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Euro Drive: 2007 Kia cee’d


By Conor Twomey

 

Whenever someone asks me my thoughts on buying a new Kia, I usually find it rather difficult to respond. On the one hand, it’s tough to argue with the value for money Kias offer, not to mention the exemplary warranty package and excellent reliability. On the other hand, the vehicles themselves tend to be rather soulless and uninspiring — functional transport with very little to get excited about in terms of style or engineering. Like Toyotas used to be, before Lexus reverse-engineered a little spirit into them.

 

While there’s always a market for cheap transport, Kia is now eyeballing the broader, automotive mainstream. Kia’s European market share is currently 1.5 percent, putting it ahead of the likes of premium brands like Lexus, Land Rover, Jaguar, Saab, and Alfa Romeo, as well as smart, Chrysler, Chevrolet (previously Daewoo), and Mitsubishi. But sales dropped 8.5 percent last year compared to 2005, and that despite offering a huge range of nine different models to European buyers.

 

So the Korean company has decided to follow the lead of other carmakers like Toyota and Nissan and has begun designing and building cars in Europe, specifically for the European market. Its first attempt, the ridiculously named cee’d (yes, spelled with a small “c” and an apostrophe but then pronounced simply “seed”) is hitting European forecourts about now and it’s creating a bit of a buzz. Not only does it boast Europe’s best warranty by a country mile (seven years or 160,000 km) — it also happens to be pretty good.

 

Looks great

 

For a start, it looks great. Compared to the rest of the Kia range, it’s taut, clean, well proportioned, and beautifully detailed. There’s just enough bulging and sculpting going on to make it appealing, but not so much that it becomes overwrought and busy. It sits happily on its standard 16-inch wheels and looks well in almost any color and is, arguably, more attractive than most of its compact rivals, including the VW Golf and new Toyota Auris. Kia should seriously consider moving all their designers to Europe so that we can enjoy more cars like the cee’d and fewer like the retina-warping Opirus sedan (in America, the Amanti).

 

The cee’d also represents a major leap forward for the Korean brand in terms of interior execution. Compared to the achingly bland cockpits found in the rest of the range, the cee’d has a surprisingly modern and uncluttered cabin layout. There’s a feeling of space and roominess you don’t get in the dark cabins of many of its rivals. The buttons are big, bold, easy to find, and robust in use. The steering is the perfect size and thickness, with stereo controls neatly integrated. The plastics are (mostly) high quality and are soft and pleasant to the touch, and even the seats feel Germanic — deep, solid, and seriously comfortable.

 

It looks and feels almost like a Ford or Opel cabin, except screwed together more solidly. The only letdown is the cheap, shiny plastic they used around the interior door handles and electric window switches. Apart from the steering wheel and gear lever, this is the part of the cabin people will spend the most time touching — why drop the ball so close to the line?

 

Still, that minor indiscretion is easy to forgive when you take a look at the equipment levels offered. European compacts, or small family cars as we prefer to call them, are generally rather well specified, especially in terms of safety and luxury equipment. Even by Euro-standards, the cee’d is pretty impressive, offering air conditioning with a cooled glovebox; four one-touch electric windows; heated electric mirrors; an MP3 CD player; a USB port and an auxiliary audio input port; front, side, and curtain airbags and four-wheel disc brakes (German models add stability control while anti-lock brakes are standard on all European cars now).

 

A leather steering wheel, 16-inch alloy wheels, parking sensors, self-dimming mirrors, a sunroof, satellite navigation, and leather seats are all offered (optional or standard, depending on the individual markets) and all this for a pre-tax base price of just $15,500 — a bargain by European standards. MORE--

 

 

Driving time

 

How Garages YoostabeeWe drove the cee’d in Ireland, where it was available long before the rest of Europe. Unfortunately, we were only able to get our hands on the basic 109-hp 1.4-liter model — the rest of the range includes a 122-hp 1.6-liter gasoline engine; a 1.6-liter turbodiesel with either 90 hp or 115 hp; and a 143-hp 2.0-liter turbodiesel, all four-cylinder engines — but even so, we were quite surprised at how lively and free-revving the little 1.4-liter was, feeling a lot more willing that its hum-drum performance figures (0-60 mph in 11 seconds, top speed 116 mph) would suggest. It gets a little strained at the high revs, perhaps, but that’s to be expected of most overworked 1.4s in this class.

 

As if its looks, cabin quality, equipment, and pep wasn’t enough, the cee’d best attribute is (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) its ride and handling. Thanks to its sophisticated multi-link rear suspension (MacPherson struts up front) the cee’d is the first Kia that I can recall that rides as well as any of its rivals, shrugging off bumps and undulations with quiet maturity and refusing steadfastly to be knocked off line by mid-corner bumps of surface changes. Hustle it through some corners and you’ll find an absence of body roll, with eagerness and responsiveness and a level of driver communication unheard of in a Korean car, with the possible exception of the Hyundai Tiburon.

 

The brakes are sharp and full of feel, while the shift feel is light, quick and precise — a slightly sharper steering is all that’s required to make the cee’d a truly cracking drive. As it is, it’s not quite as much fun as the class leading, European Ford Focus perhaps, but it’s just as amusing to drive as the VW Golf or Opel Astra, I feel.

 

Sadly, it seems unlikely that America will get the European-made cee’d and that’s a shame because it’s a real mold-breaker for the Korean brand. At least now if anyone asks me about buying a new Kia, I’ll now be able to point them in the direction of the cee’d and wholeheartedly recommend its purchase. Unless that person is American, of course. Then I may have to pretend I didn’t hear the question and skulk away as quietly and quickly as I can.

 

2007 Kia cee’d

Base price: $15,500
Engine: 1.4-liter in-line four, 109 hp

Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 166.7 x 70.4 x 58.3 in
Wheelbase: 104.3 in
Curb weight: 2987 lb
Fuel economy (city/hwy): 30/45 mpg (est.)
Safety equipment: Front, side, curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes

Major standard equipment: AM/FM/CD/MP3 player; A/C; power windows/locks/mirrors

Warranty: Seven years/100,000 miles

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