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.
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1. Contemporary cars often have door handles placed on a surface accent line. Here they are below, and the profile gets a length benefit from wheelhouse to taillight.
2. Derived initially from a sharp crease in the front bumper, this line softens but continues the entire length of the body.
3. This tiny quarter window lets in a bit of light, but it's really there to allow the encircling chrome band to describe a dynamic profile, pointed at both ends.
4. This bulging shape over the front wheel disrupts the long side highlight and allows the body portion to be higher through the doors, the viewer's eye providing continuity.
5. Highly swept back and compound-curved, the windshield is in fact almost flat in plan view, allowing a longer hood panel than is usual in small front-wheel-drive cars. Clever.
6. Dropping the hood line inboard of the fender again gives the impression of greater length than is actually present.
7. Notice that the nose panel is integral with the bumper, making this whole piece relatively cheap and easy to change for a midlife face-lift.
8. Surely the best expression of the characteristic Kia grille, this iteration uses a plan-view curve to thrust the center part forward dynamically.
9. Most cooling air actually comes through this unobtrusive lower intake, the texture of which continues outside the open area.
10. Some effort was made to avoid the generic round foglamp lens, but this whole area is rather messy and not up to the overall standard of the exterior.
11. A convex surface in the lower portion of the doors is expressed in a sharp crease rising toward the rear. In profile it helps lighten the visual mass of the rear body.
12. A nice little outward flare of the sill provides coverage of the rear tire, diverting airflow around the wheel opening.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
13. This rising windowsill line is dramatic, perhaps too much so, as rear-three-quarter visibility is seriously compromised.
14. Deceptive large-glass/small-daylight-opening backlight hinders rearward visibility. This is becoming a real problem on many new cars and may have to be addressed with legal standards.
15. Breaking the taillights into two parts allows a fairly simple hatch opening that's wide all the way down, but the loading height is far above the ground.
16. This external panel on the rear hatch extends the roofline for aerodynamics, puts the CHMSL in a good place, and provides shade for rear passengers.
17. Seemingly present on 90 percent of modern cars, the light-catching panel below the hatch opening is mercifully small on the Cee'd.
18. Rear reflectors are integrated into shapes that are much more successful than the foglight surrounds in front.
19. Nice use of contrasting color and texture makes the seats visually attractive. Their form makes them extremely comfortable.
20. Highly visible stitching in a contrasting color makes this interior seem far more luxurious than would the usual all-one-color solution.
21. Details like the accordion rolltop cover for the tunnel cubby suggest luxury, even if they're all cheap, injection-molded plastic parts.
22. A glare shield above the instruments sweeps over the central console, clearly separating the "driver's office" from the passenger space.