The motor industry’s love affair with the Sport Utility Vehicle shows no sign of waning. These days, buyers can choose from a menu of offerings so extensive that it can be hard to know which way to turn. There are big SUVs and small SUVs, off-road SUVs and on-road SUVs, high performance SUVs, electric SUVs, SUVs that think they are coupes, and superminis that think they are SUVs. So where exactly in all of this does the new Kia XCeed slot in?
Perhaps the best way to think of it is as an SUV-inspired family hatchback. You could guess as much from the fact it isn’t available with four-wheel drive, and thus aside from an extra 44mm of ground clearance will be no more capable off-road than a standard Ceed – or for that matter a Proceed or Ceed Sportswagen, which all hail from the same family of models. Oh sure there’s some plastic body cladding, but again let’s not kid ourselves that it’s going to be doing much more than cushioning the occasional blow from a wayward trolley in the supermarket car park.
A BESPOKE DIRECTION
Let’s not be too cynical though. After all, these jacked-up hatchbacks can actually be very good, as seen in the Ford Focus Active and Skoda Octavia Scout. Furthermore, Kia has taken the design of the XCeed in a far more bespoke direction than any of its rivals. So even if it is predominantly a styling exercise, at least Kia has made a thorough job of it. Not only are the bumpers new, but the whole front and rear design. In fact, in terms of body panels it’s only the front doors that are taken from the standard Ceed. Under the skin the platform (and therefore wheelbase) are the same, but with longer overhangs at either end the XCeed is a larger car.
The suspension is also unchanged over the standard Ceed save for some new hydraulic bump stops and slightly softer spring rates to give a more comfortable ride. The wheels are either 16- or 18-inch depending what trim level you choose.
Just as the outside of the car has grown, so too has the inside. Boot space is up by 31 litres compared with a standard Ceed to give a total of 461 litres, which is incredibly useful for a hatchback-style car, as is the availability of a dual-height boot floor and rear seats that split and fold in a 40:20:40 configuration (on top-spec models). Headroom and legroom for all passengers is fine without being outstanding.
INFOTAINMENT AND TECHNOLOGY
It’s hi-tech inside, too, particularly if you go for a higher spec model with the 10.25in infotainment system that looks every bit like it could have been lifted out of a high-end BMW or Mercedes. It’s also easy to use, and has a neat dual-screen option that lets driver and passenger choose their own functions (so you can, for example, have one side as satnav and the other as audio controls).
To complement the infotainment screen there’s an optional 12.3-inch digital dial display which looks absolutely enormous but offers little configuration as to how the rev counter, speedo and trip computer are laid out. The graphics are admirably sharp, but overall the system is nowhere near as slick as those offered by the Volkswagen Group.
By including such technology it’s clear Kia is attempting to poach buyers who might normally go for something with an Audi, BMW or Mercedes badge on the nose. However, where the XCeed falls behind is in the general ambience of the interior, which is a sea of black plastic – nicely moulded and faultlessly assembled black plastic, but black plastic nonetheless. The metal-effect silver trim that surrounds the gear-lever of automatic models is also jarringly sub-premium.
So that’s the top of the range. What about if you go to the bottom rung of the XCeed ladder and opt for a ‘2’ spec model? Well, naturally there’s not as much equipment, but that’s not to say it’s poorly specified. For example, while the central infotainment system is smaller and the screen doesn’t have quite such a high resolution, it’s still a very useable 8 inches and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which makes up for the lack of inbuilt satnav. There’s also air-conditioning, a digital trip computer and some grey accents around the vents and under the touchscreen to provide a welcome splash of colour (of sorts).
KIA XCEED ENGINES AND GEARBOXES
Our first test drive is in the flagship First Edition, which gets every conceivable extra on what is already a well specified car. So that’s both large digital displays, front, side and rear parking sensors, heated part-leather seats, a huge sunroof, powered tailgate and the full gamut of active safety systems including blind spot monitoring and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection.
It also uses the most powerful of the XCeed engines in the form of a 1.4-litre turbo petrol mated to either a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. The engine puts out 138bhp and 178lb ft of torque from a diesel-like 1,500rpm, and is commendably quiet. It’s swift enough, too – getting from 0–60mph takes 9.2 seconds in the auto that we tested. It’s a good gearbox, too, and includes a Sport mode that holds on to ratios for longer. However, the lack of steering wheel-mounted paddles kind of limits how sporty it really feels.
Elsewhere in the range Kia offers its 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo petrol engine with 118bhp or a 1.4-litre diesel with 114- or 134bhp, all of which come with a six-speed manual gearbox. In addition to the 1.4, we also tried the 1.0-litre, which has more turbo lag, a notchy gear change and an abrupt clutch action that can make the drivetrain snatch when pulling away. It’s still far from a bad car to drive, and the acceleration is admirably punchy once the turbo is in its stride (0-60mph takes 10.9 seconds), but after the smoother 1.4 it does feel like a cheaper car. Which of course it is, to the tune of more than £4,000…
KIA XCEED RIDE AND HANDLING
That the XCeed is not a sporty car to drive comes as no surprise. What it does do well is ride in an unfussed and unstressed manner, even on the larger 18-inch alloys. Yes, there’s some firmness at low speed, but body control is good and it’ll stride along a bumpy country road in a reassuringly composed fashion. It’s a very easy car to place on the road too thanks to its slightly raised driving position and a faithful steering setup. Much like the standard Ceed hatchback, the XCeed is proof that Kia can now build cars that are not only smartly styled, well-built and good value, but also satisfying from behind the wheel. Admittedly, noise insulation from tyre roar could be better, but on the whole the XCeed is a rounded and capable car.
Of course, whether the world needs another SUV-inspired hatchback is debatable. What we do know, though, is that it wants one. The XCeed proves as much, with Kia saying it expects 50% of Ceed sales to go to this model. Given it carries a premium of roughly £2,000 on a like-for-like basis, that seems like a pretty good business model. Never mind SUV-inspired. As a business move the XCeed is inspired full-stop.
Price: from £20,795. As tested in First Edition trim £29,195
0-62mph: 9.2 seconds
Top speed: 124mph
Fuel economy: 47.9mpg (combined). On test 39.2mpg.
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