First drive: Kia Cee'd

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Kia

Kia's popular Cee'd hatchback has been given a facelift, along with an EcoBoost-rivalling 1.0-litre petrol engine, and Kia's first ever dual-clutch gearbox. Can they help the Cee'd claw back some ground from the latest rivals? AOL Cars heads to Slovakia to find out.

What is it?

A facelift of Kia's popular Cee'd hatchback and estate models, freshening up the exterior and adding some new niceties inside too. It may not look all that different, but it's under the Ceed's inoffensive but well-proportioned body where things have really changed.

The big news is the introduction of a brand new downsized three-cylinder engine, similar to Ford's 1.0-litre EcoBoost, but there's also a new dual-clutch automatic gearbox to get (sort of) excited about. Meanwhile, a selection of tweaks to the suspension and drivetrain mean this should be the most enjoyable Cee'd to drive so far too.

What's under the bonnet?

For starters, there's the new 1.0, three-cylinder 'EcoTurbo', available in either 99bhp or 118bhp form. It's designed to replace the 1.4 and 1.6 entry-level petrols, though both are hanging around in the range for the time being.

As you'd expect it's a torquey little thing, with either version pumping out 171Nm of the stuff - more than even the 128bhp 1.6 - and it's available throughout the rev range, meaning that there's no frantic searching for a lower gear every time you hit a light incline.

The old 1.7 diesel has gone too, replaced by an updated version of the 1.6 CRDi found in the boxy-but-nice Soul. It's more refined than the 1.7, and feels far more willing too, while the higher powered 135bhp version can be paired with the new seven-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox.

What's the spec like?

Pretty comprehensive. The Cee'd has nearly caught up with the Focus and Golf in the toys department, thanks in part to the new seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system. It's lightyears ahead of the system it replaces - offering 21st century things like live TomTom traffic info via an internet connection.

DAB has finally made an appearance too - and not a moment too soon, given that it's been nearly 10 years since Ford and VW started offering it - and there's now an electronic, LCD-based speedometer with room for navigation instructions and other info.

Safety is taken care of by a blind spot warning system and cross traffic alerts, while speed limit detection is taken care of by a new road sign-spotting camera, and the Ceed's existing self-park system can now handle supermarket parking bays as well as road-side spots.

There's a new sporty-looking trim level badged GT Line too, and the 201bhp GT itself hasn't been forgotten either - Kia has given it a more throaty (but synthesised) engine note, ensuring it sounds as quick as it goes, and a new flat-bottomed steering wheel to differentiate it from slower models.

First drive: Kia Cee'd

First drive: Kia Cee'd


Any rivals?

Oh, one or two... The Cee'd sits in possibly the busiest segment in the market, battling anything from the Ford Focus and VW Golf to the Hyundai i30, with which it shares its platform and plenty of parts.

In fairness, many are much of a muchness these days - the Focus isn't the dynamic trailblazer it used to be, for example - but the Cee'd still manages to stand alone in having a comprehensive seven-year warranty.

The Cee'd probably sits somewhere between the Golf and Auris in our hearts - not as premium in feel as VW's class-leader, but well screwed together and competitively priced, with a more attractive exterior than the mishmash Toyota.

What's it like to drive?

Let's start with the new 1.0-litre: it's very impressive. Kia is a bit late to the downsized-engine party, but maybe this 'EcoTurbo' is all the better for it. We couldn't tell it apart from the Ford equivalent, and trust us, that's pretty high praise. It's refined, torquey and pulls even the larger, heavier estate version along without breaking a sweat. It's not hugely quick, but that's hardly the point - and it's far more pleasant to drive than the entry-level 1.4 or 1.6 petrols.

The new seven-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox is just as impressive. Available only on 1.6 diesel models for now, it's more than a match for VW's DSG and Ford's PowerShift, changing quickly and effortlessly in both manual or automatic modes. Call us petty, but we did think the old-fashioned (and downright gigantic) gear selector ruined the sporty effect a bit though - compared to the svelte gearknobs VW puts on its DSG-equipped models, this one might as well have come from a three-speed Toyota Starlet.

Both the 1.0-litre petrol and 1.6-litre diesels offer impressive levels of motorway refinement, and even on semi-sporty GT Line models, we couldn't fault the ride quality. The trade-off for that, unfortunately, is that the Cee'd doesn't have the most communicative chassis when you pick up the pace, and as for any steering feel, it's best not to ask.

The firmer-riding, full-fat GT is better, but the steering is far too light for a car that's meant to be enjoyed. On the upside, a new electronic diff seems to have eradicated the torque-steery nature of the old car, while the toggle-able synthesised engine note is a nice addition, managing not to be as intrusive as the permanently-on equivalent you'll find on the Focus or Fiesta ST.

The AOL Cars verdict

There's a lot of pressure on the Cee'd - it's the model credited with turning Kia around in the UK, after all - and behind the sales phenomenon that is the Sportage, it's still Kia's second biggest-selling model in the UK.

A few tweaks here and there aren't quite enough to establish it as a class-leader, but the pair of new capable engines and impressive DCT automatic gearbox are more than enough to cement the Kia's reputation as a decent, well-priced rival to the Focus, Golf and others.

The Knowledge

Model: Kia Cee'd 1.0 ecoTurbo GT Line
Price from: £19,000
Engine:1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Power: 118bhp, 4171Nm
Top Speed: 118mph
0-62mph: 11.1 seconds
Fuel economy: 57.6.mpg
Emissions: 115g/km