Until recently, Kia was considered just another value brand that trailed its mainstream rivals for quality and desirability. But now, the manufacturer has become a real powerhouse. Every new model is a contender for class honours, including the latest Cee’d – so this Sportswagon estate version could be the car to beat in this closely fought contest.
The trademark tiger nose grille and swept-back headlights give the SW the same bold stance as the five-door hatch, and although there are hints of the Vauxhall Astra from the back, the overall effect is subtle and stylish.
Climb aboard, and the well appointed cabin is a revelation after the cheaply trimmed Cruze, with quality materials used throughout and an attractive centre console that’s angled towards the driver. The two-tone cloth seats are supportive and the 2-spec model we tested includes decorative chrome trim on the dials and door handles which provide a special feel.
You have to upgrade to the 3 model to get closer to matching the Cruze for equipment – it brings an excellent touchscreen sat-nav, auto lights and wipers and a reversing camera – but this adds £1,800 to the list price as well.
Perhaps more importantly for an estate, the 2 offers extra features to aid practicality. There are six hidden cubbies under the boot floor for shopping bags or keeping important items out of sight, plus pockets on the front seatbacks, a luggage net and cooled glovebox.You can fold the rear seats with one hand, and this reveals a perfectly flat luggage bay that’ll swallow a maximum 1,642 litres of luggage.
Buyers considering a caravan holiday will also welcome the fact that the Cee’d SW can tow 200kg more than the heavier Cruze. Yet the Kia trailed its rivals during our in-gear tests at the track, as it doesn’t have the Chevy’s torque. The standard Flex Steer system allows drivers to choose from three different modes, but even in Comfort it provides more weight than the Cruze. There isn’t loads of feedback, although on the road the Kia felt stable and planted and gave a much smoother ride.
The 1.6-litre engine is hushed and refined, and the start-stop system works well in traffic, with very few judders through the gearknob. Larger wheels and tyres mean the Cee’d grips harder than the i30 in corners and performed better in our braking tests as well. The trade-off for the car’s greater agility and stopping power is a firmer ride over rough surfaces.
Still, the Kia looks better than the Hyundai inside and out, and has a longer warranty. Our low-mileage Cee’d was also the most efficient car in this test, returning a superb 45.3mpg, so it looks like the complete estate package. But will the i30 Tourer be able to hold off its stylish sister car to retain its place at the top?