There's a lot to like about the improved third generation Kia Ceed, but those looking for more of the good stuff will be attracted to the Sportswagon estate model. Offering 625-litres of luggage room with the rear seats upright, it's got space aplenty. Plus there's smarter looks, extra technology and stronger standards of safety equipment.
The discipline of turning a family hatchback into a modest estate car doesn't seem, on the face of it, to be too taxing an assignment but look back at some of the designs we've been offered down the years and there have been some proper horror scenes, vehicles that look like normal hatches being mounted by an amorous propagator. Examples include the weirdly broken-backed Citroen BX estate and the unhappy looking Fiat Croma estate. There's none of that here. Indeed, the Ceed Sportswagon has turned out to be quite an elegant thing. In 2018, Kia re-designed this MK3 'CD'-series model with a more athletic look and added more efficient engines and extra technology. Then enhanced the whole package three years on, creating the car we're going to look at here.
The Ceed Sportswagon is a vehicle that builds on the hatchback's reputation for exceeding customer expectations. It's a Kia, so you might reasonably expect a few corners to be cut under the surface to make it that little bit more affordable, but check out the sophisticated multi link rear suspension and then look at the more rudimentary torsion beam rear ends of a Renault Megane Sport Tourer or a Vauxhall Astra Tourer Sports Tourer and consider who might have been making savings. The ride has been developed on Europe's wide variety of road surfaces, remaining comfortable while giving drivers the confidence of tighter body control under cornering and stability at higher speeds. Some of this tuning happened in the UK to ensure the Ceed performs well on our unique roads. A few things are new beneath the bonnet. For the petrol line-up, the previous 1.4 T-GDi unit is replaced by a cleaner 1.5 T-GDi engine offering a bit more power (158bhp) and paired to either 6-speed manual transmission or a '7DCT' dual-clutch auto. The 1.6-litre CRDi diesel got Kia's 48V mild hybrid tech towards the end of the pre-facelift MK3 model's production run and now Kia has paired this 134bhp unit with their latest 'iMT' manual transmission. This 'clutch-by-wire' system contributes to the MHEV system's enhanced fuel efficiency and lower CO2 emissions while retaining the driver engagement of a conventional manual gearbox. A '7DCT' auto is again optional. As before, most sales will be of the 1.0-litre T-GDi petrol three cylinder powerplant, with its manual gearbox and 118bhp output.
Sharing near-identical dimensions to the five-door hatchback, this estate variant features a longer cargo area and rear overhang, plus a subtle tailgate spoiler. Out back, there's a 625-litres boot - that's larger than most D-segment tourers in the next estate class up. The cargo area is also very accessible - the low lift-over height makes it easier to load heavier items into the boot. C-segment tourer customers' expectations go beyond cargo capacity, so Kia's designers have ensured versatility and usability are key strengths for the Ceed Sportswagon, making it one of the most practical cars in its class. The split-fold rear seats are fitted in a 40:20:40 configuration and can be folded remotely with a single touch from a lever just inside the tailgate. With the seats folded, the boot floor is completely flat. Every Ceed Sportswagon features an underfloor box to secure or hide smaller items, as well as a tonneau cover and a bag hook to prevent groceries and other items rolling around the load bay. Integrated roof rails are also fitted as standard to facilitate supplementary stowage. As for changes made to this revised model, well there's a completely redesigned front end, with smarter headlamps flanking a 'tiger nose' front grille upgraded to a black gloss finish with satin chrome highlights. Even more overt are the two large side air intakes shooting through the front bumper, creating a sportier look. At the rear, the surface between the LED combi lamps has been smoothed out to accommodate the company's latest brand emblem. And a glossy black diffuser has been added to the sportier rear bumper. It's all a bit more up-market inside too, Kia having worked on the interior decor, introducing sophisticated soothing colours and more tactile materials. Plusher grades get a fully digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster with high-resolution graphics. And a frameless 10.25-inch centrally mounted display with infotainment, navigation and telematics connectivity features.
It's interesting to see how Kia has managed the issue of rising costs. In order to make this model drive as well as its rivals and feel as well built as the better cars in the family hatch class, prices have had to go up. To the point where this Ceed Sportswagon doesn't really cost much less than competitors like, say, a Focus Estate or an Astra Sports Tourer. Prices start at around £21,000. To try and maintain value as a unique selling point, this has forced the Korean maker to include more standard equipment than rivals and forgo the potential revenue that might otherwise come via the sale of optional extras. There are the usual '2', '2 Nav' and '3' trim levels. The stylised ProCeed shooting brake estate model, by the way, is priced from around £25,500. Whichever Ceed Sportswagon you choose, you'd expect to find it decently equipped - it is - but the key change with this update lies with the availability of even more 'ADAS' ('Advanced Driver Assist') systems, Kia having updated its 'Driver Attention Warning' and 'Blind-spot Warning' systems. In addition to the car's seven standard airbags, included safety kit runs to High Beam Assist, Lane Keeping Assist and Forward Collision Warning autonomous braking with Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist. Connectivity's taken a step forward too - not only with the larger cabin screens (up to 12.3-inches for the instrument cluster and up to 10.25-inches for the centre stack monitor) but also with telematics. The brand now offers its 'Kia Connect' smartphone app which allows customers to connect remotely with their cars. A new 'User Profile Transfer' feature enables users to back up their in-vehicle Kia Connect preferences via the cloud and transfer settings from one vehicle to the next.
The latest Smartstream engine technology in use here incorporates Continuously Variable Valve Duration (CVVD) to optimise performance. CVVD also serves to improve fuel efficiency alongside a Low-Pressure Exhaust Gas Recirculation (LP-EGR) system, which returns some of the hot gases produced by the engine to the combustion chamber to reduce pumping losses and improve fuel economy. So much for the tech; what about the WLTP results? Well, the latest 1.5 T-GDi petrol engine manages up to 48.7mpg on the combined cycle and up to 131g/km - in manual form. The base 1.0 T-GDi three cylinder petrol powerplant improves that to 53.3mpg and 121g/km. For the 1.6-litre CRDi MHEV diesel, it's up to 62.8mpg and 120g/km. As usual with Kia, there's a 7 year or 100,000 mile warranty which, since it can be passed from owner to owner, should help the impressively strong residual values. You might want to note that roadside assistance cover is limited to one year, but you do get a long 12 year bodywork warranty. Maintenance costs can be kept down by opting for Kia's 'Care-3' or 'Care-3 Plus' servicing packages, which offer a fixed-cost and inflation-proof servicing plan for the first three or five years, something which can also be passed on to subsequent owners.
Kia's improved Ceed Sportswagon is one of those sensible choices that you might just enjoy making. If you had your eye on the five-door hatch version but felt your growing family perhaps needed a little more room, it could be just about perfect. And even if you'd had no interest in Kia but came across one of these, you might just be tempted. For a start, most small estate cars are either deathly dull to look at, not especially spacious inside or inefficient to run. Or all three. This Kia is different. The styling's smart, the practicality's sufficient and the running costs are where they need to be. It feels of high quality inside too and is better equipped than comparable rivals. In summary, this model is yet further proof that not only has Kia closed the gap on many of its European rivals but has edged past many of them. If you're looking for a small estate car, it'd be wholly remiss to deny the Sportswagon a place on your short list.