Kia pro_ceed GT: Drive Review

5th July 2013

It’s game, set and match to the Kia pro_ceed GT, says Michael Woodhouse

The Brits like an underdog. We enjoy giving them a cheer no matter how unlikely they are to win and a round of applause as they trudge off the field of play having been heavily defeated. Every year Wimbledon gives us the chance to pat the loser on the back, the one who gave their all, but didn't quite have enough. But there are occasions when the underdog actually turns up, plays a blinder and walks away winning against all odds.

The new Kia pro_cee'd GT could be the automotive equivalent of this year's tennis nobody, appearing from obscurity and coming out a champion. The name might be full of grammatical confusion, but the metal work is most definitely a job of infinitely supreme engineering skill.

The GT has some extremely tough competition: the Vauxhall Astra VRX, the Ford Focus ST and the new VW Golf GTI. But what makes the Kia shine is its mixture of price, engine and steering. At a shade under £20,000, there are few cars that can compete with it.

And the engine – a 1.6-litre, turbo-charged, petrol unit – is an absolute delight. It produces 201bhp and 265Nm of torque and is the first turbocharged petrol engine to be offered by Kia in the UK.

Kia offers a normally aspirated version in less racey versions of the cee'd, but when it comes to tuning performance and sucking as much power as possible from smaller capacity engines, everyone is adding turbochargers. The GT's turbocharger raises power output by 51% and the amount of torque it develops by 61%. So when you put your toe down just a little harder on the accelerator pedal, all 201bhp will coming surging forward at 6,000rpm. And you'll be playing with the car's 265Nm of torque from 1,750rpm.

The performance figures are impressive, but unless there is a strong link between what the engine can produce, putting it on the road and giving control to the driver, it all becomes quite irrelevant. The feel of the steering is all important. Some of the GT's competitors have made a mistake: created hellishly powerful vehicles, flawed by the lack of engagement, and sterility of the drive. Thankfully, Kia's engineers haven't let the side down. The steering has been tuned for a more direct and sporting feel and the Flex Steer function – which allows drivers to select from three levels of power assistance in other versions of the pro_cee’d – has been removed in the GT. That's good.

Getting behind the steering wheel of the GT on the twists and curves of the mountain roads that run into the countryside around Nice, I wanted to have as much input into the 180km drive as possible. I don't want dozens of computer presets, just a standard setup that gives me control. I wasn't disappointed.

The GT handles wonderfully and never wavers, even when faced with my lack of driving ability. It corners tightly, and you're never left wondering exactly where the front wheels are pointing in relation to the steering wheel. It's as good as, if not better than, the competition.

As well as the smile that the driving dynamics generate on challenging roads, the boy racer in me also liked the ability to change the data on the instrument cluster. Hit the GT button on the steering wheel and the standard display disappears, replaced instead by the car’s speed, engine torque, turbo boost pressure and engine coolant temperature – just what every enthusiastic driver needs to know.

Stopping is perhaps an important criteria – for any car not just the hothatch variety – and the GT delivers here, too. The brakes – 300mm ventilated at the front and 262mm at the rear – are the largest of any fitted to the cee’d range.

So while the favourites of the segment will continue to sell – people will always walk into a Ford dealership and expect to see a ST peering over at them – for those that want a bit of small car fun, there is now another choice.

The Kia Pro_cee'd GT is certainly a car that can be cheered as the underdog, but there's unlikely to be a consolatory round of applause as it loses out to its more illustrious opponents. The clapping is likely to be because it has just served up a winning performance.

Price: from £19,995
Top speed: 143mph
0-62mph: 7.4 seconds
Fuel economy: 38.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 171g/km

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