Product Type: Kia cars
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Out of Focus or a hole in one?
Member Name: ImVeryNice
Date: 17/09/08, updated on 04/10/08 (1395 review reads)
Advantages: 5 star NCAP rating, equipment, easy to drive, smooth powerful engine, quite roomy, economical
Disadvantages: hard ride, over-light steering, instrument lighting, engine noise
The excited Chinese lady knocked on my window, "Very nice car Kia, German is it? How much is it?" I had to think a minute as I only had the car on hire but I thought I'd seen a list price mentioned on the hire agreement (in case I had to pay for it I suppose). "No it's Korean. And about £13,000". "Really! Expensive though. Can you get cheaper?" I hazarded a guess. I knew mine had a 1.6 litre engine so probably there is a smaller engine version. "You can probably get a basic one for £12,000, or £11,000". She shook her head, "Expensive! Not German!", and waved goodbye.
As it turned out I was right about the price, you can get a Kia Cee'd for £10,995 with a 1.4 litre engine. However, we were both wrong about its country of origin. Although Kia is a South Korean manufacturer, the car is made in Slovakia alongside its sister model the Hyundai i30.
Why the name?
First thing to understand about this car is its name: according to Kia it stands for something like "Community of Europe European Design" (what a mouthful!) and is pronounced like "seed". Aside from being a tacit admission that the Koreans think Europeans design a better car it shows what Kia were aiming for: a car to rival the best European compacts such as the VW Golf and the Ford Focus. Have they "suc-cee'd-ed"? Well, in some respects their car is as good or better than the competition (engine, standard equipment and warranty) but as a package its not quite there. And really it only took a few minutes driving the car for me to find out. So why didn't Kia?
Visually very much like a Toyota Corolla with perhaps a hint of Vauxhall Astra. The colour was very nice though, a kind of silvery-copper metallic. But why are there no rubbing strips anywhere to protect its pretty bodywork? In what European country are there no supermarket car parks? (Slovakia perhaps).
Inside the car:
I find the indicators are on the right, just like an old Japanese car or an even older British one. So far not very European then. Having the indicators on the "wrong" side is something you'd get used to if it was your only car but if you regularly drive another car it could drive you mad or even be dangerous; flicking the wipers is not the best way to inform other drivers of your intention to change lanes or make a turn. Another obvious and garish feature was the bright orange high intensity instrument lighting - more Kia-Ora than Kia I thought. Once again Kia seem to have tried something new (orange instrument lighting) for its own sake. It is horrible and close to dazzling on the open road at night (there was no dimmer). It might possibly work in town where the ambient lighting level is high, and also orange.
The general interior ambience was black plastic, the seat fabric was nondescript and my seat was hard and flat with little support. It was easy to find a suitable driving position though as the seat is adjustable for height, reach and rake. Unfortunately I found the seat back uncomfortable and the crude adjuster fitted only made it worse: it worked in the small of your back and not the lumbar region. Interior room was fine for this class of car and there were handy door pockets, a front central armrest cum cubby hole and cup-holders in the front and back. The (air-conditioned) glove-box was rather small and mainly occupied by the owner's handbook. Electric windows only fitted in the front though. A large central console houses the radio, CD and MP3 player together with the onboard computer display. The steering wheel is leather bound and has clearly-marked controls for the radio-CD player. A manual air conditioning system was fitted which was simple to use and effective. Remote central locking with alarm was also standard, as were alloy wheels. (My own view, however, is that alloy wheels are unnecessary, difficult to clean and easy to damage on kerbs. The money would have been better spent on a panel light dimmer and some rear electric windows.) All in all though quite well equipped (this was the GS model, one up from the base).
On the move:
I noticed the steering was very light and direct, too light for me, and had no "feel". Excellent for manoeuvring or parking but at motorway speeds it remained just as light (obviously not variable power assistance) which combined with its directness made the car feel a bit twitchy at first. Again, you could get used to it but others do it better. A shame because the directional stability was basically very good. It was also immediately apparent that the ride was firm or even harsh with lots of bump-thump coming through and tyre roar on some surfaces. The pay off was very tidy point and go handling. I had the impression that Kia must have been trying to emulate the MINI's ride and handling rather than the obvious competition.
Under the bonnet:
And what about the engine I hear you cry, no? As I mentioned above I had a 1.6 litre (petrol) and a look under the bonnet showed it was a DOHC (double overhead camshaft) design. Kia claim a surprising 124 bhp for this unit (more than Golf GTI's used to have until they went turbocharged) and there was always something in hand for overtaking or hills. It felt smooth and flexible rather than fast. Unfortunately it wasn't especially quiet. Revving the engine produces a bit of a din and I noticed an exhaust boom at 60 mph in top gear (fifth). The clutch and gears are light and quite precise if nothing unusual. On the other hand the gearing was strange: first seemed very low (good for Alpine hairpins perhaps) and top gear also seemed too short leading to more engine noise than necessary. It wasn't bad but it could have been a bit more refined, perhaps a 6th gear would help. Keeping to a steady 70 mph needed a very light foot (all that power I suppose) so I would have liked cruise control. Fuel consumption was computed at 6.2 litres/100 km by the onboard computer (about 45 mpg) in five days and 350 miles of mixed town, motorway and general open road driving. I was keeping to speed limits but didn't try especially hard so it does seem an economical car.
Putting the boot in:
The boot is an average to decent size (340 litres) with a flat floor which lifts to reveal the compact spare wheel, jack and basic tool kit. There would be room under this floor to store a warning triangle, tow rope and a few other odds and ends too. The asymmetrically split rear seats fold forward to give a useful load area while the luggage cover lifts out of the way as you open the tailgate to make loading easier.
Insurance & Warranty:
Insurance is a reasonable group 5 (1.6 GS model) and Kia offer an excellent 7-years or 100,000 mile warranty as standard. This helps to make up for the fact that Kias no longer have bargain basement prices (as remarked by that Chinese lady). Or is it just a way to get you to use the dealer for servicing for the next 7 years (cynical I'm not). Passive safety seems impressive with six airbags and a 5 star NCAP score. But these days anything less would be considered poor.
Home on the range:
The Kia Cee'd comprises a wide range of options with two petrol engines (1.4 and 1.6 litres), three diesel engines (1.6, 1.6 high output and 2.0 litres), 5-speed manual gearboxes (6-speed on 2.0 litre diesel) with optional 4-speed automatic on the 1.6 litre petrol AND diesel models - this last combination is extremely unusual at this engine size. There are five different trim levels, depending on your engine choice.
Apart from the hatchback there is also an estate known as the "SW" (shamelessly copying both its name and styling from Peugeot) and a three-door coupé known as the Pro_Cee'd, which has its own slightly plusher levels of trim. It costs a bit more too.
If the Cee'd is not quite your thing, have a look at the near-identical Hyundai i30 which has a different styling and interior treatment.
Quite good but I think they could do better. I suspect the diesel would be a nicer drive as well as even more economical. Unfortunately depreciation can be very high on any non-mainstream car so I would expect to lose money on it, especially compared to the VW Golf. I say that as someone who once bought a new Proton...
Nb. I have not been able to assess reliability (though nothing went wrong in the five days I had the car). The general verdict on Kia seems satisfactory however.
This review also on Ciao under my "TrueVision" moniker.
Summary: Kia need to rethink a few details before it can really "suc-cee'd"