Kia moving on up with impressive Ceed

Useless information (Part 1): the name Kia is derived from the Sino-Korean characters ‘Ki’ which means ‘to come out’ and ‘A’ which denotes East Asia, so the combination literally means ‘to come out of the East,’ writes Declan Colley

Useless information (Part 2): Kia started life in 1944 as Kyungsung Precision Industry, the manufacturer of steel tubing and bicycle parts. In 1951, it produced Korea’s first domestic bicycle — the Samchully.

The new Kia Ceed is a car designed for Europe and Europeans.

Now there are those who will maintain — unkindly, it has to be said — that the world would be a better place if Kia had not ‘come out of the East’ and had stuck to making bicycles.

But given that the company now makes gazillions of vehicles annually and employs many tens of thousands of people worldwide and is a serious player in the automotive hierarchy, that scenario is unlikely to play out.

A good example of just how serious a player it is comes in the shape of the new Kia Ceed which, shorn of its apostrophied uniqueness, has now been given the looks, engines and quality which it is hoped will allow it compete strongly against the two kings of the compact family hatchback segment — the Volkswagen Golf and the Ford Focus. Not to mention Toyota which is fighting back with the Corolla hatch, having abandoned the ‘yoof’ oriented Auris programme.

This scenario is big bananas for Kia. Not that very long ago, the company was making Mazda and Honda knock-offs for a living and at one point manufactured and sold — under licence — variants of the Fiat 132 and the Peugeot 604. Not what you might rightly conclude as the precursor for a realistic assault on the global car market.

But with a much focussed approach to growth in every single market it tackled, as well as a somewhat visionary design-led corporate ideal, Kia has come from making bicycle bits to taking on the automotive world. And the new Ceed is the car Kia reckons will crack Europe for it.

Sure there have been successes down the years — the Kia Sportage being the most notable, globally — but Kia mainly traded as a low-cost, value-for-money car maker and one which made very reliable cars, hence it becoming the first manufacturer to promote a seven-year-warranty programme.

The warranty shtick was something of a smoke and mirror job because, after all, who in this PCP world keeps a car for seven years anyway, but it did indicate to punters that the company was prepared to stand by its products and that had to mean they weren’t kidding. 

It worked.

READ MORE: Tweaks keep Nissan Qashqai ahead of the pack

That is all very well when you are largely making unsophisticated and technologically conservative cars, but it becomes a very different thing when you step beyond those parameters and attempt to take on automotive behemoths such as Ford and Volkswagen. The quality of the product becomes everything.

For some 10 years now, Kia has focussed largely on expanding into Europe and having promised back in 2005 that ‘design’ would be the company’s “core future growth engine” it has largely delivered on that pledge, creating (through the work of chief designer Peter Schreyer) a very identifiable ‘Kia’ look and not something (like their brethren at Hyundai) that merely mimics contemporary generic European designs.

Beyond that, Kia has also started to make cars that that will make drivers smile. It has crossed that Asian Rubicon whereby cars are merely utilitarian things which are not meant to be fun; they’re meant to do things and bring you places — not provide enjoyment while you’re doing so.

The Ceed is the car which has attempted smash a glass ceiling and while it may not have completely shattered the premise that the Asians will never make cars which Europeans adore, it has certainly gone a long way towards doing so.

Look at the basics: independent all round suspensions (check); a properly weighted steering rack (check); electronic driving aids which improve the driving experience rather than prove what an idiot you are (check); top drawer space and practicality (check); and, a range of modern, clean and efficient engines (check).

OK, so the Koreans have designed a car for Europe and Europeans, rather than one compromised (and emasculated) for Asian or American tastes and it is one which truly has the moxie for the job at hand.

We tried the Ceed with the smallest engine — the one litre, three cylinder turbo petrol unit — and with the second-to-top K4 specification rating which throws in a lot of kit on top of the K2 version (which features such as cruise control, air con, leather trim for steering wheel and gear knob, 16” alloys, auto lights, 7” touchscreen, DAB radio, Bluetooth, car play, android and all that other stuff).

K4 adds 17” alloys, an 8” touchscreen with sat nav and Wi-Fi, exterior and interior styling upgrades, privacy glass, parking sensors, extra steering wheel controls and so forth.

You will nevertheless find all that stuff in most cars these days — at some point in their spec grade — will offer items which, while not to be sniffed at, still don’t make it a good car. Think back to the likes of fellow South Koreans Daewoo. All specification, but no sole in the shoe when it came to the cobbler, as many will recall wistfully.

READ MORE: Here are the winners in the Irish Car of the Year Awards

This is different. Not only will it make a decent re-sale proposition in time to come, but it will still look good look too — much like any Golf or Focus.

What makes the Ceed a very good car is the way the engine performs and the manner in which the chassis conducts itself on the road. I’m not saying the new Ceed is a great car, but it is certainly one hell of an improvement on the two which preceded it and it is indicative that the Kia game has shifted up a gear.

It handles with precision and poise and if those characteristics by necessity mean that the suspension settings are a tad stiffer than some would like, then so be it. But it handles so well it will genuinely put a smile on your face.

The stylish interior of the Kia Ceed

Because the handling is so well sorted and the ride shows a level of engineering erudition, it makes the car a cut above.

The engine, too, is a burbly companion with its throaty and enthusiastic soundtrack and while top speed is only 180km/h and the 0-100km/h dash achieved in 10.9 seconds, it really is very good to live with.

Allied to a slick six speed gearbox, it is fun to drive and efficient too, returning a 5.5 l/100km economy (50.9mpg) and a €270 annual tax bill.

Throw in roomy, practical and well equipped and you have, in my opinion, a real contender and one which might not just yet up to Ford and Volkswagen standards, but not trailing far behind either. Sure the dash could be a touch un-sexy for some, but it worked fine for me.

I don’t think Kia is going to go back to making bicycles anytime soon and the main evidence for that is the quality of this car and the impact it is going to have across Europe. It’s a good ‘un.