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Kia Cee'd 2007 Review

Instead, Australia could start with the three-door or convertible version of Kia's first European designed, engineered and built vehicle. Kia Motors Australia senior product planner Nick Reid is expecting to have some variety of cee'd here by the middle of next year.

"Maybe the three-door or convertible, but the five-door hatch is what we would really like to bring in first," he says.

In the first couple of months since its European launch there has already been 40,000 orders for the car.

The Slovakian factory where it is produced, along with the Sportage, has an annual production limit of 300,000 and Kia conservatively estimates it will sell 150,000 cee'ds a year.

Add to that the already heavy demand coming from right-hand-drive markets such as the UK and South Africa, and Australia might have to wait for the five-door model which is expected to represent about 65 per cent of cee'd sales.

Reid would prefer to import the two-litre petrol and diesel five-door hatches, but would be happy with the three-door or soft-top "ex-cee'd" which debuted as a concept at the Geneva motor show this month.

A sporty wagon begins production in September and the three-door cee'd is expected to be built from December.

Cabrio production will be confirmed later this year. There is also talk of a turbo two-litre hot hatch. Reid says Australia may not get the wagon, but it could take the lively five-speed 1.6-litre, five-door diesel as an entry model, if supply is a problem. "We need to get it at the right price. It will be just under the price of the Magentis," Reid says. The Magentis starts at $25,990.

"People are used to Kia being cheap and cheerful, but this is a Euro car, so we're going to have to rebrand."

Reid says the cee'd will replace the Korean-built Cerato hatch, but not the sedan, and will compete with other European products such as the Astra, Focus and Golf.

European product planner David Labrosse says that with ABS, ESP, six airbags, a stiff chassis and crash intrusion protection Kia expected a five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash testing in June.

It would be the first Korean company to get a five-star rating, he says.

I covered a variety of road surfaces and driving conditions while testing the cee'd in and around Frankfurt last week.

I drove the 1.6-litre diesel and 1.6 petrol with the five-speed manual boxes. Both engines are willing powerplants, although the diesel runs out of puff on hills and needs gear shifting to keep the revs right.

Kia claims it has the longest wheelbase in its segment, which would account for its high-speed stability on the autobahn.

Turn-in is a little slow and the steering a little heavy on the diesel, because of the extra engine weight up front, but its cornering and road manners are otherwise impeccable. Panel fit, paint and build quality is excellent.

The typically austere Korean hard plastic cabin trim has been replaced by quality Euro trim and plenty of creature features.

None of the trim rattled, even on cobblestone streets in the villages.

Apart from the cee'd, Kia is set for a big year in new models. In June, it will release the Sorento with a 2.5-litre diesel engine, followed by the Sportage in July-August with a two-litre diesel.

The Carens small people mover, to be called the Rondo in Australia and the US, will be released in September with the Picanto 1.1-litre light car coming later in the year.

Kia Motors Australia public relations manager Jonathan Fletcher described the Rondo as a smaller version of the Carnival, which is Australia's top-selling people mover.

It will come with a two-litre petrol engine with five-speed manual and four-speed auto and a two-litre diesel with six-speed manual and four-speed auto.

The Korean-built five-seater vehicle will arrive with more than one trim level and is expected to be offered with a $1400-$1500 optional seven-seater configuration to compete against VW's Caddy Life.

"We won't know the exact price but we are aiming at under $25,000. The petrol model will be the entry level," Fletcher says.

On a test drive in and around Frankfurt, the manual diesel returned 7.5L/10km on a mix of autobahn, country and city driving. Rondo feels well-planted on the road and compares favourably in size with compact SUVs such as Honda's CR-V and Nissan X-Trail.

There is plenty of legroom front and back for the tallest of passengers. We only drove the five-seater, so it was difficult to determine space for the third row, but it appears there would be no cargo area left when it was deployed. Kia claims 74 litres of space remain.

Mark Hinchliffe
Contributing Journalist


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