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 there's little sign of cost saving. 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 this Ceed performs well on our unique roads. The brand has slimmed down the Ceed powerplant range in recent times to the unit that it's found most customers want, a 158bhp four cylinder 1.5-litre T-GDi powerplant mated to 6-speed manual transmission. In terms of handling updates for this facelifted third-generation model though, Kia's largely left the set-up alone, which is fine by us, as that was one of this model's strongest aspects. The Ceed is built on a stiff 'K2'-series platform and garnished with feelsome power steering aided by a torque vectoring system that helps to get the power down through the bends. The result is a car we think you'll genuinely enjoy driving. Plus this is still one of the most refined cars in its class, something helped by the emphasis the Korean brand has put on reducing vibration from its latest engines.
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.
The Ceed Sportswagon used to be one of the most affordable choices in the compact estate segment, but because it's now only available in plush '3'-spec trim and only with a relatively powerful 1.5 T-GDI petrol engine, prices start up at around £25,000, about £1,000 more than the equivalent hatch. The alternative stylised Proceed estate also comes only with the 1.5-litre T-GDI engine and costs just under £26,000. Whichever kind of Ceed estate you choose, you'd expect to find it decently equipped - it is - but the key change with recent updates 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 with this car in recent times too - not only with a larger 10.25-inch 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. 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.