Kia’s progress over the past few years is most apparent in the Cee’d. With its quality cabin, low running costs and grown-up driving experience, the practical family hatch is a serious contender for class honours.
The car in our pictures is a range-topping 4, but even in entry-level 1 guise, the Kia sets the standard for style here. The base car doesn’t get the LED running lights and alloys of more expensive versions, but its sleek lines and neat details provide more kerb appeal than the plain Skoda and slightly ungainly Chevrolet.
Climb aboard and the Kia extends its advantage. The cabin is slickly styled and well built, while most of the plastics have a quality look and feel. It’s easy to get comfortable as there’s so much seat adjustment, and the thoughtfully laid-out dashboard is helpfully angled towards the driver. Entry-level cars do without luxuries like a leather-trimmed steering wheel, but the Kia’s interior doesn’t feel sparse as it still gets Bluetooth, an iPod connection and cruise control.
And while it’s not as roomy as the Rapid, there’s enough space for five adults, plus lots of useful storage. Yet the Cee’d can’t match either rival for carrying capacity, as its well shaped 380-litre boot is the smallest here.
Surprisingly, the Kia loses out to both its rivals at the track, too. Despite boasting a 126bhp 1.6-litre diesel and slick six-speed gearbox, it took 10.7 seconds to do 0-60mph – a full 1.8 seconds longer than Chevrolet Cruze.
On the road, the performance shortfall isn’t as obvious, but the Kia doesn’t respond as keenly to the throttle as its rivals. And what it lacks in outright pace in a straight line it makes up for with poise in corners. Precise steering, decent grip and strong body control make the car feel agile on a twisty road.
Better still, the Cee’d 1 doesn’t get Kia’s disappointing Flex Steer system. This lets drivers adjust the steering weighting to suit the road conditions, but we haven’t found it very effective on higher-spec cars.
The Cee’d also leads the way on refinement. Road and wind noise are well insulated from the cabin, while the smooth CRDi diesel isn’t as intrusive as the Skoda or Chevy engines.
Kia hasn’t forgotten its value-for-money roots, though, as the £16,295 Cee’d makes a lot of financial sense. It undercuts the Rapid by a useful £805, while predicted residuals of 39.6 per cent are the strongest here.
And that’s not all, because it’s the only car in this test to emit less than 100g/km of CO2, plus it’s available with a £299 pre-paid service pack that takes care of mechanical maintenance for three years. Will these wallet-friendly running costs allow the less spacious Cee’d to edge to victory here?