Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1
  • Three petrol engines to choose from, two diesels
  • Mild hybrid cars to follow
  • Standard manual gearbox, automatic as an option

Kia’s 1.4-litre T-GDi petrol debuts in this car, as does the new 1.6-litre ‘U3’ CRDi diesel engine, both joined by the existing 1.0-litre T-GDi and 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engines.

Following that you can expect a 48-volt EcoDynamics+ mild-hybrid Ceed in 2020, but the plug-in hybrid model after that is limited to the estate. There are no immediate plans for a fully electric Ceed or a true i30 N challenger, but stranger things have happened.

Petrol engines in the Kia Ceed

The range kicks off with a three-cylinder, 1.0-litre turbocharged unit producing 120hp at 6,000rpm and 172Nm of torque in a usefully wide band between 1,500rpm and 4,000rpm. This makes it easy to drive at lower speeds.

Kia promises minimal throttle lag – the delay between the driver pressing the accelerator and the engine reacting – from this small engine, while the 0-60mph time is a reasonable 10.7 seconds (rivals measure from 0-62mph), with a top speed of 118mph.

The 1.4-litre petrol replaces the old, less powerful 1.6-litre unit, and produces 140hp at 6,000rpm, and 242Nm of torque in between 1,500-3,200rpm. Predictably that means a quicker 0-60mph time of 8.6 seconds for the manual and 8.9 seconds for the automatic.

It’s not a tyre smoker by any means but it gets about its business in a smooth and quiet way that makes it very appealing indeed. There’s a good kick of power, but it’s best to not let the revs drop too low otherwise you’ll find yourself having to downshift in order to get it to pick up again.

It sounds quite fruity from the outside, oddly, but suffers from Kia’s enhanced refinement in the cabin, where its tone is muted and a bit dull.

Both petrol engines feature a gasoline particulate filter to reduce tailpipe emissions.

Turbocharged 1.6-litre brings extra performance for GT

The Ceed GT continues to use the familiar 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine from the previous-generation Ceed GT.

This means 204hp and 265Nm of torque channeled through the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox.

To add a sense of theatre, the GT comes with a louder exhaust and pipes artificial sound into the cabin under harder driving.

Keen Kia enthusiasts will note the lack of a flagship high-performance model to match the speeds the Hyundai i30 N is capable of. The Ceed is a far less focused machine.

Diesel engines in the Kia Ceed

This all-new 1.6-litre unit makes 116hp at 4,000rpm, and 280Nm of torque between 1,500-2,750rpm. In ‘2’ trim level, 0-60mph takes 10.6 seconds, with ‘3’ models being a tenth of a second quicker. Top speed is 119mph for all.

We found this version of the 1.6-litre CRDi engine to be disappointing, chiefly due to its inflexibility. It struggles to cruise at 30mph in fourth gear or 40mph in fifth gear, and even when you do change down to a more appropriate ratio, performance feels blunt and not particularly punchy.

A sweeter, more powerful 136hp version arrived in 2019, and offered a seven-speed DCT automatic gearbox as well. Torque remains the same at 280Nm, but this power hike is enough to drop the 0-60mph time to 9.8 seconds and raise the top speed to 124mph.

There’s some turbo lag below 1,750rpm, so this engine can take a while to get into its stride. However, performance is pretty strong from here on in, so just bear in mind you’ll need to keep the engine spinning above this point to get the best from it. The power tails off by 4,000rpm, but it’s not too fussed at being worked hard if you need it to.

Unlike the Sportage with the same engine, there is no mild-hybrid assistance here.

There is, however, some fake noise coming through the stereo speakers around 3,000rpm - whether the primary purpose of this is to add a level of sportiness or to drown out the diesel clatter, we’re not entirely sure, but we’re happy as it works for both either way.

Kia Ceed Gearboxes

All cars come with the six-speed manual gearbox comes as standard, the 1.0-litre petrol exclusively so, and is typically like a Kia to use – it’s light to use, but feels a little baggy and not as positive as a Mazda, or as precise as a Ford.

Kia’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is an option on the 1.4-litre petrol and 1.6-litre diesel, and while the gearshifts are quick, the response is a little slow when you need to accelerate. Higher-spec models also come with paddles on the steering wheel to manually change gear.

The manual is smooth enough in use but a little vague and the clutch bite can be hard to judge at first.

Drive Mode Select in the Kia Ceed

Fitted to higher-spec models and those with the automatic gearbox is the Drive Mode Select system.

This subtly changes the character of the engine - Normal mode sets you up for greater fuel efficiency, while Sport mode enhances the throttle for more responsive acceleration, while altering the weight and decisiveness of the steering.

Engines no longer available

The 1.6-litre CRDi with 116hp was the only diesel choice at launch and was also available with an automatic gearbox. Torque was actually a little higher, at 300Nm, but, despite this difference, the 0-60mph time was identical at 10.5 seconds. This short-lived automatic gearbox version was replaced by the more powerful 136hp version in 2019.

How does it drive?

  • Improved handling and sense of fun
  • Fully independent suspension all round
  • Stiffer set-up enhances agility

Not traditionally a Kia selling point, but driving dynamics have vastly improved across the manufacturer’s line-up, and the Ceed is no different.

That’s in part thanks to the development being overseen by former BMW M Division boss Albert Biermann, who has ushered in a level of driver engagement not previously experienced in cars from this Korean carmaker.

In terms of tangible differences though, this new Ceed features fully independent front and rear suspension, which is a big deal for handling and ride comfort. Several of this car’s rivals, including the Ford Focus and substantially more expensive Mercedes-Benz A-Class, offer an inferior (and cheaper) torsion beam rear axle set-up.

Stiffer suspension enhances handling

That, in addition to front springs that are 40% stiffer than before, a new rear anti-roll bar stabiliser, plus improved bushings for the trailing arms and shock absorbers means better grip, agility and body control on European roads.

The Ceed's handling is pleasingly composed when it comes to cornering, with some body roll that’s very well contained. The steering has no feel whatsoever - in that you have no idea how much grip the tyres have - but it responds well enough, feeling quite quick to respond, and has a little weighting to it.

The steering wheel itself is nice and thin, while the rack is 17% quicker than before – something owners of the previous-generation model may notice during the first couple of miles of driving. This means the front wheels react faster when you turn the steering wheel, for a sportier and more alert feel.

Electronic assistance

Finally the electronic stability control and Vehicle Stability Management systems feel more relaxed than previous cars, and also include torque vectoring by braking, whereby the inside wheel car be nipped by the brakes to quell understeer (where the front of the car pushes on in a corner) while driving enthusiastically.

Altogether while the Ceed is a much better drive than before, you still feel oddly isolated from the process of driving itself – you can have some fun with this car, but it lacks that final level of fluidity you’ll find in a Mazda 3 and it’s not as involving as a Ford Focus.

The highly-assisted brake pedal is also quite sensitive with its initial biting point, which means it can be a bit jerky at lower speeds when you try to modulate it in stop-start traffic. The upside is that it’s more reassuring when braking from higher speeds though.

It’s good enough for most, however, especially for those who prioritise ease of use and seek an easy-to-drive hatch.

Sportier suspension for GT

While this won’t trouble the more performance-focused hatches, such as the Hyundai i30 N, the Ceed GT should at the very least be more forgiving to live with every day.

With the Ceed GT lowered by 5mm and adopting stiffer suspension, this should lend the hatchback an extra dose of composure around corners.

The ESC system is also recalibrated to be a little less intrusive, while larger brakes should also help reign in the extra performance.