back towards petrol, Kia is introducing a new 1.6-litre diesel for the Ceed. Available in 115- and 136hp guises, it's a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The less powerful version with a six-speed manual gearbox and Eco Pack fitted emits 99g/km making it especially tax-friendly.
We first drove it with the six-speed manual transmission. Its gear change isn't as slick as in many rival cars, but its gearing is long enough to make cruising an economic prospect. Drivers with a light right foot could see up to 1,000 kilometres between refills. There is a definite difference in the engine performance of the two diesel engines and the 115hp version emits more noise into the cabin as it often has to work that bit harder to pull the Ceed along. In contrast, driving the 136hp version with the seven-speed automatic transmission results in a drive that provides much better refinement. The gear changes are as smooth as you might expect from a dual-clutch setup and the automatic transmission allows it to produce 320Nm of torque, 20Nm more than the manual.
Particular attention has been paid to how the new Kia Ceed handles, with extensive work going into optimising the suspension setup for European roads. The front springs are 40 per cent stiffer than before and the front anti-roll bar has been reduced in stiffness by 22 per cent, while the spring rates at the back have been relaxed by 10 per cent. All of this results in a car that rides the bumps better without sacrificing too much in the handling stakes. It isn't the type of car that encourages you to fling it into a bend, but it retains enough composure should you decide to.
What you get for your money
The diesel Kia Ceed will be available in two equipment grades, starting with the 'K2' at €24,995. This equips it with 16-inch alloy wheels, halogen headlights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cloth seats, seven-inch touchscreen display with Bluetooth, voice recognition and a reversing camera.
An additional €1,600 moves you up to the 'K3' grade, which retains the 16-inch alloy wheels, but adds LED front and rear lights. Half leather seats lift the interior while the centre console frees up more space with an electric handbrake. Parking sensors complement the reversing camera, and the same seven-inch infotainment screen remains. One other useful feature is the wireless smartphone charging pad within the centre console.
Both models also feature Forward Collision Assist, Lane Keep Assist, High Beam Assist and a Driver Attention Warning as standard.
The new Kia Ceed does a decent job of providing better levels of refinement at what remains a competitive price. Not only is the new design more modern, but the boost in quality to the interior is also a very welcome improvement. More worthy of consideration than ever before.