ON THE ROAD: THE Kia is up against some tough opposition in the family estate field with the likes of Volkswagen's Golf and Ford's Focus for company.

While it might not have the cache of its rivals, it can certainly run them close when it comes to good old-fashioned value.

But don't take that as shorthand for the C'eed being a bit fuddy-duddy, for it's far from that. It's attractive, fresh and if you shy away from the rather bland paint our car had, stands out in a crowd.

There are plenty of engines to choose from, the test car powered by 1.6 diesel unit mated to a seven-speed automatic gearbox.

It doesn't set the world alight in terms of off the line ability, but it's a more than capable load-lugger and can hold its own on the motorway.

The steering is light and responds well to the driver's intentions.

ON THE INSIDE: NOT much can match the interior of the Golf or, for that matter, the Focus, but the Kia tries hard. Dark areas are broken up with light trim and the quality is a marked improved on what went just a few short years ago. Kia has shaken off any suggestion of the 'cheap and cheerful' and now makes cars for people who like to drive rather than just get from A to B. The seats are cosseting and you can go long distances without the need for a full body massage at the end of the journey. Large windows mean the interior is light and airy, too.

WHAT DO YOU GET: THERE are several specifications to choose from. The range starts with '1' and 'SR7' - the former available with a 1.4 litre diesel engine and the latter a 1.4 litre petrol.

Move to grade '2' and you get the option of a 1.6 litre CRDi unit in either manual or automatic, while '3' comes with the ecoTURBO engine and manual or seven-speed auto 1.6 litre CRDi engines. In addition, there are GT-line models and grade '4' and '4 Tech' options, the latter powered by aforementioned 1.6 CRDi powerplant.

Standard equipment includes luggage area light, power socket, retractable and removable load cover, net hooks and under-floor box and side tray, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, tilt and telescopic steering wheel adjustment, air conditioning, steering wheel mounted controls and front electric windows. In addition, there's a flat folding 60:40 split rear seat, iPod compatible audio system, DAB radio, Bluetooth, electronic stability control and hill-start assist control.

HOW PRACTICAL IS IT: THOSE in the front will find they have plenty of room, both for arms and legs. My three in the back didn't complain either, though replace them with three adults and there might be the odd gripe. That said, how many people in a family estate car use their car solely for transporting grown-ups? Few, I'd say. The boot can take pretty much anything you throw at it, or should that be in it. There's 528 litres to play with before dropping the seats, which increases the load area to 1,660 litres.

RUNNING COSTS: FROM our 1.6 litre car, Kia say you should be able to get 67.3mpg on the combined cycle. We managed 55.4mpg from a combination of town and country driving. Co2 emissions for our car were 109g/km.

VERDICT: A SERIOUS contender in a competitive field.

ALTERNATIVES: Ford Focus, VW Golf, Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer