The history of the Kia Cee'd does not take long to recount. It arrived in 2007, then instantly gained a reputation for offering excellent value for money in the family hatch class while delivering better quality than its price point suggested.
A second generation car was fast-tracked into production and arrived in early 2012, a model better in every regard and now right on the pace of the mainstream cars in the class.
Unfortunately, in making it this good, the prices crept up a bit too, removing what for many was the key motivation for choosing the Cee'd.
So has it almost merged with the mainstream now? In some ways, yes. It is still priced at a little less than you would pay for a Vauxhall Astra or a Ford Focus but the difference is not huge. And, just as with those cars, there is the option of an estate variant if you need more versatility than the standard five-door hatch can provide. With the first generation Cee'd, this version was called the SW. This time round, it has been christened Sportswagon. As before, it is a useful addition to the range.
The Cee'd Sportswagon is a vehicle that builds on the hatchback's reputation for exceeding customer expectations. It is 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 or a Vauxhall Astra and consider who might have been making savings.
Some cars in this class offer the option of an automatic gearbox to augment the standard manual transmissions. Not Kia. They have developed their own dual-clutch sequential transmission.
The body is significantly stiffer than before and the steering system now offers a flex steer system for improved driving dynamics. This system delivers three operating modes – comfort, normal and sport – allowing the driver to vary the level of steering assistance. We would expect this sort of thing on an Audi options list, not fitted to a Kia.
Two petrol engines are available: a 1.4 MPI and a 1.6 GDI producing 100 and 135PS respectively. There are also a couple of diesels – a 1.4 WGT with an output of 90 PS and 1.6 VGT diesel offered in two states of tune (110 and 128 PS).
Choose the most powerful diesel and you have a car capable of getting to 60mph in around 11 seconds. The direct injection 1.6-litre Gamma GDI petrol engine was introduced in the Kia Sportage and when fitted to the Cee'd will punt it to 60mph in around 10 seconds. You will need this engine if you like the look of that dual clutch transmission (DCT).
The discipline of turning a family hatchback into a modest estate car does not seem, on the face of it, to be too taxing an assignment but look back at some of the designs we have 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 is none of that here. Indeed, the Cee'd Sportswagon has turned out to be quite an elegant thing.
It retains the hatchback's wedgy rising beltline, with the result that the side windows to the rear of the car are really quite tiny. It nevertheless offers impressive practicality, even if there is a tad less space on offer than was provided by the old Cee'd SW. Lift the rear hatch and you will find a 528-litre load space with the rear seats upright, an area you can extend to 1,642-litres with the rear seats folded.
The wheelbase is the same as the five-door hatchback, but the increase in overall length compared to the old Cee'd SW means more passenger space inside. Front seat occupants have 12mm more headroom and 21mm more legroom, while rear passengers gain 5mm of shoulder room.
It is interesting to see how Kia has managed the issue of rising costs. 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 Cee'd Sportswagon does not really cost much less than competitors like, say, a Focus Estate or an Astra Sports Tourer.
To try to 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.
That is why the Cee'd Sportswagon includes a bunch of gear you would normally be ticking boxes for in many of its rivals. There is a bright TFT high-definition instrument binnacle, dual-zone climate control, powered driver's seat adjustment with memory and a full length (1,045 mm long) powered panoramic glass sunroof. Depending on which trim you opt for, there is LED daytime running lights, fixed cornering lamps, and HID headlamps that turn the low beam to match curves in the road and enhance the driver's night vision. There's also the Parallel Park Assist System (PPAS) where the car uses its sensors to steer itself into a parking space. All you need to do is control the accelerator and brake.
No car in this sector can afford to go to market with second-rate economy and emissions figures. Gone are the days when a low sticker price would more than mask the fact the engines were a decade out of date. Indeed, if there is one thing that carbon dioxide-based taxation has done, it has driven manufacturers into a race to develop ever smarter and more efficient engines.
As with the brand's other models in Europe, the Cee'd Sportswagon is available with fuel-saving technologies developed under the company's EcoDynamics label. These measures, which are offered on diesel and petrol models with manual transmission, include ISG (Start/Stop), low-rolling resistance tyres and an alternator management system (AMS). As a result, the entry-level 1.4 CRDi returns 67.3mpg on the combined cycle and puts out 109g/km of CO2. Even the 126bhp 1.6-litre CRDi variant manages 64.2mpg and 116g/km of CO2.
Kia's Cee'd Sportswagon is one of those sensible choices you might just enjoy making. If you had your eye on the five-door hatch version but felt your growing family needed a little more room, it will be just about perfect. And even if you had 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 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 are looking for a small estate car, it would be wholly remiss to deny the Sportswagon a place on your short list.