Discuss the best European driving experiences with any petrol head and you're likely to hear them wax lyrical about tearing around mountainous hairpin corners in seriously expensive sports cars or hardcore hot hatchbacks with suspension so stiff it nearly shakes bones out of sockets.
But such cars are either out of the price range or impractical for many of us, meaning we have to make do with more run-of-the-mill cars for chewing through continental miles. And that's no bad thing in my humble opinion.
Charging around Alpine continental roads in a stripped out Porsche GT3 RS might seem like an attractive idea for car fans. But the reality of European driving often means adhering to strict speed limits and navigating small town roads clogged with creeping traffic.
Now you Ceed me
I recently took the new 2018 Kia Ceed for a lengthy drive up into the mountains of Slovakia and it left me with the idea that a comfortable modern hatchback, not a slick supercar, might be the best way to enjoy driving on the continent. Which is lucky as a slew of them have popped up in recent months, from the aforementioned Kia to Audi’s newly redesigned A1.
Departing from a small airport on the outskirts of the provincial town of Žilina, I was handed the keys to the new Ceed. The model I had was the basic 1.6-liter diesel engine CRDi version, putting out 114bhp, with a six-speed manual gearbox and an entry-level infotainment kit.
It’s worth noting that I hadn’t driven a car for roughly two years, had never driven on the right-hand – wrong side – of the road, and can only really see clearly out of one eye (though I’m still road legal), so getting behind the wheel of a brand new car was quite daunting.
But this was a neat hatchback rather than a raging sports car or road-dominating SUV, and within moments I was cruising down Žilina's outskirt roads without panicking at every roundabout.
Thanks to a suite of driver aids such as proximity sensors, lane departure assistance and a decent infotainment set up that my Android phone merrily pariend with, my initial driving nerves melted away.
As my confidence grew, I found the new Ceed to be surprisingly enjoyable to drive at a decent pace while the systems assured me that it was OK to sneak a peek at a some of Slovakia's mountains that fill the country's horizon.
Yet with six forward gears on offer through manual stick shift, the 2018 Ceed still meant I had to be engaged with the driving rather than cede control to an automatic transmission that would have taken me out of the motoring experience altogether.
As such it was a pretty swish hatchback to weave through narrow streets and zip along open highways with various eclectic music on my phone’s playlist blaring out of the rather decent, if not exceptional sound system.
Ascending into the Slovakian mountains is where I thought the Ceed’s small engine would let me down, but letting the motor rev and being aggressive with the brakes meant there was a surprising amount of fun to be had with the car. A lack of so-called feel in the steering wheel won’t excite people used to true ‘driving cars’, but it still allowed me to enjoy tight corners providing I put some effort into moving around the steering wheel.
When the limits of my skill started to fade, various sensors and tech chirped at me to be aware of slipping too much into the wrong lane or barreling into obstacles I may have been too slow to notice on my own.
That was my first day with the Ceed. The second day proved to be even more enjoyable.
One the way back down the mountains, Kia gave me the First Edition Ceed. Equipped with a 1.4 TGDi petrol engine that delivers 138bhp, meaning there was more poke to the motor, but not too much to make me feel like I was slipping into a car beyond my abilities.
More power meant the little Ceed was ready to tackle the winding mountain roads with aplomb. But the real selling point was the extra tech added into the car’s cabin along with more premium trim, albeit fake rather than real leather upholstery.
The optional GPS was standard in the First Edition Ceed and filled the slightly larger tablet-like infotainment system display.
It’s not as detail-filled as something from a high-end Audi, as one might expect given the Ceed isn’t anywhere near as pricey, but it provided more than enough information and alerts that feed through to the small display on the driver’s dash that alerted me to when I may have been overzealous with the accelerator on a restricted road.
Stopping to gawp of one of the mountain road’s edges at the valley and landscape below, I couldn’t help think the Ceed looks particularly nice in the First Edition blue. It treads the line between angular slightly aggressive looking style with that of a practical five-door hatchback that you’d happily bung a couple of kids or a large dog into.
It looks good enough to enjoy in isolation, but also understated enough so as not to get uninvited attention from people who might decide that a swish new car is a tempting target to test their hotwiring skills.
The extra power of the First Edition Ceed made navigating the bends and chambers of the Slovakian mountain roads rather more fun than the diesel car. While I ended up turning a few of the driver aids off to focus on the driving, it was nice to know I still had plenty of tech on offer to ensure I didn’t send myself off one of the road’s vertiginous drops.
Getting down to smoother highways, the bigger rims of the First Edition’s 17in alloy wheels meant only the ride comfort was slightly compromised at the expense of handling.
But that felt like a decent trade off in this situation, and the infotainment system offers enough tech for me to fiddle with, thanks to the slew of steering wheel controls that start off as confusing but aren’t too hard to get to grips with.
By the time I reached Kia’s Slovakian HQ, I felt I’d experienced pretty much everything the new Ceed had to offer.
While I came away impressed if not blown away, I can definitely say that for any beginners to driving abroad who want to feel engaged with the motoring and have a suite if tech to play with at a price that’s more than reasonable, then a car like the 2018 Ceed is well worth a look.
And that's the story for a lot of today's hatchbacks; there’s plenty of driving and tech bang for your buck to make buying a new car in 2019 a rather promising prospect.