Plug-in hybrid makes Kia XCeed feel uneXCeptional

Kia's chunky XCeed was a surprise pre-lockdown hit with William Scholes. But does adding a plug-in hybrid drivetrain make it a better - or worse - car?

Kia XCeed PHEV

KIA makes a bunch of impressive cars and has quietly become one of the leaders in electrification, writes William Scholes.

Its pure electric cars are acclaimed as among the best on the market right now, and it has been plumbing hybrid hardware into its vehicles - and more of them - for longer than most.

The company's heartland vehicle is the Ceed. It's Kia's take on the much-loved and long-serving family hatchback; SUVs may be devouring more and more of the new car market (Kia does a bunch of those, too) but European buyers still cherish anything in the mould of a Volkswagen Golf and its ilk.

The Ceed is a highly competitive offering, and while some other makers might be becoming less enthusiastic about hatches as they've become distracted by SUVs, Kia manages to field no fewer than four distinct Ceed variants.

There's the standard five-door hatchback Ceed itself, of course, and the capacious Sportswagon estate version.

And because one estate is never enough, Kia also offers an even sleeker, more style-orientated wagon called the ProCeed.

These three are appealing enough in their own right, but it's the fourth variant that I like best.

The XCeed, as it's called, is a sort of mash-up of hatchback, SUV and coupe. On paper it shouldn't work, but in the metal this chunky crossover is a fine-looking, distinctive family car.

Kia XCeed PHEV

There's substance beneath the bodywork, too. I had an XCeed on test last winter and, in difficult sub-zero and stormy conditions, the Kia was a reassuring companion on several long journeys. It was exactly what you want from a family car.

Surprisingly engaging to drive, beautifully built from quality materials, safe feeling, roomy, refined, comfortable and with intelligently laid out controls, it was one of that year's most unexpectedly memorable cars.

That XCeed had a petrol engine. But, in typically expansive Kia fashion, its electrification know-how has made its way to the XCeed in the guise of a plug-in hybrid.

Given my earlier positive XCeed experiences, I was expecting great things of this 'PHEV' model when it appeared on my driveway.

Unfortunately, it was a bit of a letdown.

First, some context. Car-makers are racing to electrify their offerings not only because it's what buyers increasingly demand but also because they face heavy EU fines unless they can cut their CO2 emissions.

Given my earlier positive XCeed experiences, I was expecting great things of the plug-in hybrid model when it appeared on my driveway. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a letdown

At one end of the scale are so-called mild-hybrids, which have the gentlest level of electrical assistance; at the other are full-electric cars.

In between are the hybrids. There are 'self-chargers', which can usually cover only short distances using their battery and motor before their petrol engine has to kick in and take over motive duties and recharge the battery.

Between these and the pure electric cars are the plug-ins. These typically have larger batteries than the regular hybrids and can be rejuiced by - as the name suggests - plugging them into a charging point or the socket in your garage.

The ability to travel longer, more useful distances - typically around 30 miles - on electric power alone contributes to plug-ins having eye-catchingly low CO2 figures and fuel consumption measured in three digit numbers.

This has tended to make them very popular with company car users, who have the opportunity to cut their benefit in kind tax bill by choosing a low-CO2 vehicle.

Kia XCeed PHEV

Plug-ins, then, are head not heart cars, vehicles bought for how they perform on a spreadsheet and tax return as much as they do on the road.

The relevant figure for the XCeed PHEV is 32g/km of CO2, which equates in a 10 per cent benefit in kind rate this tax year, rising to 11 per cent for 2021/2022. The electric range, if you're judicious with the throttle, is 36 miles.

That, plus the XCeed's fetching looks and long list of equipment, will be enough to persuade many company users to take the plunge.

But compared to the regular petrol or diesel car, the PHEV is compromised.

It's less practical for a start. To accommodate the 8.9kWh battery pack, which lurks beneath the boot and the back seats, the seats have been moved forward a little. This reduces rear legroom and shrinks the luggage compartment.

Volume is down from the regular car's very large 426 litres to a relatively tiny 291 litres - there are superminis with larger boots. There's no spare wheel either. The petrol tank is also smaller, down from 50 litres to 37 litres.

Compared to the regular petrol or diesel XCeed, the plug-in is compromised... Some hybrids do a good job of disguising their weight. The XCeed isn't one of them

Then there is the undisguised weight of the thing, a consequence of EV batteries being unavoidably heavy. The XCeed PHEV tips the scales at 1,600kg, which is getting on for 200kg more than a diesel or petrol version.

Some hybrids - and electric cars for that matter - do a good job of disguising their weight. The XCeed isn't one of them.

Nor does its hybrid system feel as well implemented as even other Kia models, including the Niro tested in these pages earlier this year. You can feel the XCeed switching between and juggling its power sources. Nor are the six-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox's shifts always as smooth as they should be.

It's rather a disappointment, then. It's confounding given Kia's experience - leadership, even - with this technology. And the fact that the company uses the same hardware elsewhere to better effect.

One of the ways most hybrids manage to mask their heft is by using the electrical energy to give strong acceleration from a standstill, up to, say, 30mph.

Kia XCeed PHEV

The XCeed doesn't seem to work that way. It just feels slow and heavy all the time.

The 1.6-litre petrol engine brings a mere 104bhp to the party and when the 79bhp electric motor joins in, a system total of 139bhp is made available. That's not much for a lardy car.

There's a maximum of 195lb ft of torque apparently, though it never feels like it.

Top speed is pegged at 99mph - that's OK - and the 0-60mph time is quoted as 10.6 seconds. Some cars feel quicker than their stated figures; the XCeed PHEV isn't one of them...

The official WLTP official fuel consumption test, which PHEVs always ace, says that an XCeed plug-in on 18-inch wheels is capable of 167.6mpg while the 16-inch-wheeled version can eke that out to 201.8mpg.

To achieve those figures in real life, you would need to drive your XCeed only on battery power. That won't be particularly realistic for most people who end up with a plug-in - and if it is, it probably means you should have bought a pure EV - but nonetheless it should be possible to nudge your mpg into three figures with some judicious recharging.

Kia XCeed PHEV

So the XCeed will be frugal and give you a low tax bill. But so do other PHEVs, including those sold by Kia itself. It's not particularly cheap, either, though it is very well equipped. Prices start at £30,695 for '3' trim and a 'First Edition' model costs from £34,695.

I really rate the petrol and diesel XCeed. Naturally enough, the plug-in hybrid shares many of their finer attributes - a top notch interior, distinctive looks, a seven-year warranty - but is heavy and joyless to drive.

So I'll give the XCeed PHEV a miss. You might want to as well - Kia's own Niro PHEV, which uses basically the same hardware, is less compromised and a far better bet.

Kia XCeed PHEV

Kia XCeed PHEV

Kia XCeed PHEV

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