"A spacious small estate that's well built and errs on the side of comfort, not sportiness."
No one's fooled by car manufacturers adding the word ‘sport’ to ‘wagon’ or ‘tourer’ – they’re really talking about bigger, roomier estate versions of family cars. So it is with the Kia Cee’d Sportswagon – not really sporty at all. Instead its large, comfortable dimensions are an alternative to the Ford Focus estate, Volkswagen Golf estate and the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer (there's that word again). In fact, it actually offers marginally more room than its rivals, plus some generally impressive build quality, a decent level of comfort and Kia's class-leading seven-year warranty – everything we’ve now come to expect from the much-improved Kia range. As long you remember that it doesn’t live up to its name – in spite of the fancy Flex Steer system, with its Sport, Comfort or Normal modes. It would have been better off being called the Comfortwagon, which would be closer to the mark thanks to the laid-back nature of its two diesel engines (there's no real performance or acceleration from either of them) and its very smooth ride. Plus, you’ll get pampered by the high equipment levels, even in the entry-level model – which also means that Kias are no longer the budget brand they used to be. The Sportswagon is now priced at almost the same level as its Ford, Vauxhall and VW rivals, but definitely has the edge of all of them in terms of stylish looks. The Sportswagon comes in five specifications, following Kia's standard numbering system – the base model is the ‘1’, then all the way up to ‘4’ before breaking form with the top-of-the-range ‘4 Tech’.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
The 89bhp 1.4-litre CRDi six-speed manual ISG engine is the most economical, returning a claimed combined fuel economy of 67.3mpg, while emitting 109 g/km of CO2. Even the 126bhp 1.6-litre CRDi returns 64.2mpg and emits 116g/km, so all Sportswagon models are very cheap to run, with the sub 120g/km CO2 levels keeping road tax costs down. Then there's that seven-year warranty to make sure that no unexpected bills surprise you along the way. Kia dealers will also try to sell you a service pack that is designed to take care of routine servicing costs for a few years, too. In most cases, they’re worthwhile and will end up saving you money, even though that warranty shows that Kia has a lot of confidence that its car won’t break down.
Interior & comfort
This is where the Cee’d Sportwagon starts to show its class. Like the standard hatchback, you get lots of space in the front and the back for adult passengers, with plenty of head and legroom throughout the interior. You should even be able to get three adults to fit comfortably on the back seats, though any with broad shoulders will probably get to know each other rather better than they’d prefer. There's a decent amount of space for everyone's luggage in the boot, too. The ride does lean a bit towards the firm but it doesn’t get too bumpy, either. In fact, it offers a very precise balance, so it nicely absorbs any bumps or deep potholes, but never feels so bouncy that passengers might get carsick. It's basically an ideal long-distance cruiser that's equally relaxing to drive on the motorway.
Practicality & boot space
The current Sportswagon is actually a little bit smaller than the car it replaced, but it still manages to trump both the Astra Sports Tourer and Focus estate for sheer space and storage capacity. There are a few neat hidden compartments to add that little bit of extra practical flair, with the only real drawback being that the 60:40 split-fold back seats are quite tricky to fold. You have to pull up the seat bases first, so that you get a flat loading bay – which is important but it needn’t be such a faff to achieve it, and certainly isn’t so awkward in the Sportwagon's rivals. Still, the Cee’d does score on interior space and practicality, with plenty of room for passengers in both the front and back, with plenty of head and legroom and lots of useful storage cubbies dotted around the inside. Plus, it shares the same massive maximum boot space of 1,642 litres with the Hyundai i30 Tourer with the seats folded down. With the seats in place, you still get a healthy 528 litres.
Reliability & safety
Time for a quick spot-check on Kia's continued ascent up the rankings in the Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. The Korean car builder has climbed a further five spots up the manufacturers rankings since the last poll in 2012, hitting a high of seventh place in the 2013 survey. If it continues at this rate, it could well crack the coveted top three in the 2014 poll. The current Cee’d is still too new to the UK market to rank, but the old model still managed a respectable 83rd in the top 100 cars list. Admittedly this represents a drop of some 27 places but that could simply be because of the arrival of the new model. It's pleasing that Kias are no longer just about their seven-year warranty – that does still help, though. Even without that extended cover, however, the Cee’d Sportswagon would compete well, just in terms of quality. It may not quite be a match for the latest VW Golf (then again, what is?), but it is easily a match for the Ford Focus estate and the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer. The dashboard is stylish, well laid out and easy to use, while the plastics on top of the dashboard and doors are of decent quality and appear to be hardwearing, especially if you go for the higher-spec 3 models – the 1 and 2 versions are admittedly more basic inside. Plus, the standard Cee’d hatchback bagged the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, thanks to its full range of airbags, electronic stability and traction control fitted as standard alongside a host of other safety accessories.
Engines, drive & performance
We don’t want to labour the point, but if only Kia hadn’t called the Cee’d estate the Sportswagon – it just creates a set of expectations that the car can’t meet. That might actually be a good thing, though. The diesel engines may not be particularly fast, but the 1.6-litre diesel is certainly smooth and pleasingly controlled. They do send you hunting for a lower gear from the easy-to-use gearbox when you need that little bit of extra power to get the Sportswagon up a steep hill, especially if the car is hauling its maximum quota of luggage and passengers, but that's hardly a real chore. Similarly, the steering is more relaxed than responsive - even if you select Sport mode from the three settings on offer from Kia's Flex Steer system, it doesn’t react that quickly, so we’d recommend just leaving it in normal, to be honest. Kia shouldn’t be ashamed that the Sportswagon errs on the side of comfort, rather than performance.
Price, value for money & options
Kias are still good value for money, they’re just not cheap anymore. Now their list price reflects all the improvements the company has doggedly made over the past decade. So, if you want superior levels of comfort, safety and style, you will have to pay the equivalent of long-standing mainstream rivals from Vauxhall, Volkswagen and Ford. Admittedly, Kia dealers have less money to haggle with, so you could end up paying more for a Kia than a VW with a good discount, but there's no guarantee of that. The balance is a strong level of equipment, from level 1 right up to top-spec level 4 Tech. Every model gets air-conditioning and remote locking, plus Bluetooth and iPod connections. The 3 model also comes with a huge seven-inch touchscreen sat-nav and media system fitted as standard. Then, of course, there's Kia's famous seven-year warranty – if you plan to keep your car a while, it's a compelling offer that most definitely adds a lot of appeal to buyers. Resale values on the used car market are improving but you still won’t the same second-hand deals as you would with a Ford of Volkswagen.