When the latest Kia Ceed was launched in 2018 it was a real step-up – a genuine rival to the biggest-selling cars in the hatchback sector, including the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra.

Since then it has been joined by the Ceed GT (warm hatch), ProCeed and Sportswagon (sleek and practical estates).

The newest addition to the range is the XCeed – a good-looking “urban crossover” with SUV-inspired styling, which slots in below Kia’s big-selling Sportage.

A halfway house between a hatch and an SUV, the XCeed benefits from a raised ride height and driving position, bigger wheels, a more rugged look and a car-like driving experience.

Priced from £20,795 to £29,185, its closest rivals are perhaps the new Ford Focus Active and Volkswagen T-Roc.

What sets the XCeed apart is that is not simply a jacked up version of an existing Ceed. In fact, only the front door panels are shared.

Apart from its higher ground clearance, it’s 85mm longer and 43mm taller than the Ceed, but still lower than an equivalent SUV.

The sleek XCeed sports a longer, taller and sportier bonnet, a new “dual blade” front grille, revised bumper and new LED headlamps. Changes at the rear include a new bumper, diffuser and seductively slim LED lights. There are also roof rails, bigger wheels and protective black cladding on the wheel arches and doors,

Overall, the XCeed has a muscular, assertive stance on the road and Kia reckons the model could account for at least 50% of Ceed sales in time.

Available with three simple trim levels – ‘2’, ‘3’ and the flagship ‘First Edition’ models. Petrol (1.0 and 1.4-litre) and diesel (1.6-litre with two power outputs) engines are on offer, along with a six-speed manual on all models and a seven-speed DCT automatic with the 1.4 unit.

The XCeed is well equipped. Grade ‘2’ versions come with cruise control, air conditioning, keyless entry, auto headlights, 16-inch alloys, electrically adjustable and heated door (body colour) mirrors and an 8.0-inch touchscreen.

Grade ‘3’ adds 18-inch alloys, privacy glass, rain sensing front wipers, electric folding door mirrors and rear parking sensors, plus heated front seats and steering wheel. It also gets a 10.25-inch touchscreen with sat nav and a super slick 12.3-inch digital driver’s display.

The ‘First Edition’ grade gets faux leather seats with yellow detailing, heated outer rear seats, a 12.3-inch driver’s digital display, panoramic sunroof, a powered tailgate, eight-speaker JBL premium sound system and wireless mobile phone charger.

The interior will be familiar to existing Kia owners – a mixture of dark, soft-touch plastics high up, comfortable seats, plus an attractive and intuitively laid out dashboard and centre console.

There’s plenty of space in the cabin for adults front and rear, plus good all-round visibility. Thanks to the XCeed’s extra length, its boot is 31 litres bigger than a Ceed. Total capacity is 426 litres with the seats up and 1,378 litres with them folded down.

I tested all three engines on offer – a three-cylinder 118bhp 1.0-litre T-GDI petrol, a 1.4-litre T-GDI with 138bhp, plus a 1.6-litre CRDI diesel (134bhp).

The punchy 1.0-litre is a cracking engine. Thrummy when pushed, it doesn’t feel underpowered at all. Good for a 0-60mph of 10.9 seconds and a top speed of 115mph, it’s officially capable of 45.6mpg, though in reality it’s likely to be closer to 35-40mpg. CO2 emissions are 124g/km.

The 1.6-diesel has plenty of torque and is the most relaxed of the engines. Only making itself known when pushed, it’s a refined cruiser and should return up to 53.3mpg with CO2 emissions of 116g/km.

The 1.4-litre petrol is arguably the sweet spot in the range. With fuel economy of 40.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 134g/km, it’s also the fastest of the engines – 0-60mph in 9.2 seconds and a top speed of 124mph. In summary, it’s the smoothest and most dynamic of the trio.

The six-speed manual gearbox works well, though a special mention for the smooth-shifting seven-speed DCT automatic transmission which sadly is only available with the 1.4-litre petrol.

Get behind the wheel and there’s a surprise in store. Thanks to suspension tweaks compared to the regular Ceed, it’s a clever blend of suppleness and firmness, feeling planted and more dynamic than you might think.

The steering is light and accurate, body lean is well controlled and overall the XCeed is agile and entertaining to drive.

One observation I would make is that the XCeed does not boast any all-terrain credentials other than its higher ride height, unlike the Focus Active, which adds ‘Slippery’ and ‘Trail’ to its ‘Normal’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Eco’ drive modes, offering extra traction in tricky conditions.

That said, the XCeed is all about looks, practicality and the general driving experience, so it’s not the end of the world.

Finally, it’s available with various safety equipment, including lane-keep assist, automatic emergency braking (AEB), hill-start assist, traffic-sign recognition, blind-spot collision warning and adaptive cruise control. However, not all are fitted as standard, so best to check before choosing which model to go for.

Verdict: The Kia XCeed is a breath of fresh air. Good-looking, well built, spacious, generously equipped and offering a surprisingly dynamic drive, it’s an impressive newcomer. Add Kia’s excellent seven-year warranty and we reckon the XCeed will fly out of the showrooms.

Review in association with www.automotiveblog.co.uk