There’s definitely an art to playing a poker face. To do it properly you need lull your opponent into a false sense of security and then - when they blink - you strike.
This is broadly similar to what Kia has just done to Ford after the launch of its new, fourth-generation Focus. I tested Ford’s latest incarnation of the company’s crucial hatchback and liked it. So many things are right about the new Focus – the looks, the improved tech and interior and the sublime steering. Even though it feels more muted than the earlier generation, it’s still a brilliant hatchback to drive.
Jumping into the new Kia Ceed for 24 hours I stole a good few hours of driving, staring, prodding and concluded the new Kia Ceed will make life a lot tougher for the new Focus. Kia’s Ceed starts at €22,695 – just €200 more than the Focus – and has a range designated as the Ceed K2, K3, K4 and K5. There’s a choice of engines ranging from 1.0-litre (120hp) and 1.4-litre (140hp) petrol plus a 1.6-litre (115hp) diesel.
The car I tested was the 1.0-litre petrol version in K4 trim at €25,695 which was brimmed with spec including Android Auto and Apple Car Play, an 8” LCD display screen, wireless phone charger, Lane Keep Assist, Driver Attention Warning, Forward Collision Avoidance, a Rear View Camera, front Daytime Running Lights and rear LED lights.
Starting from the outside the Kia’s design is handsome and follows the clean sheet approach led by Kia’s German-born designer Peter Schreyer who has the original Audi TT as a line item on his CV. It’s a pity Kia didn’t go that bit further with new Ceed’s looks and throw in a few more delectable details into the car’s exterior. The Kia Stinger GT proves that Kia has the flair to let their hair down when given a chance.
Designed and exclusively sold within the EU (Ceed is an abbreviation for Community of Europe with a European design) it has names like Volkswagen, Peugeot and Ford right in its crosshairs. I certainly liked the improved quality. From doors that thud with almost the feel of a certain Germanic hatchback and an interior that looks less funereal than the Focus, it’s clear Kia made good efforts in improving the Ceed’s desirability.
On the road Kia’s use of a multi-link suspension does creep the Ceed closer to the Focus for driving dynamics. But get busy with a few miles of mountain roads and it’s the Ford that ultimately comes out better with a sharper, fabulously weighted steering feel. But, and this is a big one, the Ceed is closer to the Focus than Ford will like.
Kia’s latest hatch is an engaging character with just enough brio to raise pleasantly surprised eyebrows. Of the two, the Ceed is a softer car to drive and the weighting of the pedals to the car’s fluid gearchanges – with a taller gearing than the Focus - makes it a good companion to travel longer distances in. Don’t be put off by the small 1.0-litre engine – it’s a sweet unit that happily zings through the rev range with pep and never felt coarse or overwhelmed.
The new Kia Ceed still faces the sternest test from Volkswagen’s Golf which starts at €22,095 in five-door entry-level trim. Though if you’re dead set against going with the Golf tide and looking at the Ford Focus, there’s now a decent rival from South Korea to consider. It’s not something I’d have been suggesting up to now. Adding in Kia’s 7-year warranty and Kia Ceed has finally come of age.