I went to the Geneva show this year with a selfish interest: I'm looking for a new car, a straightforward daily driver that is not just tolerable -- as is the 1.4-liter incumbent in my garage -- but one that might actually be enjoyable for the next five years or so, as was my 2.0-liter Renault Scenic. My requirements are shaped by my environment. Gasoline costs $8.78 a gallon in France as I write this, which explains why I won't be buying a Chrysler 300C, no matter how much I like it. Insurance and registration fees in my remote rural area are higher than obtained in Manhattan when I lived there. My wife insists on four doors and loves automatic transmissions. Having had my first speeding ticket in forty years (for one kilometer an hour over the posted limit), I need cruise control. After a couple of days in Geneva, this Europe-only Kia Cee'd was on my short list.
Why? The seven-year warranty is enticing but not decisive. It looks good; the Cee'd is not a bellwether design as was the Giugiaro-penned Volkswagen Golf thirty-eight years ago, but it's well-made, handsome in a not-quite-generic way, and is less expensive than comparably equipped European models. The Germany-based design team led by Peter Schreyer, our Man of the Year, created a tidy, attractive, and aerodynamic-looking exterior along with a carefully detailed cabin that stands up against anything in its segment. It has the best-yet production version of the distinctive dog-bone Kia grille that Schreyer created for marque identity, although it isn't as truly powerful as the Bavarian double kidney or the Rolls-Royce metal Parthenon. I have no idea about driving dynamics but expect they will be acceptable, neither BMW good nor (old) Buick bad.
Kia's reputation has been built the way Toyota's was back in the 1960s: by selling cars that simply don't trouble owners, who can tell all inquirers, "Hey, no problem." That has enormous appeal today and always has. A close examination of the Cee'd revealed no elements that had been skimped or forgotten. One might not agree with the solution chosen for, say, the interior finish of the glove box, but you'd never think that it had been ignored. The attention to detail is palpable -- and I believe real. The first car factory I ever visited, in 1954, was Cadillac's in Detroit. What was most memorable about that was people taking great pride in doing their jobs well. And the cars Cadillac workers turned out then were superior to just about anything but handbuilt Mercedes-Benz 300s and Rolls-Royce Silver Wraiths. I got the impression from the Cee'd that the people who built it were equally committed to their work. Fit and finish were as good as anything on the market that can be considered a mass-production vehicle -- yes, Bentleys and Ferraris are better, but Volkswagens are not -- and there is not the least hint of flimsiness, as there is with all too many "popular" cars. Nice work, Mr. Schreyer.