ONCE UPON a time, I drove a Kia Cee’d into the car park of a Premier League training ground. This was in the course of my duties as a journalist, I should point out, rather than in compliance with a dare or drinking-game forfeit. The place glistened with dealership-fresh Italian supercars and thunderously overspecced German SUVs — making it a fairly intimidating context into which to be easing a Korean hatchback, particularly a brown one.
You’d say the Cee’d stuck out like a sore thumb in those surroundings, but in fact the effect was more like one of those old David Copperfield routines: squeezed between a Ferrari and a pearlescent white Range Rover, it entirely disappeared. Magic.
That was nearly 10 years ago, though, when not just footballers but people in general were apt to associate the Kia brand with humorously plastic-clad, cut-price Korean imports, and not, as now, with tailor-made, middle-market glory wagons.
The point about the Cee’d has always been its European-ness. That fussy and batty name becomes fractionally less fussy and batty when you work out that it contains a rare tribute to the European Economic Community, or CEE, as many countries call it.
Forget the Korean backing, was the message: this car is essence of Europe. It’s upholstered for European roads and burnished to European tastes. It’s designed in Germany, built in Slovakia, driven in Basildon. It shops at Lidl, accepts euros and knows that the winner of last year’s Eurovision song contest was Sweden’s Mans Zelmerlow, with Heroes. There’s no referendum, as far as the Cee’d is concerned — it’s an unquestioning yes to Europe.
Forget the Korean backing, was the message: this car is essence of Europe. It’s designed in Germany, built in Slovakia, driven in Basildon
Being quintessentially European hasn’t automatically made the Cee’d distinctive, though. Indeed, quite the contrary. When it came along, Europe was already quite crowded with European cars, many built by VW. One wondered whether it might struggle to stake a claim to uniqueness, beyond its seven-year warranty (though that was a start).
Yet here (at a potentially good moment to be going into battle with VW for customers) is the latest version, which, outwardly, is a light refreshment of the second-edition Cee’d, from 2012, with the emphasis on “light”. The grille mesh is now ovoid. The bottom part of the front bumper is a bit different. The rear reflectors are a bit bigger. Er, that’s it.
Fortunately, that 2012 rebuild left the Cee’d looking a lot less bland and derivative than the first-generation model I made disappear in that football club car park in 2006.
The most substantial difference this time is that you can get your Cee’d with a 1-litre three-cylinder petrol engine turbocharged to produce commendable feats of (Euro-compliant, naturally) power and economy. Or you can choose the 1.6-litre turbodiesel, the version I drove, which came elegantly attached to a new and thoroughly polished seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
The diesel chunters at low speeds but during cruising sinks to a companionable hum. The cabin is perfectly hospitable, and the car bristles with parking aids and touchscreens unimaginable in a Kia a decade ago.
Even now I suspect you would have to make the wheels a lot fatter, further bejewel the headlights and slap a couple of noughts on the price before a Premier League footballer would consider climbing into it. But that’s not to belittle how far the Cee’d has travelled in terms of presence and general allure.
Oh, and this time mine wasn’t brown. It was “dark gunmetal”. It doesn’t get any more European than that.
2016 Kia Cee’d 1.6 CRDi specifications
- PRICE: £20,330
- ENGINE: 1,582cc, 4 cylinder, turbodiesel
- POWER: 134bhp @ 4000rpm
- TORQUE: 221 lb ft @ 1750rpm
- ACCELERATION: 0-62mph in 10.2sec
- TOP SPEED: 124mph
- FUEL: 67.3mpg (combined)
- CO2: 109g/km
- ROAD TAX BAND: B (free for first year; £20 thereon)
- DIMENSIONS: L:4,310mm W:1,780mm H:1,470mm
- RELEASE DATE: On sale now