Kia's new Pro_cee'd GT serves as a halo car for the brand, but is it a proper hot hatch?
While no one at the company's head office can explain the origins of the model’s somewhat awkward nameplate, they do admit there’s a huge amount riding on the all-new Kia Pro_cee’d GT, with brand building topping that list.
The sporty new hatch is charged with a crucial image-building task – a fact that is of considerably more importance to Kia Australia than the 100-or-so GTs it hopes to shift each month.
The Kia Pro_cee’d GT arrives here from Europe as Kia’s first attempt at a halo car for the rest of the range. It’s been designed to change public perception of a brand that not so long ago was lauded for its cheap and cheerful status - and not much else.
It’s also the company’s first performance-oriented car and the first European-style hot-hatch to come from a South Korean manufacturer. And it does look the part.
There’s no mistaking Kia’s intent with the Pro_cee’d GT, with its quad ice-cubed LED light banks flanking a deep front skirt and signature honeycomb grille.
Looking decidedly planted with a heavily raked roofline, sitting on spider-web-style 18-inch alloys, the GT has got that ‘speed’ look even while stationary.
Launched in Europe in three-door guise in mid-2013 (and six months later as a five-door version known as the Cee’d GT), the three-door GT is offered here in two grades priced from $29,990 for the entry-level GT variant and $33,490 for the GT Tech.
Armed with a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine making 150kW of power and 265Nm of torque, the front-wheel-drive Kia Pro_cee`d GT is suitably armed to take on the competition.
Presented as a Golf-sized, three-door hatchback with coupe styling, the Pro_cee’d GT isn’t such an easy car to pigeonhole, but Kia says it lines up against a variety of models such as the $41,490 Volkswagen Golf GTI (162kW/350Nm), $27,790 Volkswagen Polo GTI (132kW/250Nm), $40,700 Mini Cooper S (135kW/240Nm) and $38,290 Ford Focus ST (184kW/360Nm).
Other challengers include the $29,990 Toyota 86 GT (147kW/205Nm), $29,990 Citroen DS3 (115kW/240Nm), and the $27,990 Hyundai i30 SR (129kW/209Nm) – all of which were included in the GT’s benchmarking.
The Pro_cee’d GT claims 7.7 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint, and while that might be a second or more off the pace of some of its rivals (suggesting more of a ‘warm’ rather than ‘hot’ hatch positioning), discerning buyers would be well advised not to judge this hatch on straight-line performance alone.
Infinitely more important than its 150 kilowatts of power are the 265 Newton-metres of torque on tap between 1750-4500rpm. You can push and push the GT along fast-flowing twisty roads without ever needing to shift down from third to second gear – even in the tighter stuff – such is the low-down punch this thing delivers on corner exits.
That said, it feels decidedly quicker than its published sprint time, but again, that’s likely down to the GT’s relatively lag-free throttle response and terrific mid-range performance, which sees it accelerate from 80-120km/h in 7.3 seconds in fifth gear.
The Pro_cee’d GT tips the scales at a hefty 1359kg, making it notably heavier than the five-door Golf GTI (1313kg) and four-door Veloster SR Turbo (1307kg), though it's not something that penalises the GT in a dynamic sense.
You might feel it at the petrol bowser, however. Kia claims a combined fuel consumption of 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres for the GT, more than any of its rivals and on par with the 2.0-litre Focus ST.
There’s a decent engine note that’s piped into the cockpit too, but you’ll need 3000-4000rpm on the dial before it really starts to snarl – below that, there’s only a hint of what’s in store.
There’s also a welcome level of refinement with this engine and driven sedately in traffic it’s difficult to hear or feel any mechanical hum at all.
Like it or not, the Pro_cee’d GT is offered exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission, and while it’s a short-throw, easy-shifting cracker of a gearbox, Kia will no doubt suffer fewer sales without the option of an automatic version from launch.
For those buyers happy to hold off their purchase of the GT, the car maker has already developed a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission “suited for small turbo engine application”, which is likely to be adapted to the car for 2015.
The GT’s cornering ability, grip levels and overall agility are very good – we want to say exceptional for a front-wheel-drive car, but so too are many of its rivals.
Credit goes to an exceptionally well-sorted chassis including a multi-link rear suspension set-up with electric power steering, specifically tuned for the varied road conditions in Australia.
The stiff springs and dampers fitted to the European versions of the Kia Pro_ceed GT aren’t suitable for the inconsistent roads here, so Kia has gone for softer springs combined with heavy anti-roll bars. The result is a chassis that can absorb all kinds of bumps without rolling in corners.
Driven hard, the GT’s willingness to make quick directional changes without being thrown off line is mighty impressive. There’s solid front-end grip from the Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres (even during mid-corner impacts) and a complete disdain for understeer, including at the limit.
The steering is sufficiently accurate and weighty to inspire confidence in those bends, though it’s not as quick at the pricier Focus ST or the superb Renault Megane RS in this regard.
While standard kit includes a stitched leather steering wheel with perforated grip sections, our preference would be for a slightly thicker steering wheel in keeping with the GT’s hot-hatch intentions.
Initially the ride felt a tad too firm, but after a couple of hundred kilometres behind the wheel and over a variety of different road surfaces (including gravel), the Kia Pro_cee’d GT strikes a good balance between compliance and body control.
The suspension is not as absorbing as the Golf GTI's, but even as a passenger with a hard-charging driver, it remains comfortable.
That’s partially down to the standard Recaro sports buckets. They’re aggressively bolstered, without squeezing your torso, while the suede inserts prevent any unwelcome sliding, as well as plenty of rear-end cushioning.
Unfortunately, the Pro_cee’d GT’s attractive exterior panache isn’t echoed inside the cockpit.
For starters, there’s too much black, and alarmingly, there is no large central display screen or satellite navigation offered at launch. Kia says it will offer factory sat-nav later this year, but hasn’t specified precise timing or cost.
Equipment-wise, the entry-level GT is well stocked with standard features such as dual-zone climate control, auto headlights and rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rear parking sensors and electric folding and heated door mirrors with puddle lights.
As far as high-tech goes, there’s a cool TFT dial in the centre of the instrument display that allows drivers to switch between an analogue and digital speedometer.
The range-topping GT Tech adds active HID headlamps, panoramic sunroof, keyless entry with push-button start and door handle lighting, privacy glass and luggage net.
Despite the obvious impracticalities with a three-door hatch body, the Pro cee’d GT offers comfortable rear seating for two adults with good rear legroom.
There are also multiple storage places in the front, rear and centre console, as well as a cooled glovebox and sunglass compartment. The boot provides 380 litres of luggage space (same as a Golf) expanding to 1225L with the 60:40 split-fold rear seats down.
In addition to six airbags, the GT’s safety specifications include electronic stability control with vehicle stability management, hill-start assist, ABS with brakeforce distribution and brake assist and two Isofix child seat mounts.
There’s no question the Pro_cee’d GT is the most fun Kia to date. We also think it looks good.
While it may not be quite as polished or as quick as the established hot-hatch masters, it’s not far off.
It also boasts a price tag that’s $10,000 less than some of those cars and as such offers good bang for the buck.
Overall, it’s a worthy contender in the affordable performance segment.