Kia has been on a bit of a winning streak recently. It is launching new models to compete with class leaders and in a market down 5.5% to the end of July, it is bucking the trend with a 1.85% year-on-year registrations increase.
The latest in the new breed of Kias, the third-generation Ceed is intended to compete directly with the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus – an intention that would have seemed laughable five years ago.
It is more refined, more technologically advanced and better to drive compared with its second version.
Albert Biermann, the former boss of BMW M, BMW’s performance car division, now heads the equivalent division at Hyundai and Kia. Biermann oversaw the chassis development, with a view to ensuring the Ceed drives like the very best European hatchbacks.
That more nimble chassis is signalled by sharper lines and shorter overhangs, which help the new sportier Ceed shrug off its previous value-focused image.
Inside, the cabin quality is up there with the best in the class and there is no shortage of toys, either.
Prices for the entry-level Ceed start at £18,295 and all models receive a seven-year/100,000 mile warranty.
This may be almost £3,000 more than the old model, but Kia is dropping the base trim and only selling the Ceed in grade 2 and above, for now. This represents a like-for-like price cut of £365 compared with the old grade 2 car.
Standard specification includes cruise control, air conditioning, an alarm, and automatic headlight activation. A seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system provides digital radio, Bluetooth and smartphone integration, plus a reversing camera.
Safety has been given a high priority too, with lane-keeping assist, high-beam assist and autonomous emergency braking all included as standard.
Stepping up to grade 3 introduces privacy glass, rain-sensing front wipers, an eight-inch touchscreen sat-nav system, climate control, electrically folding door mirrors and rear parking sensors.
The range-topping First Edition costs from £25,750 and includes leather seats, keyless entry/start, automated parking, a sunroof, LED headlights and a JBL audio system.
Kia is also offering a special launch model (see panel, right). The Blue Edition is based on grade 2, but includes sat-nav, LED headlights and half-leather upholstery to boost its showroom appeal. It has a list price of £21,095.
Power comes from a suite of turbocharged petrol – a 120PS 1.0-litre and a 140PS 1.4-litre – and diesel engines. A new 1.6-litre diesel engine is also offered, with 115PS and CO2 emissions from 99g/km.
Buyers can choose from a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
The 1.4-litre offers the best performance and delivers it in a smooth and relaxed way. The 1.0 has to be worked harder and feels a little lacking at motorway speeds.
We found minimal difference in fuel economy during our testing, although official figures suggest the smaller unit has a 4mpg advantage.
The diesel is quiet, refined and capable of up to 74mpg. Performance is brisk, with 0-62mph time of 10.6 seconds. Kia expects it to account for up to 40% of total sales.
A mild-hybrid diesel will launch next year with even lower emissions and better performance.
With any power train, the Ceed is civilised at motorway speeds, and covers miles with little effort.
Q&A: Paul Philpott, president and CEO of Kia UK
How important is the new Ceed for Kia UK?
More than half of our total sales come from Ceed and Sportage, so we absolutely have to get it right. We have a target to increase our sales this year to more than 95,000 units, despite the market being in decline, so the Ceed will have to deliver modest growth.
This segment is dominated by VW and Ford, but we believe we have a product that can challenge them head-on. The new Ceed is now more sophisticated and better to drive than before, but still great value for money.
Do you expect the fleet/retail split to change with the new model?
Retail sales currently account for 25% of total sales. We do expect growth from the new Ceed, but the mix should stay the same.
The new car will have stronger residuals and we will be focusing on increasing our leasing and outright purchase activity with fleets, rather than chasing volume.
We won’t do any rental in the first year, to protect the residuals.
What are you doing to support dealers with the launch of the car?
There will be two special edition models at launch – the Blue Edition and the First Edition, offering great opportunities to upsell. The Blue Edition is designed for maximum showroom appeal and The First Edition comes loaded with extras.
We have planned a range of activities to engage dealers with the new Ceed, including a full day of training. We want to focus on the driving experience and give potential customers the best possible test drive.
Will dealers be expected to do anything differently?
Drivability is a big step change in our new product portfolio.
The new car, along with the new Stinger, is designed to be a driver’s car. The dealer has to get the customer out in the car so they can experience it on the road. We have also introduced new technology for the brand – including advanced driver assistance systems – and it is important that the customer understands how this technology will add value.
Which model and engine do you expect to be the best-seller?
The 1.4-litre petrol is the one we expect to see the highest volumes of, although the diesels will still account for around 40% of total sales.