Kia

Kia XCeed – I hope it’s as good as it looks

CROSSOVERS are chunky, supermarket-friendly beasts of burden. Coupes are sinewy, slippery conversation-starters that put looks above all else, and to hell with the practicality. So combining the two is about as sensible as getting Stormzy to present the next series of Planet Earth, right?

Erm, wrong, if the number of just such cars – Coupe Utility Vehicles, or CUVs, if you like your cars summed up by an irritating set of initials – on the way is anything to go by. They’re jacked-up hatchbacks with off-roader proportions, in the vein of Nissan’s Qashqai, so they should be perfect for stuffing full of mates and suitcases for a long weekend away, but then they’ve been treated to swooping rooflines that rob rear headroom and steal valuable bootspace.

That’d be fine if they looked the part as a result – and I know style’s an entirely subjective thing – but I’m not sure at least two of the latest arrivals do. The person who did the front end of BMW’s second-generation X6 has done a superb job of matching a nicely aggressive ‘double kidney’ radiator grille with some neatly-shaped headlights – but then his sketches appear to have been blown up to 300% on a photocopier and hastily attached to an entirely different car. But that’s a £53,000 flight of luxury, we’re as the key battleground here and rather smaller CUVs costing well under half that.

Ford’s Puma is rather better but I can’t help unseeing the mental image the delightfully mischievous Sniff Petrol website has stuck in my head – it’s a good-looking CUV that, judging by its facial expression, has just walked in on its parents when it shouldn’t have.

If it were my money I’d go for a crossover that nails handsome proportions and neat detailing without passing itself off as a small coupe – take a bow, Skoda Kamiq – but if you reckon a rapper really can do BBC wildlife documentaries then I’m going to have to point you in Kia’s direction.

There’s a reason why the new XCeed, which essentially the C’eed hatchback on stilts, looks far better than I’d been expecting. It’s styled by the same man who worked on the original Audi TT, and the same eye for detail that made that such a hit seems to have worked its way onto this new arrival too. I even like the little flourishes of body-coloured trim on the inside too, which definitely have a hint of Fiat Coupe about them. It’s sensibly priced, too, starting at £20,795 when it goes on sale here in September.

So if you insist on an off-roader-inspired car that willing chucks some of its practicality in the bin in favour of a rakish roofline, I’d make it this one because it actually delivers on the looks front at sensible money.

Although I’d still buy a Kamiq and a secondhand Ford Puma – the two-door coupe from the Nineties, that is – instead. Sorry if I’m being boring, but I’d rather Stormzy stuck to rapping…

I would love the Alpine A110 to be European Car of the Year – but history is against it

ONLY in an age of boss of Nissan-Renault being under arrest, Volkswagen suggesting cable ties as a fix for broken seatbelts and a former Top Gear star vowing to quit TV for good if he wins I’m A Celebrity can European Car of the Year be considered a bit ho-hum.

The seven-strong shortlist was announced on Monday and – from what I could see, at least – seemed to barely register a faint blip on the nation’s motoring radar. Part of me likes to think it’s because fewer of us care what motoring experts in Sweden or Spain make of the continental car choices when we’re busy trying to order a Full English Brexit, but I suspect it’s got rather a lot more to do with history not being in their favour. The Renault 9, the 1982 victor which is all but forgotten now, being a prime example.

There are many, many examples of the 60-strong panel of motoring writers – proper, learned scholars of the profession who fuss over mid-range torque and intuitive infotainment systems in the same way I worry about MGs with dead batteries – getting it right. They called it right on the first Focus, a genuine game-changer among family hatchbacks, for instance, and the Rover P6 that won the contest’s very first outing is fondly remembered as a brilliant bit of British design. But every time I look back at the Peugeot 307 picking up the plaudits in 2002 or the me-too VW Polo beating the radical Toyota IQ to the top spot in 2010, I cringe a bit, because it just smacks of going for the best all-rounder rather than the one that genuinely moves the cause of the car forward.

This year’s contenders are – deep breath – the Alpine A110, Citroen’s C5 Aircross, Ford’s latest Focus, the Jaguar i-Pace, the Kia Cee’d, the Mercedes A-Class and Peugeot’s 508. I would love to see the 60-strong jury devour a crate of wine between them, throw all caution to the wind and go for the sports car, which is what they did 40 years ago when the Porsche 928 won. But I’m happy to bet that won’t happen (and I’ll happily write a column in The Champion eating my words if it does and the Alpine does a Leicester City).

If it were up to me it’d be the I-Pace strutting home with the silverware, because it’s an eco-friendly, on-message electric car that just happens to look and handle like a Jaguar should, and to hell with the fact you need the thick end of £60,000 to afford one. But it isn’t, so I reckon the smart money’s on either the Aircross or the 508, both of which are perfectly worthy but a bit forgettable.

Whatever happens, we’ll have to wait ‘til next March to find out the winner. In a TV special presented by Noel Edmonds, I’d imagine…

The Saab 9000 Turbo is dead. Long live the Kia Stinger

Kia has tough competition from the Germans for its new Stinger sports saloon

MANY have tried, but none have succeeded. Who’d have thought the Saab 9000 Turbo would be such a tricky act to follow?

It’s a curious (and not particularly lucrative) corner of the car market to capture; the people who are in the market for a tarmac-snorting, junior-sized sports saloon that ISN’T a BMW, AMG-tweaked Mercedes of hotted-up Audi. This particularly elusive species of motorist is after something with just enough cachet to cut it outside a nearby golf club (so that’s virtually every fast Ford and sporty Vauxhall out), and is hung up enough about long-term reliability to give anything made by Alfa Romeo a wide berth. Not entirely fairly, I’ve always reckoned.

Just think about all those cars over the years that have offered a 9000 Turbo-esque premise but never really taken off (no jet fighter puns intended). The Lexus IS-F, MG ZT260, Mazda6 MPS, Volvo S60R, Chrysler 300C, Volkswagen Passat W8, for instance. For all their leather seats, ample equipment levels and muted growls from their exhausts none have ever really managed to convincingly win over the anything-but-a-blummin’-BMW brigade. In fact you could argue that Saab itself never nailed it either, given the Swedes ran out of cash five years ago.

But that isn’t going to stop Kia giving it their best shot anyway. Their new BMW-baiter arrives here in January and it’s already onto a winner because it has a cool name; it might not be posh and German, but you can at least tell your mates that you drive a Stinger. Which it makes it sound like an American muscle car.

It also picks up the Saab’s old trick of using turbos to rustle up the sort of mid-range thump that comes in handy on a motorway’s outside lane; in the range-topping 3.3-litre V6 there are two of them, and they send 365bhp to the rear wheels. The upshot is that you’ll end up surging to 60mph in 4.7 seconds and onto a top speed of 168mph. Yes, I know that’s academic when you can only legally do 70mph, but when you bear in mind that sports saloon ownership is basically a better funded version of Top Trumps for grown-ups the big Kia comes across quite well.

For the same sort of money as a BMW 340i you can have a four-door saloon that’s bigger, better equipped, quicker and more powerful – and it’s styled by the same bloke who did the original Audi TT, just for good measure.

So it’s a no-brainer that your next sports saloon’s going to be a Kia Stinger, then? Nope, didn’t think it was. The BMW brochure’s just over there, seeing as you’re asking…