Kia’s progress through the ranks from being a so-called budget badge to becoming a serious player in the automotive market has been swift. It’s only five years since it launched its breakthrough model, the cee’d hatchback.
Now, hot on the heels of the replacement for that model comes the estate version. And while the new hatch met with rave reviews, not surprisingly the estate is equally impressive.
Kia has introduced a number of new, and brave, aspects for the estate. First, it has a legible name: while the previous model masqueraded as the SW, the new model has the resplendent title of cee’d Sportswagon.
Irritatingly, Kia continues with the strange styling of the word cee’d, which the annoyingly sensitive spellcheck software on my Mac insists on changing to cue’s.
Kia has also taken the rather brave stance of opting for an all-diesel engine line-up: well, at least for the time being.
And certainly in the short-term, the decision appears to make sense. Fleet customers, ever-sensitive to economy and CO2 figures which threaten to have an impact on their take-home pay, are expected to account for a big proportion of the new Sportswagon’s sales.
The other fact worth focusing on is that Kia’s diesels, traditionally are more competitive and fun than its petrols. While the do the job adequately, they lack the torque and economy of downsized turbocharged petrol engines from other manufacturers. Kia lacks anything comparable to Ford’s three-cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost Volkswagen’s 1.2 TSI or General Motors’ 1.4 turbo.
Kia clearly knows its strengths when it comes to its powerplants, and its diesels are traditionally amongst some of the best in the industry.
The harsh truth of the matter is, they’re actually better than some oilburners you find under the bonnet of more expensive cars which boast ‘prestige’ badges.
As with the hatch, Kia has made it easy to choose a trim level: 1, 2, 3 or 4. There’s also a range-topping, all-singing, all-dancing 4 Tech.
From launch — and the cars are in Kia showrooms across the UK now — there are two diesels: the 89bhp, 67.3mpg, 109g/km 1.4, and the 126bhp, 1.6 which delivers 64.2mpg, and 116g/km. The 1.4′s a bit pedestrian in the 0-62mph stakes, taking a leisurely 13.4secs: the 1.6 covers it in 10.8s.
The 1.6, which I drove first, was smooth and quiet, though it did seem to lack a bit of grunt. Perfectly adequate on the motorway, it was rather unnervingly hesitant when it came to overtaking on an A-road.
In contrast, the smaller 1.4 diesel was far more pliant and zesty, not really what I, or my driving partner expected. Its suspension was also better tuned than that fitted to the bigger model, which wallowed and wafted over the Slovakian roads. The steering in the smaller-engined version also felt sharper.
The new Sportswagon is 15mm longer than the SW, and is narrower and lower than before. The result is a look which is more stretched coupe than a boxy estate.
At the front there’s the new Kia tiger nose grille, and at the rear the wide-opening tailgate opens to reveal a storage space which is actually slightly smaller than the old SW. With the rear seats in place, there’s 528 litres of stowage, which increases to 1642 litres with the seats folded.
Storage is larger than found in the hatch — up by 148 and 324 litres — and, perhaps more significantly, is greater than that found in both the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra estates.
The Sportswagon also benefits from secret storage spaces under the bootfloor, which in turn is in perfect alignment with the tailgate-opening: as a result it’s easy to slide big, heavy objects in and out.
And those rear seat-backs also fold perfectly flat, though you do need to pivot the seat bases forward beforehand.
The top spec models get handy rails and boot dividers, while net hooks, a 12v socket in the boot and roof rails are standard across the Sportswagon range.
Pick of the bunch is probably the £16,895 1.4 turbodiesel. Available only in entry-level ’1′ trim, it comes with air-con, remote locking, iPod stop-start and Bluetooth as standard. Step up to ’2′, and you get the addition of LED daytime running lights, added chrome, plus some leather trim on the steering wheel and gear lever.
The overall quality inside the Sportswagon’s cabin is impressive, and certainly just as good as anything you’ll find in the Focus.
Overall it’s a tidy piece of kit, but prices are beginning to creep up. But throw in the fact the Sportswagon, like its hatch, enjoys a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty, and suddenly the appeal of the new cee’d becomes even more attractive.