Family hatchbacks

In its first test, the all-new cee’d meets key rivals from Citroen and Mazda

This is Kia’s most important car ever – simple as that. After years of giving British buyers models tailored for the Korean market, but which haven’t translated particularly well, the company is going for broke by bringing us an all-new family hatchback that’s been designed and built exclusively for Europe.

Kia has hired a team of top stylists and engineers, and spent £700million and two years constructing a state-of the-art factory at Zilina in Slovakia. The end result is the cee’d – pronounced seed – which goes on sale here from this week. Built on a platform that will also underpin Hyundai’s imminent compact family hatch, the cee’d is brand new from the ground up. Every variant gets fully independent rear suspension, a port for MP3 players and a stiff bodyshell that should help the newcomer attain a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating. There’s also a seven-year warranty.

Replacing the slow-selling Cerato, the 10-model range covers three trim levels and four engines, and there’s more to follow. Kia’s aim is to achieve 100,000 sales a year in the UK; to do so, it hopes the cee’d will draw new customers to the brand, but at a price that won’t alienate existing buyers. The line-up starts from less than £11,000, and rises to £14,245 for the top-spec 1.6 CRDi LS we test here. So far, so good. But what’s the model like? To find out, we tested it against two key rivals at the car’s launch in the south of France.

As with Kia, both Citroen and Mazda have enviable reputations for offering great value for money. The handsome C4 majors on comfort, while the 3, with underpinnings shared with the Ford Focus, aims to deliver driver appeal in a practical package. But has Kia sown the cee’d of success?

Verdict

Is the Cee’d revolutionary? It is for Kia. Investing so heavily in Europe has paid dividends – the Cee’d is a much more appealing and competitive product than anything the Korean firm has built before. But does it set new class standards? Not quite. It’s a very competent hatchback that’s well built and cleanly styled, but its only unique selling point is the seven-year warranty. While this is very appealing, the car itself doesn’t have a particularly strong personality.

However, it’s a fine all-rounder and has the measure of both rivals here. The Citroen C4 has a laid-back attitude, good comfort and distinctive design. It also offers the potential for big price savings, but the cheap trim and poor ergonomics let it down. The Mazda 3 really needs to watch its step, though. Bland inside and out, it’s not as spacious or smooth-riding as the Kia. It’s easy to see potential buyers being persuaded to swap to the Cee’d instead.

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