BY STEVE WALKER
Until early 2007, Kia had shown glimpses of ambition but ultimately, glimpses were all they were. Cars like the Sedona, Picanto and Sorento had led commentators to speculate on what the marque might be capable of but it wasn't until the arrival of the cee'd family hatchback that any cast-iron evidence was forthcoming. The cee'd was the first car to really showcase Kia's potential to rise above the bargain basement territory where the Southeast Asian marques had traditionally held sway with their low prices and high equipment levels. Finally, here was a Kia with the quality to challenge the European and Japanese brands on a level playing field. On the used market, the cee'd might even make more sense than it did new.
Models covered: (5dr hatchback 1.4, 1.6 petrol, 1.6, 2.0 diesel [S, GS, SR, LS, Sport])
The cee'd arrived with a well fleshed-out model range signalling Kia's intent. Two petrol and two diesel engines were available, along with a comprehensive collection of trim levels. The line-up looked like that of a mainstream family hatchback rather than a value-orientated Korean offering and on acquaintance with the cee'd, it was clear that the car's leanings were very much in that direction too. The driving experience and particularly the interior quality were better than anything Kia had yet come up with. The cee'd range was further enhanced by the arrival of the SW estate version in the autumn of 2007 and Kia's idiosyncratic model naming policy surpassed even itself in early 2008 when the pro_cee'd three-door hatch was launched to bring a sporty element to proceedings.
What You Get
The cee'd is a car designed by Europeans for Europeans. It's built in Europe - in Slovenia to be exact - and the man behind the design project, Peter Schreyer, was once head of design for Volkswagen Group. The Koreans pulled no punches with this design and that much is evident the very first time you clap eyes on a cee'd. We challenge you to name one Korean car before this one that hasn't had at least one gratuitously odd styling feature. Think of even the better-looking South-East Asian cars and there will be some jarring detail you'll be able to nominate fairly easily. With the cee'd, Kia aimed for a more mature design. Not mature as in the demographic of the target market. Rather the design output of a company that doesn't need to fall back on gimmickry and ostentation to get noticed. Sit inside the cee'd and you'll be impressed. Schreyer and his team benchmarked the best European cars in order to give Kia something substantive to aim at and when it came to interiors, he was able to share a little of what he knew of his ex-employers' best practice. Quality fabrics, doors that 'thunk' shut and thoughtful approach to design make the cee'd a landmark Korean car. The plastics quality is still a little hit and miss and the orange dash lighting isn't overly easy on the eye but let's not be patronising and proclaim the car as 'a lot of metal for your money' or any other such bunk. This Kia is a good car, full stop. The cee'd is available in five-door hatch and SW estate bodystyles. If you want a 3-door you'll need the sportier pro_cee'd model. Trim levels open with the S models which feature air conditioning, six airbags, a stereo that can accept MP3 file inputs from the CD, a trip computer and 15-inch steel wheels. Step up to the GS model and you'll get 16-inch alloy wheels, a better stereo with an auxiliary socket for docking your iPod to, remote locking and electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors. The plush LS adds climate control, part leather upholstery and front fog lamps, while the Sport takes a slightly sportier tack with 17-inch rims, sports seats and black bezel headlamps.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The plusher LS and GS models will be more desirable on the used market so these models are worth seeking out and the same goes for the Sport. Kia's reliability record is strong and at this relatively early stage, there are no skeletons in the cee'd's closet that buyers need to be aware of.
(Estimated prices, based on a 2007 1.4 S) Kia spares prices have gained an enviable reputation for good value, and replacement parts for the cee'd are no exception. A clutch assembly is around £150, whilst front brake pads weigh in at around £40. An alternator will cost around £130, and for a starter motor you'll be looking at £120.
On the Road
The Kia cee'd offers buyers a choice of either a 108bhp 14-litre unit, a 120bhp 1.6-litre that's the most popular petrol engine and a 141bhp 2.0-litre powerplant. Diesel customers get the choice of 89 or 114bhp variants of the 1.6-litre direct injection common-rail 16v engine or a 138bhp 2.0-litre. All engines bar the 2.0-litre units get a five-speed manual gearbox, the bigger engines getting a six-speeder. The 1.6 was also offered with a four-speed auto. None of the cars are what you'd call quick but by the same token, none, except perhaps for the 1.4-litre petrol, are signally lacking in poke. The 1.6-litre petrol is a little resonant when extended but in normal use is adequately refined. It'll make sixty in 10.8 seconds and reach 119mph. To drive, the cee'd is there or thereabouts. The steering lacks a little of the polish of some of the very best contenders, although we're talking about tiny percentage differences. There's certainly very little in it when it comes to ride quality, the Kia adopting much the same MacPherson strut front suspension and five-link independent rear setup as the best of its rivals. Next time you see clusters of suited Oriental gentlemen obsessing over a rival car's door pulls or switches or some other apparently trivial detail at an international motor show, you'll know the score. The 1.6-litre petrol engine does reasonably well at the fuel pumps, returning an average of 44.1mpg. The continuously-variable valve timing helps efficiency and also means that the engine is good on emissions, something that hasn't always been the case with South-East Asian powerplants. At around 152g/km, the cee'd is better than, say, a Peugeot 308 1.6 which emits 159g/km.
The cee'd is a breakthrough car for Kia with levels of quality that stand comparison with the very best family hatchbacks around. Perhaps it lacks some of the design flare of the best European models and performance from the engines isn't particularly brisk but on almost every other criteria this is a family hatchback product that's worthy of mainstream billing and consideration by all of the sector's buyers. Perhaps the best news from a used car buyer's point of view is that the Kia brand still has some way to go to boost its profile up to the level that products like the cee'd now deserve. Kias are still viewed with some suspicion on the used market and that's where buyers in the know can step in and take advantage. With a fully transferable seven-year warranty to sweeten the deal, the cee'd makes a compelling pre-owned proposition but word of its quality is spreading fast so now could be the opportune time to strike.