If there's one thing Kia does well, it's smart-looking, sensibly practical cars. The new Ceed fits that bill rather nicely, and the Ceed Sportswagon estate even more so. If you're looking for affordable utility in a car, look no further...
In the metal
As compact estates go, the Ceed SW is pretty handsome. Kia has subtly changed the way this new Ceed model looks, so while there are definite hints of the outgoing model, and it shares the same chassis and hardpoints as the Hyundai i30, the Kia looks relatively distinctive and certainly quietly handsome. The pronounced wedge shape of the old Ceed SW has gone, replaced by a more conservative design with lots of horizontal lines, but Kia's styling department has done some nice surfacing work in between the lines, so the overall effect is quite slick. Our only complaint, styling-wise, is that the sharply angled D-pillar makes it look a bit too much like the five-door hatch from some angles. Some may be happy with that, but we'd have liked to have seen a bit more difference 'twixt the two.
There's no sense of that curviness inside though. One of the big appeals (literally) of the Ceed SW since the first model was introduced in 2007 is the sheer space in the load bay. This time around, Kia has outdone itself, expanding the boot space by 72 litres to an even 600 litres. That's what's technically known as 'massive' and is bigger even than the boot in some big, executive-class estates and more than a few SUVs. Proof that exterior size doesn't necessarily equal interior usefulness. It's practical, too. The loading lip is lower than that of its predecessor, the space in the boot is big, flat and square-sided, and the retracting luggage cover can be removed and stowed under the floor with just one hand, if you practice a little. The rear seats split 40:20:40, too, which expands luggage space on offer to 1,694 litres, again a figure that puts many bigger cars to shame. In fact, according to Kia, the only direct competitor to offer more raw boot space is the cavernous Skoda Octavia Combi (although it's worth pointing out that Hyundai claims a fractionally bigger 602-litre load space for its mechanically-identical i30 Tourer).
Up front, the Ceed is mostly successful, but if you're looking for wild flights of design fancy and flair, you've come to the wrong place. That's OK, though, as this is a cabin that just works very nicely. There's a standard-fit seven-inch touchscreen, which maybe looks a little small these days, but which works well and comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The front seats and driving position are just about ideal, the big main instruments may not be digital, but they're clear and simple and the overall sense of quality is good. Kia hasn't decided to move all of its physical buttons to the touchscreen, and that's a good thing - the Ceed's cabin is much easier to work your way around as a result.
One issue is rear seat legroom. It's fine, but nothing more than fine. Given the vast boot and given that rear legroom is such a USP of its Skoda rival, we'd have liked to see a little more space.
Underneath is the same chassis as that found under the Hyundai i30, but Kia has tweaked the suspension both to its own tastes and to deal with any hefty loads that you might be putting in the back. While an all-new 115hp 1.6-litre diesel engine is available, we've tested the sweet-natured 1.0-litre turbocharged three-pot petrol.
Sweet natured? Oh yes, the Ceed's 120hp three-cylinder engine is eager to rev, makes the expected throaty rasp when you extend it and is pleasingly refined and quiet the rest of the time. Kia quotes just over 50mpg for its average fuel economy, and that sounds about right to us - you should get close to that in daily driving.
Although the torque figure is relatively low (just 172Nm), the SW tips along nicely, and can even pull off an occasional brisk overtake, if you give yourself enough space. We can't see many reasons why you'd bother paying extra for the diesel, to be honest.
The Ceed SW is even very pleasant from a handling point of view. It's not quite as enthusiastic as, say, the new Ford Focus, or the Peugeot 308, but it's got steering with good weight and a surprising amount of feel and feedback. It's not overtly sporting, but it's engaging enough to have you enjoying yourself on a twisty road. Probably more importantly, especially if you've sensibly gone for the standard size wheels, the ride is comfortable and nicely damped, and the Ceed SW is a reasonably refined companion on a main road.
What you get for your money
With Ford and Volkswagen apparently competing to see who can push the price of their basic hatchbacks and estates the highest, it's rather refreshing to see that Kia is keeping its prices rather more affordable. The SW comes in only one trim for now, K3, which starts at €25,295 with this 1.0 engine, and comes with such equipment as 16-inch alloys, LED daytime lights, leather gear shifter and steering wheel, seven-inch touchscreen, wireless phone charger, cruise control, lane keeping assistant, autonomous emergency braking, high beam assist and manual air conditioning.
It's a little bit plain-wrapper, but there's many a plain wrapper with something nice inside. So it proves with the new Kia Ceed SW. Subtly good looking, with plenty of space in the boot (if not, ultimately, in the back seats) and high quality levels. Decent to drive, and that 1.0 engine is a gem.