What is it?
Few manufacturers have been as fascinating to watch in their development as Kia. The first generations of its products in the UK - including the Cee’d in 2006 - may have been praised for their low prices, but there was little else of real merit to ensure them of class honours.
With each passing generation, though, most of these models have become better to drive, cheaper to run and nicer to sit in. The Cee’d is the very definition of this progress, and with 1,000,000 of them now sold, it’s clear that the Korean firm is on to something.
2015 marks the current Cee’d’s midlife facelift, but there’s more to it than simple styling revisions. Sure, there’s the usual new look front and back and some classier cabin materials, but Kia has also been busy experimenting with ball joints and stabiliser bars to ensure not only keener handling but also better comfort and refinement.
Kia has also introduced a turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine for the first time, while a sleek new GT Line trim promises range-topping looks and dynamics without the extra performance the standalone GT badge brings. But here we're driving yet another of the Cee'd's revisions: a new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, now available with the now more powerful range-topping diesel engine.
What's it like?
A better proposition than the old six-speed gearbox in terms of performance. This most powerful 1.6 diesel gets a new turbocharger and is now more sprightly than before, trading in its previous 126bhp and 195lb ft outputs for 134bhp and 221lb ft. The more useful pull begins from around 1500rpm, too.
Thankfully, the new dual-clutch automatic transmission - developed from scratch by Kia, not borrowed from Mercedes - allows you access to the performance. It gives you the right number of down changes on kickdown, but flicks down just once or not at all when pressing down on the throttle to rest just above it, thus using the torque at the engine’s disposal rather than immediately flaring the revs.
It's a reasonably quiet unit, too, this 1.6 - certainly quieter than the Volkswagen Group's efforts with its oil-burners of the same capacity. There's distant engine boom and slight vibration felt through the pedals at very high revs, but the majority of the time you'll enjoy smooth, settled progress. A new cylinder block cover, enhanced diesel particulate filter and sturdier dashboard insulation and carpet are the reasons for that.
The Cee'd's ride and handling still lag behind those of its rivals, though. Our Slovakian test route threw up some UK-like broken surfaces, the most high-frequency of which the Cee’d’s dampers struggled to cope with. The soft set-up does, however, mean that lower-speed bumps are dealt with quite comfortably.
That said, the softness also means noticeable body lean when you feel the urge to push on. The Cee’d’s steering has never been its strong point, and that continues even with revisions for 2015. There's very little feedback in any of its three modes - Normal, Comfort and Sport - and its straight-ahead vagueness and inconsistent weighting fail to inspire fun like a Ford FSeat ocus or Leon can. And this is despite a newly introduced torque-vectoring system that brakes the inside wheel during vigorous cornering.