What is it?
A ground-breaking world first, that's what. Well, sort of: the Kia Ceed is welcoming mild-hybrid technology as part of a pre-facelift tech update due in the UK in late 2020, and the South Korean manufacturer claims this is the first time a 48V mild-hybrid system will be used alongside an electronic clutch.
The theory goes that the family hatch will eke out better fuel economy from its diesel engine without needing to sacrifice the driver involvement that comes with a manual gearbox.
Kia’s ‘intelligent Manual Transmission’ (iMT) uses a clutch-by-wire system in tandem with the starter/generator to switch the engine off earlier than was previously possible when coming to a stop. It also allows the car to briefly turn off and coast in gear at speeds of up to 77mph. The end result is less fuel used and less CO2 pumped into the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, Kia is introducing a handful of new services to its smartphone integration system, with improved traffic predictions, augmented reality navigation and transferable driver profiles all part of the new package.
Beyond that, the Ceed is just the same, with a full facelift of the line-up not due until later next year.
What's it like?
Anyone put off by the idea of an electronic clutch pedal needn’t worry: it’s almost indistinguishable from the mechanical one in the current car, with more than enough feel to find the biting point easily. The gear ratios remain identical, though, resulting in the same laboured acceleration that was a complaint on the Ceed before.
Nor is the mild-hybrid technology that obvious from behind the wheel. The engine cuts out as you come to a halt at lights and junctions, springing back into life the moment you re-engage the clutch. Lifting off on the motorway results in decent coasting, although the engine is less likely to idle here if features like the air-con are drawing power.
We saw 60.1mpg on our short test run in Germany, covering a variety of country roads and some dual carriageways. This indicates that over a higher mileage (the main concern for diesel buyers, after all), the Ceed should outstrip the 70mpg we achieved with this 1.6-litre diesel engine before it went hybrid. According to the official figures at least, the Ceed moves from 56.5mpg to 57.3mpg.
In most other respects, the Ceed is still a grown-up performer. The steering feels direct and balanced, making the car easy to place accurately on the road. There’s a good amount of grip through corners and it’s nicely settled on a motorway cruise. The diesel engine is quiet, too, more so than most alternatives in the class.