By Jonathan Crouch
In this improved second generation guise launched in 2015, Kia's cee'd further sharpened up its proposition in the Focus-class family hatchback segment, with smarter looks, extra technology and the option of clever three cylinder petrol power. How much sense does it make as a used buy?
If you want to better appreciate just why Kia is one of the world's fastest growing automotive brands, you've only to look at this car, the cee'd family hatchback. The Slovakian factory that builds it only opened its doors in 2006 yet by the middle of the 21st century's second decade, over a million cee'd models had been built. To try and keep that momentum in the face of much tougher family hatchback segment opposition, Kia substantially revised the second generation version of this car in 2015.
Automotive historians will look back at the original cee'd as a landmark design, the first to take on the European and Japanese market leaders on their own terms in the volume Focus and Golf-dominated Family Hatchback sector. Built in the heart of Europe, it was targeted at the heart of the European motor industry, hence the unusual 'cee'd' name, a combination of the French abbreviation for European Community (CE) and this car's project title (ED). It shamed the established players by matching their quality while massively undercutting their prices and offering an astonishingly long 7-year warranty. A strong sales performance followed, fuelling one of the enduring industrial stories of the last decade, right up there with Google, Apple and Facebook - and every bit as impressive.
But times change - and so do market segments. Increasingly, family hatchback buyers are being tempted away into Qashqai-like family SUV models, while the customers in this sector that remain are targeted by European and Japanese brands that have now learned to take the Korean motor industry a lot more seriously. Kia, of course, has responded to this. Its own mid-sized SUV, the Sportage, is a strong Qashqai-class alternative and the cee'd was re-launched in more sophisticated second generation form in 2012, then, as we've said, further updated into the form we're checking out here three years later.
Nothing radical was really done to this post-2015 facelifted MK2 model, but the changes that were made proved to be significant, headlined by the introduction of the kind of down-sized three cylinder petrol powerplant that at last gave the brand a credibly efficient green pump-fuelled engine in this class. The company also got up to speed with modern dual-clutch automatic gearbox technology too and buyers got some - though not all - of the cutting-edge electronic safety features that buyers in this segment were by 2015 starting to expect. All garnished with slightly sleeker exterior looks and a minor cabin upgrade that improved the infotainment set-up. This car sold until the Spring of 2018, when it was replaced by an all-new third generation Ceed.
What You Get
You might have heard people complaining that almost all cars in this class look pretty much the same. That's because there's only so much you can do with a total length that tends to be just under four and a half metres, into which you've got to slot five people, their gear, an engine and transmission - and then ensure it doesn't look like an MPV. In nature, this is known as 'convergent evolution'; where species evolve separately but end up looking alike. That's not to say that Kia produced a bland car here. Quite the opposite. In second generation form, the cee'd always had a long, low contemporary stance, with its rising beltline giving the five-door hatchback and estate versions a more aggressive, dynamic wedge shape that was further developed by the pro_cee'd coupe variant.
Up front, the changes to this revised MK2 model were centred around a redesigned front bumper. It includes a horizontal lower section linking the front foglamp surround and a flatter grille, emphasising the wide stance of the car and presenting what Kia hoped was a sportier look, complemented by smarter oval-shaped mesh in the trademark 'tiger-nose'-style front grille. In profile, things were much as before, with a smart mid-level crease bisecting the door handles, while lower down, angled sills added a bit of shape to the flanks.
At the wheel, the changes - things like chromed highlights around the airvents and the electric window switches - will seem quite superficial to those familiar with earlier versions of this MK2 model. More significant were the improvements made to the bright centre-dash 7-inch colour infotainment touchscreen supplied on many models. Though it still lacked the kind of smartphone integration and functionality that by 2015 was commonplace with some other brands, there's a wi-fi option and better navigation technology.
Collectively, it was all somehow enough to add the extra veneer of quality and technology that the original version of this car rather desperately needed. Especially if you can stretch to a plush version with leather seats that feature smart contrast panels, stitched door trim and smart 'cee'd' sill finishers. Even of you can't stretch to a variant with all this tinsel, you shouldn't find too much to complain about in terms of the basic cabin design. Look around and pretty much everything you'd expect in a modern family hatch is present and correct, complete with subtle red ambient lighting and all the usual soft-touch slush-moulded surfaces. The detail stuff's well thought-through too, so latches operate with a quality 'click', handles slide back with a damped sigh and there's discreet lighting around the USB and Aux-in ports. The digital fascia graphics have drop-shadows to make them more attractive and the even warning chimes are discreetly muted, though we could do without the musical melody that accompanies entry and exit.
As for getting comfortable, well it's easy to get the height-adjustable seat and the reach and rake-adjustable leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel into the perfect position. Our only comment would be that the wheel does seem to have more than its fair share of buttons, more we think than we've seen on any wheel since we tested a Ferrari 458 Italia. Anyway, through it, you view the usual three-dial instrument binnacle that includes turn-by-turn instructions for the sat nav that on top models are shown on a smart, high-definition LCD colour display. Further information is delivered in a narrow panel of digital read-outs at the top of the centre of the dash.
Look around and visibility out of the cabin isn't bad at all given styling that's relatively rakish for a conventional family hatch. This car's certainly easier to see out of the back of than its cousin, Hyundai's i30, but just in case you run into any trouble, Kia equipped most models with a useful rear view parking camera. Build quality from the Slovakian factory justifies the long warranty and practicality's well thought through too, with a roomy glovebox and doorbins, an overhead compartment for your sunglasses, plus two cupholders in a covered section behind the gearlever and a large storage area in front.
In the back, the sloping rear roof height was more than compensated for with a lower ride height, so even tall folk ought to be reasonably comfortable. Plus the packaging's good enough for a six foot passenger to sit behind someone in front of them of a similar size. True, the relatively narrow cabin puts paid to any idea of being able to comfortably transport three adults in the back for any distance but to be honest, we're struggling to think of any car in this class from this era that can do that anyway. Three kids will be quite comfortable, aided by the fact that the transmission tunnel is usefully low.
Luggage room is another box that Kia's designers ticked here from an 'enough to be class-competitive' perspective. There's 380-litres on offer, 92-litres more than you'd get in Kia's smaller Rio supermini in this era. Rivals like Skoda's Octavia and Peugeot's 308 offer more, but the space on offer is much the same as you'd get in a rival Volkswagen Golf or SEAT Leon from this period - and considerably more than is offered by a Ford Focus from this time. The pro_cee'd coupe manages the same 380-litre figure, but if you go for the SW estate model, you're looking at 528-litres. Useful touches include a bag hook, a 12v socket, tie points on the right of the boot area and a detachable net that when connected will hold small items in place. Lifting up the boot floor panel reveals a useful compartmentalised area for keeping valuables out of sight, though this is only made possible by the absence of a proper spare wheel.
Push forward the split-folding rear bench and once again, you'll find that Kia has achieved class parity with this car. In this five-door hatch, flattening the backrest frees up a useful 1,318-litres of total fresh air. In an SW estate variant, the figure would increase to 1,642-litres, while in a pro_cee'd coupe, you'd be looking at a still pretty practical 1,225-litre total.
What to Look For
Most MK2 cee'd owners we came across in our survey were very happy with their cars, but inevitably, there were a few issues. We came across a report of a steering lock sticking. And another of a flashing airbag light and a flashing oil pressure light (traced to a faulty sensor). One owner needed both headlights replaced due to the failure of the LED daytime running lamps. We came across that more than once, so check the DRLs on the car you're looking at. Another reported that a sticking brake calliper caused the front brake pads to wear unevenly. That owner also observed that the front passenger seat refused to stay at its chosen height. One owner complained of short jerks in low gears in traffic on a 1.6 Gdi DCT auto model. Apparently, the 'diamond cut' alloy wheels on the top GT model blister easily. Otherwise, it's just the usual stuff. Check the alloys for scuffs. The interior for child damage. And insist on a fully stamped-up service history.
(approx based on a 2015 cee'd 1.6 CRDi ex VAT) An air filter will be priced at around £9-£15, an oil filter will sit in the £7 to £14 bracket and fuel filter costs in the £9-£27 bracket. a radiator will be priced at around £150-£160. For a pair of front brake discs, you're looking at paying in the £60 to £95 bracket, with a pair of rear discs costing up to around £38-£60. A pair of front brake pads are around £20-£65, while a pair of rear pads sit in the £15 to £25 bracket for a set, though you could pay £45-£50 for a pricier brand. A rear shock absorber is around £20. And a wiper blade can cost anything between £5-£30.
On the Road
Buyers of this facelifted MK2 cee'd get a choice of five-door hatch, SW estate or pro_cee'd coupe bodystyles and whichever one you choose, you'll find that on the move, this improved second generation cee'd model handles a little more sharply than it did in its original form. That's thanks to the inclusion of a torque vectoring system that helps traction through the bends, a welcome addition but still not enough to create a car that would suit family hatchback buyers prioritising dynamic handling. This cee'd would be aided in that respect if it had more direct, feelsome steering but this is an area that back in 2015, Kia was still working on. In compensation, most version of this model got a 'Flex Steer' set-up that enabled the driver to choose the level of steering assistance required.
Under the bonnet, the important news at the introduction of this facelifted MK2 model lay with the introduction of the brand's latest hi-tech 1.0-litre eco Turbo T-GDI three cylinder petrol engine, a unit available with either 98 or 118bhp. This powerplant at last offered buyers a credible, class-competitive reason for choosing petrol power with this car, but the Korean brand wasn't able to make it affordable enough to suit budget buyers, so the previous 98bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine had to continue on at the foot of the range, as did the 133bhp 1.6-litre GDI petrol unit, turbocharged in the top GT performance model to produce 201bhp. Most cee'd buyers in this period though, wanted a diesel, possibly the rather feeble 89bhp old-tech 1.4-litre CRDi unit but more usually the 1.6-litre CRDi diesel, revised in this form with power upped to 134bhp. Buyers were also offered the option of an efficient 7-DCT dual clutch automatic gearbox. In manual form with 15-inch wheels, the 1.6-litre CRDi model is able to return 78.5mpg on the combined cycle and put out just 94g/km of CO2.
There will still be people of course, who'll blindly buy a used Focus, a Golf or some other family hatchback from a conventional mainstream brand from the 2015 to 2018 period without considering its Korean alternative. But these will largely be uninformed folk yet to fully cotton on to the way that products in this segment have changed. Thanks to the success of this cee'd, there are fewer and fewer customers of this kind around.
Of course, shortlist selection isn't the same as a sale. There are family hatch folk who'll want more powerful engines or more dynamic handling than this car can offer. But, we'd suggest, quite a number will be very satisfied with this Kia's sharp looks, impressive quality, well-judged practicality and value pricing. True, the asking prices may be a little higher than you might expect from a South Korean manufacturer, but don't judge them until you've tried the product, a confident design from a very confident brand.