Will giving a sevenyear, 100,000-mile warranty on the new Cee’d be Kia’s Waterloo, or will it set a new benchmark that other car makers will have no alternative but to follow? Danny Cobbs has little doubt that it’ll be the latter…
Not so very long ago, Hoover ran a promotion. Buying a new vacuum cleaner entitled you to two free flights to the United States. Even though most of my house has wooden floors, I bought a Hoover, and so did tens of thousands of other people.
Hoover’s sales figures rocketed, and the company nearly went bust. You see, no one actually questioned the bloke who dreamt up this hair-brained scheme. If they had, a quick calculation performed by any elementary student using an abacus, would have told them the figures would never stack up. Net profit on each machine sold: say, £20. Cost of two return flights to New York: say, £400. Result? Chaos in the accounts department. To its credit, Hoover stood by its offer and stumped-up the flights, but you did have to fight for them. You see, there’s no such thing as a free lunch…or a free flight. Someone has to pay.
When Kia proudly unveiled the Cee’d (pronounced ‘Seed’) at the Paris motorshow last year, it also proclaimed each one sold would get a free sevenyear, 100,000-mile warranty. I immediately thought of the Hoover incident. Let’s face it, in the past, Korean cars haven’t exactly been renowned for their longevity. Their makers used to take the fast-food tag – just enough sustenance, but barely palatable – a little too literally. Okay, okay, I know that was all way back then, and the cars churning out now are light years better than the ones leaving Korea even as recently as five years ago, but, and this is a huge but – the discerning public doesn’t forget. To the uninformed and unwashed, mention the name Skoda and it can still raise a titter. And Kia ‘giving away’ this guarantee on the Cee’d could prove to be one of the greatest automotive marketing ploys in history, or the dumbest thing since the Renault Avantine.
If the Cee’d is to live up to expectations and break into the very competitive C-segment market (that’s PR jargon claptrap for small family hatchbacks like the Focus, Golf and Astra) it needs to offer more than five doors and a cheap price, hence this warranty. Taking the ‘promise-to-keep-going-for- seven-years’ thing to one side, the Cee’d is surprisingly more than just average. In truth, it can quite easily stand up on its own merits, without any of the long-life warrantymarketing. For the first time, a Korean manufacturer has looked at the profile of its potential customers and built a car to suit them, not the other way around. Kia, like most other Asian companies, wants a slice of the European market. To a degree, Kia has been been quite successful, but it has achieved what it has with cars designed for the Korean home market, and tastes change once you pass the Pacific Rim. The remit might be one thing, but the finished article normally turns out to be something completely different. Even the design of the meek and mild Rio somehow managed to get lost in translation.
To address this, only European designers were used on the Cee’d, and Kia invested heavily in a new, state-of-the-art factory in Slovakia, where car production has just begun. The finished article, I’m pleased to report, looks and drives much more to our expectations. Kia hasn’t re-written the design book with Cee’d. What it has done, is to give the European customer a credible alternative in an overcrowded field. Even though the standard of build is way, way better than anything that’s gone before – the doors close with a reassuring clunk, always a good sign – it still isn’t up to Ford’s standard, but then again this 5-door hatchback is cheaper, pro-rata. For £12,250 the launch model offers more than the immediate competition, even in the basic trim spec, and a 3-door hot hatch and estate version are promised during 2007.
The normal array of basic passive and active safety features are bundled into each of the four trimlevel packages, although ESP will be an additional cost. Kia is also offering, as standard on each car, air con with a cooled glove box, CD/MP3 player, iPod port, and electric front windows. And it’s a pleasant place to be sat. All that nasty, hard plastic we’ve been so used to from Korea has been replaced with touchy-feely qualitymaterials. It’s but just of a better standard. This end of the market is perhaps the most price conscience and although the Cee’d comes below its rivals it really doesn’t feel cheap. It’s been screwed together without too many flaws and the paintwork is the best I’ve ever seen from any Korean. Yes, if you thump the door panels they do still quiver a bit and the roof lining is a bit thinner than on a Golf or Vauxhall, but the Cee’d is vastly less money, so what do you expect?
Actually, you have to cast a very critical eye over it to find too much fault at all. The seats are comfortable enough with here-thereand- everywhere adjustments and the fabric coverings used is more than acceptable. There’s plenty of cubby holes and stowage compartments and the switchgear rocks and presses with purpose. And back in the rear there’s enough for room for three adults which means that the spacious boot is a bit of a nice surprise too. Under the bonnet you get a choice of two diesel engines; a 115 bhp, 1.6-litre available when it goes on sale in February, or the 2.0-litre in July . The 1.6 I drove will have little appeal to any budding boy racers, however if you really grit your teeth and stir the five-speed manual box with vigour, it will get you from 0-62 mph in less than 12 seconds and onwards to its top speed of 116 mph.
But you really will have to be forthright to make it go that fast, in fact, try an incline with the wind behind. The handling has a European firm and precise flavour to it yet there’s still a slight tendency from the body to roll and lurch if a corner is taken with too much spirit. On the straights of the motorway it quietly knuckles down with little resistance. Kia hopes to sell about 10,000 Cee’d here in the UK per annum. If this car was anything less than it is I’d have doubts about the validity of that much publicised warranty. Kia might be a huge conglomerate now, but if the Cee’d falls short of expectations, which I’m sure it won’t, that warranty won’t be good for anything more than using it to wipe Kia’s collective butt.
On sale: February 2007 // Price from; £12,250 //
Main rivals: Vauxhall Astra, Renault Megane, Ford Focus
- Price: £12,250
- Engine: 1582cc 4 cyl valves doubleoverhead cam, in-line with VGT
- Max Power: 113 bhp at 4000rpm
- Max Torque: 188 lb ft @ 1900 -2750 rpm
- Combined Consumption:60.1 mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 125 100g/km,Band C
- 0-62mph: 11.5 sec
- Max speed: 116 mph
Body coloured bumpers
Cooled glove box
Fully integrated CD/MP3 Audio
Steering Wheel audio control
Tilt & telescopic steering wheel
Front electric window
Central Door Locking
Drivers Seat Height and lumber adjustment
15″ Steel wheels
Overall Length: 4235
Overall width: 1790 (including door mirrors)
Overall height: 1480
Front track: 1546
Rear Track: 1544
Fuel tank: 53 litres
Luggage: 340 litres (all seats upright) 1300 litres (back
seats folded flat)
Max Roof load: 80 kgs
Curb weight: 1292 kgs
Gross weight: 1820 kgs
Seven-year warranty, great value for money, surprisingly good diesel engine
Higher spec level not such great value, odd instrument cluster, struggles at higher speeds