You Know What? Just Buy the Kia
A Kia makes all the sense in the world if ultimate driving satisfaction isn’t a priority.
It only took a handful of corners on the challenging, narrow back roads of England to tell me that Kia's latest European hatchback, the Ceed, was the real deal. The sophistication of the chassis shows Kia did its dynamic homework and the whole package comes together to prove that the Korean company has properly established itself in Europe's ultra-competitive C-segment category.
Thankfully, the continental VW Golf and Mazda 3 competitor finally dropped the idiotic apostrophe from its badge, switching from the Kia Cee'd to Ceed. The name comes from the car's European origins. It's built in Slovakia, a member of the European Union (EU) since 2004. Being the Korean company's first Euro-designed and -manufactured model, Kia wanted to highlight that fact. The "Cee" in the name comes from the European Economic Committee (often abbreviated EEC or CEE), while the "ed" that ends the name stands for "European design." Instead of three Es in a row—CEEED—Kia used the apostrophe on the first- and second-generation hatchbacks.
The ride and handling of this third-generation and more conventionally badged Ceed is indeed impressive, though it lacks that last bit of outright refinement of the leaders in the class such as the VW Golf, while I'm eager to see how the new Euro Ford Focus stacks up when I test it later this summer in England. The interior on the Kia is quite nice, with a decent-sized touchscreen that carries standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The Ceed I tested was full-on peasant spec—16-inch wheels, cloth seats, and a surprisingly tiny three-cylinder engine. Only 998 cc of displacement isn't what you'd likely expect powering a car like this. While not fast, a turbocharger gives the Kia 127 lb-ft of torque. You're forced to slip the clutch a bit while the pint-sized, 118-hp engine builds boost, but then it moves along quite well. A 90-mph cruise on the motorway is no issue, although accelerating from 85 mph back to up 90 mph while going up a hill reminds you of the relative lack of grunt and unfortunate long gearing. If you're nice to the Ceed, it returns decent gas mileage. I wasn't nice to it. The fast motorway journey dropped my observed the fuel economy down to 30 mpg. Running the Kia hard around the Cotswolds of England while regularly carrying three or four passengers showed an average of 32 mpg. I'm sure any normal person who purchased a base Kia Ceed could quite easily see closer to 40 mpg.
Sadly, our Kia of similar size in the U.S.—the Forte5—doesn't carry the Ceed's sophisticated multilink independent rear suspension. Yes, both the Ceed and Forte5 can be had with the 201 hp, 1.6-liter turbo motor but the car on our side of the pond doesn't have the athletic chassis to back it up. Installing the good bits from the Ceed on the Forte5 (or simply selling the Ceed in the U.S.) would be fantastic but it would also be expensive. A higher MSRP is not something any company wants when it's hard enough to sell actual cars in an SUV-mad country like America. A shame.
Speaking of SUVs and the U.S., just prior to hopping on a plane for my most recent trip to the U.K., I ran into a friend in Michigan. Chris campaigns a Ford Mustang in various racing series and his daily drivers rotate between a new Mustang Bullitt, a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, and an Audi S4. He proudly updated me on a new SUV that he just purchased for his wife. She previously drove a top-spec Acura MDX and Chris generally prefers luxury-brand automobiles, so I was taken back when he told me they picked up a new Kia Telluride. "It's great," he said. "It carries all latest tech, it's quiet, it looks great, and has a mega-long warranty. And it's inexpensive." Thinking about the Telluride and the Ceed, it's clear Kia is studying the various markets where they sell cars and has its sights firmly locked on undercutting the competition.
With both vehicles, Kia studied the competition in great detail and offered a vehicle with more content, a lower price, and a better warranty. If you ignored any possible snobby view on brands and simply compared the specs, you'd be stupid to buy anything but the Kia. And that warranty is amazing. In the U.S., the Telluride carries five years or 60,000 miles of coverage plus a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. In the U.K., it's a seven-year/100,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. That's impressive no matter where you live.
But ignoring image is not the world in which we live. Most people very much care what brand is affixed to their clothes, their phone, and, of course, their automobile. That's a good thing for Kia's competition. Remember, logic isn't always an especially strong part of purchasing for most people. Yes, it should be but it's not.
If you live in the U.K. (or anywhere else the Ceed is sold) and you're looking to pick up a VW Golf, take the time and test drive the Kia. Personally, I'd still buy the Golf because ultimately it drives better and feels a bit more upmarket. But the Kia runs the longstanding German icon close and may be the better option for a good number of buyers. Remember that warranty. And if you live in the U.S. and you're determined to pick up a three-row SUV, just buy the Telluride. Three-row crossover SUVs are all pretty much the same in that they're not remotely exciting and simply a tool to get a job done. I personally haven't driven the Telluride yet, but I've never driven any of its ilk I much cared for. So you may as well take the logical route and buy the one with the best value proposition. Chris seems to agree, and he drives race cars.