What are you driving?
What am I driving? Well, now, that's quite the question isn't it. I mean, obviously, it's a Kia Ceed, because it says so right there in the name. There is, though, a rather large 'X' preceding the Ceed (so to speak), which indicates that this is a rather different flavour of Ceed.
Added to that is the XCeed's exterior styling, which mumbles (rather than shouts) SUV or 4x4 - the ride height is lankier by 42mm and there are the now de rigueur dark grey plastic edges for the wheelarches and the bottoms of the doors. Both signify that this is a Ceed that can be taken way off into the boondocks and bashed and battered over trails and gravel paths.
Of course, it can't. There's no real 4x4 ability there bar the extra ride height (much of the advantage of which is wiped out by the fact that the XCeed has longer front and rear overhangs than a standard Ceed hatchback). There's no clever traction control system and no four-wheel-drive option.
Around the back, the rear hatch has been stretched out and sits some 60mm higher at its rear lip than that of the standard car and, rather like the Kia Proceed sports estate, there's a faint hint of Porsche about the way the rear of this car looks. At the front, there's a deeper front bumper with the usual gaping air intakes, along with sharper looking lights that really do help to make this car look like far more than just a Ceed with taller springs.
Inside, the cabin is basically lifted directly from the standard Ceed, which is no bad thing. There's a big infotainment touchscreen in the middle (the full 10.25 inches in this K3-spec car) and lots of high-quality fixtures and fittings. The K3 spec cars also get the 'Yellow Colour Pack', which adds lots of bright yellow stitching and dashboard trims. That could be garish, but we think it works rather well.
Our test car came with the lesser 1.6 CRDi diesel engine (there's a 136hp diesel engine option, and a 1.0-litre petrol unit too), which has 115hp and a useful 280hp of torque.
Name its best bits
I know I really shouldn't, but I do rather like the way the XCeed looks. Yes, it's a Ceed that has been shopping at Craghoppers, but it's rather handsome for that, and I'm a sucker for the Porsche-esque styling around the rear. I realise that the idea of an off-roading hatchback that can't actually go off-road is pretty daft, but what can I say? The XCeed's styling is rather appealing.
Inside, that effect is only amplified. The closest rival to the XCeed is Ford's Focus Active and, while this may surprise you, it's the Korean car that has the better-made, more-welcoming interior. Most of the surfaces are of high-quality and soft to the touch, while the basics - seat comfort, driving position, switch quality - are all spot-on. Space is only OK, though. Front seat room and comfort are very good, but the rear seats could do with a touch more legroom. Space in the boot is OK too at 426 litres, which is comparable with larger cars such as the Nissan Qashqai.
The 1.6-litre engine proves once again why it's foolish to assume diesel's demise. It's not the quietest, but at least its grumbly clatter is kept reasonably well at bay and, while it's equally not the quickest, its 280Nm of torque does keep things rocking along quite nicely.
As far as handling goes, the XCeed strikes a reasonable balance. Its springs are not only taller than those of the standard Ceed, but also a little softer (by seven per cent at the front and four per cent at the rear). Given that, you'd expect copious body lean, but actually the XCeed is pretty tidy to drive, and the bonus of those soft springs is that the ride quality is really rather good. Steering feel is pretty minimal and the XCeed lacks that lovely, precise, liquid-engineering feel of the Focus, but it's not bad, and the XCeed feels surprisingly enthusiastic to drive.
Anything that bugs you?
On the dynamic front, our only real complaint is that the six-speed manual gearbox doesn't like to be rushed - try to be too quick with a second-to-third shift and you'll end up with a horrible graunch from the cogs.
Other than that, the only thing bugging us is a sense of purpose. The XCeed is nice and all, but it doesn't really offer much over and above the standard Ceed, other than some slightly more enticing styling and the fractionally bigger boot. Considering that it asks a price premium of €3,000 over the (more practical) Ceed Sportwagon estate, with the same engine and in the same trim, it's rather hard to make a value case for the XCeed.
And why have you given it this rating?
The XCeed is nice. It's one of those cars that really grows on you as you spend time with it, and which proves itself to be well-built, comfortable, decent to drive and reasonably practical. Our only major caveat is that it does ask rather too much extra on the purchase price relative to a more conventional Ceed variant.
What do the rest of the team think?
Obviously, Neil is right: the Kia Ceed Sportswagon is better value and more practical than the new Kia XCeed. And yet, I empathise with buyers that will take once look at them both and immediately set their hearts on the crossover; it's a great-looking car in a subtle way. Is there room for both it and the almost-as-sexy Proceed in the line-up, though? That's the big question.
Shane O'Donoghue - Editor