Review

Kia Ceed SW PHEV review: a practical, affordable plug-in hybrid. So where’s the catch?

2/5

There's plenty to recommend in the petrol/electric South Korean contender, it's just that rivals do it better – and more of them arrive soon

2020 Kia Ceed Sportswagon (SW) PHEV plug-in hybrid

The problem with plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) is that they’re quite expensive. And it’s no wonder, really, given the cost of building not just a petrol or diesel engine, but also an electric motor to sit and run alongside it.

So an affordable plug-in hybrid is worth talking about, and that’s exactly what this Kia Ceed is. The Ceed Sportswagon (SW) PHEV, to give it its full title, is also the first estate car in its class to offer a plug-in powertrain, though it won’t stay that way for long, with the Renault Megane E-Tech and a slew of plug-in rivals from Volkswagen, Seat and Skoda soon to join it. Also along shortly, the MG 5 EV which will constitute a fully electric alternative, and the Ceed can also count among its rivals the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports, a full hybrid option that doesn’t need to be plugged in.

So simply being first won’t be enough on its own to ensure the Ceed keeps its head above water in this rapidly growing class. It’ll have to be good, too. Read on to find out whether it has what it takes – and don’t forget to register or login to find out our decisive verdict.

Pros

- Relatively low price

- Decent on motorway

- Long warranty

Cons

- Sloppy handling

- Sluggish, noisy engine

- Small boot

Under the skin

You’ll probably know the PHEV drill by now. And if you don’t, well, under the bonnet of the Ceed sit both a petrol and an electric motor, the latter of which is powered by a reasonably hefty battery that can be charged by plugging the car into a wall socket or an electric car charging point. 

The petrol component is a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder unit, and it’s worth noting that this engine has been around in Kias and Hyundais in some form or other for almost 15 years, in contrast to the slick new 1.6-litre turbo that powers the new Sorento Hybrid

Working in parallel with the electric motor, it kicks out 139bhp, with drive going to the front wheels via a standard six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, and the Ceed will run on electric power alone for up to 29 miles. 

There’s only one version available, and it gets a reasonably good specification; cruise control, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and a reversing camera come as standard. That said, the only options are metallic paint and a package of additional driver aids, including adaptive cruise control – so if you want heated seats, leather upholstery or front parking sensors, for example, well, tough. 

Ease of use

If you like your interiors nonsense-free, then you’ll feel quite at home inside the Ceed. Everything’s where you’d hope to find it, and there are big, chunky buttons, and a clearly labelled, easy-to-use climate control panel. 

The entertainment system is good, too; its graphics look a little plain, but it works intuitively and responds quickly to the touch, and he standard widescreen display is crisp and easy to read.

And if you’re worried about all the hybrid system making the Ceed complicated to drive, don’t be. From behind the wheel, getting going is as simple as it is in a standard automatic; stick it in drive, and off you go. 

That said, the Ceed isn’t particularly disposed to fast getaways; prod the throttle hard to slip into a gap in traffic and the car feels as though it’s having trouble making its mind up how best to respond for a second or two. 

And when it does eventually do so, it’s not actually all that quick. Most plug-ins use their electric motors to good effect to deliver instant thrust, but the Ceed’s feels curiously gutless. That means under even moderate acceleration, it’s forced to rely on the petrol engine for power. 

The trouble is, this petrol engine is starting to feel its age; even under normal driving it’s quite noisy, and when revved harder – as it’ll need to be if you want to accelerate even moderately quickly – it gets pretty thrashy. 

Between that, the ever-present tyre noise, the constant sound of the suspension moving about and the slightly jerky automatic gearbox, you don’t really get the same sense of serenity or seamlessness you do with some of the best hybrids. 

Size and space

On the outside, the Ceed SW counts as a compact estate; it’s about the size of the estate versions of the Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf, which makes it smaller than the Volkswagen Passat GTE and Ford Mondeo Hybrid. 

Inside, it’s a bit of a shame that the hybrid gubbins take up so much of the Ceed’s boot; the SW goes from having one of the largest load bays in its class as a standard car, to one of the smallest in hybrid form. The result is that all of the Ceed’s hybrid rivals, and even the fully electric MG5, offer a more capacious boot. You do get a spare wheel as standard, though – an unexpected, and rare, bonus in a hybrid. 

The rear seats split and fold in the standard 60/40 format – which is to say that the centre seat folds down with one of the outer seat, rather than individually on its own. There’s no clever sliding mechanism for the rear seats, either.

Passenger space is better, with plenty of leg room in the back for adults to sit behind adults and a generous amount of head room. The front seats are as spacious as you’d want, too, though it’s a shame you don’t get much storage for your odds and ends; the door pockets are rather stingy and the cubbies in the centre console are miniscule. You do at least get a big glovebox, though.

Pounds and pence

Let’s talk company car tax first, given how often these PHEVs are chosen as company cars. While the Ceed’s figures are still better than most petrol or diesel cars’, it’ll actually cost you more to tax than any of its main plug-in rivals. In fact, it’ll cost you almost as much to tax as the larger Skoda Superb iV

That said, if you’re buying privately, the Ceed starts to look more attractive. Its price might look steep in isolation, but in fact, to get a cheaper PHEV, you’d have to settle for a hatchback with less boot space, in the form of the Hyundai Ioniq. The Ceed looks like it should hold its value reasonably well, too.

If you can live with a fully electric car, though, an MG5 is cheaper to buy  – or if you want to avoid plugging in at all, so is a Toyota Corolla Touring Sports. 

Of course, as with all PHEVs, the Ceed’s official fuel consumption figures have very little bearing on reality – the way the official test works favours all of these cars, after all – and how much fuel you use will depend heavily on how frequently you charge it up. Nevertheless, compared with other PHEVs, it isn’t quite as fuel-efficient, and while that 29-mile range is just about competitive, it’s toward the back of the pack. 

The Ceed should be pretty reliable. Kia finished 7th out of 24 manufacturers included in the 2019 JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study, which bodes well, and Kia’s whopping seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty is the best in the class. 

On the road

Most Ceed PHEV buyers are unlikely to want to drive their cars all that quickly, which is fortunate because the Ceed isn’t very fast. 

As we’ve already discussed, the swift, silent responses you usually get from a car with an electric motor are conspicuously absent here; acceleration is leisurely, and accompanied by that blaring petrol engine noise.

And when you do get it up speed, it doesn’t feel all that comfortable. The standard Ceed is a relatively sharp-handling car, but the extra weight of the hybrid bits have given the PHEV the air of a sack of wet porridge. 

The suspension is soft, so all that weight slops around if you change direction too quickly, and there’s very little grip or traction at the front end; even at relatively tame speeds, the nose tries to run wide, and you have to be pretty careful with the throttle on the way out of a bend or junction to avoid spinning the wheels on damp tarmac. 

“Ah,” you’re thinking. “But that soft suspension surely means it’s going to be lovely and smooth and wafty.” Well, kind-of. Around town it is soft-edged, taking the sting out of sharp-edged imperfections in the road surface, but there’s an underlying woodenness over larger bumps which means the car moves around over the tarmac’s undulations and never feels entirely settled. 

This trait is magnified the faster you go, so on a knobbly country road the Ceed feels even more discombobulated. Thankfully, it’s more composed on the motorway, where the Tarmac is smoother and the Ceed’s suspension irons out expansion gaps and glosses over churned-up patches of road pretty well.

The feelgood factor

The Ceed SW isn’t an ugly car, but neither is it particularly memorable; true, the corporate nose is lean and sharp, but from there backward it all gets rather bland and generic. 

Inside, the same goes; the interior isn’t unattractive, but its relentlessly dour grey plastics lack flair. It gets the job done – which, really, is all that’s needed – but next to the gorgeous, upholstered dashboard of the Octavia or the sweeping lines of the Corolla, the Ceed does feel rather drab. 

All of which adds up to a car you won’t feel too disappointed to walk up to, but at which, when you’re walking away again, you’ll rarely look back.

The Telegraph verdict

The single-model range and middle-of-the-road specification should leave you in no doubt as to the Ceed SW PHEV’s target market: company car drivers. 

Trouble is, Kia isn’t alone in seeking out the fleet market with this car – and the Ceed’s rivals offer both more panache and cheaper company car tax bills.

They also give away less of their boot space to their hybrid underpinnings, and by and large, they feel smoother, faster, quieter, more involving and less lumpen to drive. 

What about if you’re a private buyer? Well, the Ceed is cheap, reliable, and its value should hold up pretty well. But surely there’s more to life than just that? Yes, the Ceed is a relatively cost-effective way of getting into a plug-in hybrid. But it isn’t that much cheaper than some genuinely capable alternatives. Spend a little extra on one of those, and you’ll end up with a whole lot more.

Telegraph rating: Two stars out of five

The facts

On test: Kia Ceed Sportswagon 3 PHEV

How much? £29,995 on the road

How fast? 106mph, 0-62mph in 10.5sec

How economical? 188.3mpg (WLTP Combined)

Engine/gearbox: 1,580cc four-cylinder petrol engine, 139bhp (total combined maximum), six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, front-wheel drive

The electric bits: AC transmission-mounted motor with 8.9kWh battery, 3.3kW on-board charger, Type 2 charging socket

Electric range: 29.2 miles

CO2 emissions: 33g/km

VED: £0 first year, then £140/year

Warranty: 7 years / 100,000 miles (mileage unlimited in first three years)

Boot size: 437 litres

Spare wheel as standard: Yes

The rivals

Renault Megane Sport Tourer 1.6 E-Tech 160 Iconic

158bhp, 217.3mpg, £30,995 on the road

By comparison with the Ceed, Renault’s plug-in Megane estate is a honey to drive with a slick, smooth powertrain and a blissfully comfortable ride. It comes with the peace-of-mind of a five-year warranty, too, though a mildly terrifying resale values mean it works best when someone else is paying for it. 

Seat Leon Estate 1.4 TSI E-Hybrid 204 FR

201bhp, 235.4mpg, £32,000 on the road

The new Leon boasts all the flair the Ceed so lacks. In plug-in form, it also offers a heap more power, better fuel economy, lower CO2 emissions, and even a few miles’ more electric range. If you’re buying, it’s just £2,000 more, and as a company car the tax bill is even cheaper than the Ceed’s. Sounds like a no-brainer to us.

Toyota Corolla Touring Sports 2.0 Hybrid Design

181bhp, 56.4mpg, £29,615 on the road

The non-plug-in option is a tempting one. This Corolla has one of the best hybrid powertrains out there at the moment, yet it’ll cost you less than the Ceed to buy, and if you haven’t got anywhere to plug in, you’ll probably get better fuel efficiency too. What’s more, the Corolla looks smart inside and out. 

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