What I’m doing this weekend: driving the Kia cee’d

This weekend, I’ve waved the family goodbye and headed to Heathrow for a flight over to Geneva. Why? The launch of the Kia cee’d.

It coincides with a meeting of the Association of Motoring Writers Groups – so I’m driving a new car AND meeting my fellow Chairmen.

Which gives me the perfect opportunity to bring you a quasi-live blog. The new Kia cee’d has, truth be told, passed me by somewhat. The Hyundai i30 got the fanfare and the later-launched cee’d has been left out a bit. Now’s catchup time for Kia – starting this weekend.

And so, onwards…

12:15, Sunday 20 May, Geneva airport

Ah, Geneva airport. I’m usually only here in March, slightly dishevelled after a few days at the motor show. It’s odd to look outside and see summery weather. Switzerland really is lovely at this time of year, as fresh as anything Heidi and her ilk enjoyed.

I clocked up 100-odd miles in the diesel today. First impressions? It’s a bit throbby, with more metallic clatter than I expected (perhaps the 1.6 TDI in the Golf spoiled me). It’s also very reliant on the turbo: let revs drop below 1500rpm and it’s decidedly flat. With super-tall economy-focused gearing, this means swift and regular gearchanges are the order of the day.

The diesel weighs 107kg more than the petrol, all in the front end. This does change the handling balance a little: it seems to roll on turn-in a little more, doesn’t feel quite as well balanced as the petrol. It’s all degreed though: this is still a fine-driving car, with the emphasis very much on ride quality for those seeking Golf mimikery.

Economy again impressed. Following journalistic good practice, I didn’t hang about, yet still averaged 55.9mpg according to the trip. Take it steady and I’d be nudging 60mpg – just as good as I achieved in the Golf.

Overall, I’d of course take the diesel. But the engine isn’t quite as good as the rest of the car, given the high levels exhibited by so many turbodiesels. In the old cee’d, it was fine. The new one, though, is a sufficient step on to see the CRDi motor feel average-to-good. Wonder if Kia’s got something up its sleeve for the future here…

08:00, Sunday 20 May, le Mirador hotel

Some facts on the Kia cee’d, from the press pack:

  • Launched 2007: 450k sold since then, nearly 55k in UK.
  • First Kia with seven-year warranty.
  • Peter Schreyer had limited influence on the old cee’d: his European head of design Gregory Guillaume has led design of this one.
  • The new cee’d is narrower, lower and longer. The wheelbase is the same: overhangs are greater and tracks are wider. It has a Cd of 0.30.
  • Torsional rigidity is up 51 per cent.
  • The vents delivering air to the rear footwells are larger.
  • The high-grade sat nav system is 20 per cent more powerful.
  • The fuel filler flap is now ‘European style’ push-to-open, rather than the old internal lever.
  • The badge at the front is set into the bonnet rather than on the radiator grille – a detail Schreyer believes is premium.
  • The tailgate is easier to shut, thanks to greater self-closing force.
  • The glass for the front windows is thicker.
  • The 1.6-litre petrol engine now sports direct fuel injection, with a pressure of up to 150 bar using six-hole injectors.
  • The accelerator pedal has a kick-down switch, which is intended to avoid full throttle acceleration unless necessary.
  • The new DCT is a dry clutch setup, with a torque capacity of 275Nm. Kia did consider a wet clutch but says they are 6 per cent less efficient.
  • Kia has increased the front castor angle to improve steering feel. Front and rear suspension bushes are now steel-in-rubber.
  • Spring rates are lower, damper settings are softer, bump stops are shorter – all allowing more wheel travel. Side-loaded springs reduce friction and the rear anti-roll bar is thicker.

06:20, Sunday 20 May, le Mirador hotel

Kia is quite happy with the Golf comparisons, thank you. And with its value proposition: yes, this one is more expensive than the old one, said Hamilton, but it’s a much-improved car that has a lot of extra features as standard. I can’t yet reveal what and for how much – the embargo lifts tomorrow – but it will certainly be worth studying.

Hamilton said Kia also had a Golf Bluemotion, like my old long-termer, in for assessment. Great car, he said, with super quality and impressive CO2 figures – but it was £19,500 “and even had wind-up windows at the back”. Nearly £20k for a car lacking obvious features: he considers that expensive. I’m sure he also considers it with envy: the Golf is, of course, a top 10 best-seller…

In a couple of hours’ time, it’s into the diesel for the long-way-round schlep back to the airport. For now, nettery and the gym. Unless I decide to jog down that hill outside the hotel. We shall see.

18:30, Saturday 19 May, le Mirador hotel

Back at the hotel for the AMWG meeting, and now a quick update before dinner. Remaining thoughts? There are clear links to the Vauxhall Astra in the rear of the cee’d – arguably no bad thing (remember, some say the Astra was itself influenced by the SEAT Leon…) – while the headlights are definite E60 5 Series. Again, this can only be good.

I’ve just been looking through the press pack while I sort these images: I need to check on the embargo, but this cee’d is pretty damn fine value for money. It’s now not significantly cheaper than an Astra or a Focus, but it’s got a boatload more equipment – and it means you can have a car that feels like a Golf and comes with Phaeton-like features for less than the price of a comparable Golf. More on that anon.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is the engine’s lack of torque. Today, it’s been all about the 1.6-litre with direct injection, a motor that lacks significant impulse below 3000rpm and only really starts to sing above 5000rpm. At which point, it’s rather boomy. Thing is though, while the torque profile isn’t great, the pay-off is oodles of power. 133hp is jolly impressive for a non-turbo 1.6-litre, which is why the lack of low-down grunt isn’t as disastrous as it could be. There’s a lot more there if you’re prepared to work for it: if you’re not, it feels little different to the competition.

The economy is potentially quite amazing too. Yesterday, I got 49mpg. Today, on a near-three hour blast into the mountains, driving it like a hot hatch, I averaged… 41.2mpg. Yes, really. Certainly wasn’t expecting that. Another surprise from the surprising new cee’d.

12:30, Saturday 19 May, outskirts of Lausanne

First thing I scribbled in the notepad? ‘Like a Golf’. Which will please Kia no end, I’m sure. The teaser of yesterday has been borne into a very able, mature car with high levels of refinement and a great deal of comfort. Those stepping from a Golf won’t feel anything to scare them away, that’s for sure.

Several aspects stand out: the aforementioned excellence of bump absorption, the fluid damping, the clean premium-like feel to the controls. The seats are big and firm, wind noise is well isolated, the steering lacks feel but is very composed and stable. It even has the visibility-boosting low shoulderline of a Golf (albeit without quite the same smartness of A-pillar design: both this and B-pillar can get in the way at junctions. And the C-pillar proves a bit restrictive when reversing. We’ve sensors and gadgets to help there, will say Kia…).

The route took me into the mountains. Crowded House would be proud, for I saw plenty of seasons in one morning, from scorching sunshine to icy snow. On said twisting roads, the depth of the cee’d multi-link rear suspension showed itself with, again, strong composure and impressive fluidity. The same suspension settings that give such an able ride also make it a bit soft in corners though: it’s as if the inherent abilities of the suspension is not being allowed to shine through.

This became clear when the heavy rain started. Here, without such loads going through the suspension, the natural balance of the car showed through: it’s very well sorted indeed, and would benefit hugely from a sharpening up of settings for a semi-hot version. Of course, a car can’t be all things to all men. The Golf isn’t like the Focus, and as the cee’d is like the Golf, perhaps it’s unfair to grumble it’s not more focused. Then again, it’s also giving due praise to Kia’s engineers. The fundamentals here are so well sorted, there’s plenty more that can be done with them.

That’s my question for later sorted, then…

08:00, Saturday 19 May, le Mirador hotel

Quick note before I leave – yesterday’s 1.6-litre petrol-engine economy, according to the trip, was a remarkable 49.0mpg. That’s diesel-like, yet this is a petrol car, and although I was mooching relative to German autobahn speeds, I was still pedalling at a UK motorway pace. And stretching it on the twisty bits. That’s a real eye-opener.

The stop-start also has a neat trick – when it cuts in, the display shows a stopwatch timer when it’s in operation. Why don’t all car manufacturers fit this eye-opening insight?

07:45, Saturday 19 May, le Mirador hotel

So that’s the gym done, then. Nice view of the mountains I’ll be driving through in, ooh, an hour or so’s time. My plan is to get lost and then set the sat nav for home. We shall see.

Still musing on what Hamilton was telling me last night. Kia’s big opportunity, it seems, is making people better understand its brand. Once they do, they like what they see – validation comes from strong performances in satisfaction surveys – but the awareness during promoted understanding isn’t where it should be.

Solution? Well, that’s the challenge that faces him – he’s two weeks into the marketing director job. But it sounds like we’ll be hearing developments here before long: what Kia means to you now may not be the same in six months’ time.

Oh, and @joesimpson has dived into the comments, to offer the BMW E60 as influence for the DRL. He’s right, you know – more images of that later – but, on the road, there’s another influence too. Let’s see if we can’t find an underground car park to demonstrate it.

00:00, Saturday 19 May – le Mirador hotel

Fascinating chat with Lawrence over dinner. He’s genuinely interesting, speaking with authority and conviction on the opportunities Kia has and how best to utilise them.

Much more than meaningless cliches, he talked about the science behind the buying process of a Kia, where the brand does well and where it doesn’t – and how to capitalise on improving key areas to boost both sales and brand value.

Light bulb moments were plentiful. Rare have I asked marketing questions and received such considered, logical and substantial answers. He’s been in the job two weeks. Expect to see changes for the better in how Kia sells its cars and deals with its customers soon.

More tomorrow, though.. Driving early doors and before that, I’ve got a hill to run up.

18:00, Friday 18 May – le Mirador hotel

Literally just arrived, after driving the 60-odd miles from the airport. Swiss drivers, aye – they don’t half like to tailgate and get REALLY impatient if you, say, drive at the legal limit past a speed camera. My bad, clearly.

After a briefing, it was straight into the car, after clapping eyes on it for the first time. Impressions? Vauxhall Astra-like rear, a surprisingly low-looking nose by pedestrian impact-friendly modern standards, and a cool set of LED daytime running lights whose similarity I can’t quite place.

The interior has the usual modern Kia lack of initial impact, which grew on me a lot during the hour-long drive. Odd this: I noticed it with the Rio too – what at first appears dull and plasticky later emerges as something with substance and quality. Weird.

An initially whiney engine dented the first few-hundred metre impressions, but it became silent enough at speed. First thoughts on the drive: lovely ride bias, with supple bump absorption, damping with depth and very good levels of noise isolation. Clearly it’s the VW Golf that’s been the benchmark here, rather than the Ford Focus.

More later. A quick shower beckons, before meeting Lawrence Hamilton, Kia’s marketing director, over dinner. Any Kia questions? You know what to do…