Dave takes Kia's first-ever hot-hatch to Sandown Raceway to test its potential as a weekend warrior...
Teaming a turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with a six-speed manual transmission, sticky Michelin tyres and suspension developed, in part, with the aid of over 480 laps of Germany's legendary Nurburgring circuit, the Kia Pro_cee'd GT appears to have all the ingredients of a legitimate weekend track-day warrior. To find out just how the South Korean car maker's first-ever genuine hot-hatch handles a day on track, we headed to Melbourne's Sandown Raceway.
Looking the part finished in aptly named ‘Track Red’, our Kia Pro_cee’d GT is the top-spec GT-Tech variant.
Adding automatic HID headlights, push-button start, a panoramic glass roof and exterior door handle lighting all as standard, the flagship model received the addition of a seven-inch infotainment touchscreen with satellite navigation from late last year.
While the range starts at $29,990 for the entry-level Pro_cee’d GT, the GT-Tech now tips the scales at $34,990.
Still, with the base car’s entry price unchanged, you can get into the sharp looking three-door-only Kia for $12,000 less than a five-door-only Volkswagen Golf GTI and $14,000 less than the coupe-based Renault Megane RS265 Cup.
Measuring 4310mm long and 1780mm wide, the compact Kia stands out with its unique ‘ice-cube’-style LED daytime running lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, red brake calipers and twin oval-shaped exhaust tips.
Inside the sporting theme continues with red-stitched leather and suede GT-stamped Recaro sports seats – a first for Kia – a red-stitched leather trimmed steering wheel, alloy sports pedals and ‘cee’d’ alloy sill plates.
The Pro_cee’d GT’s seven-inch TFT LCD instrument cluster display is another cool feature that, while fun on-road, is ideal for the track.
Allowing drivers to switch between an analogue-type display and a special digital ‘GT performance’ readout, the function replaces a conventional speedometer with a digital display, as well as showing engine temperature, torque and turbo boost pressure.
Lidded up, the first issue we experience is trying to fit in.
Although the manually adjustable and deeply bucketed Recaro sports seats are well bolstered and extremely comfortable, they can't be lowered far enough down into the cabin to easily clear a (six-foot tall) driver wearing a helmet.
Once seated, this means you need to choose between either a better driving position, with a head tilt, or no head tilt but a less than ideal driving position. We opted for the latter.
Leaving pit lane we head out for our first laps of Sandown’s 3.1-kilometre circuit.
Stamping on the loud pedal, the Kia Pro_cee’d GT’s free-revving turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder sounds tough, with its bassy note pumped through its specifically tuned intake system and twin exhaust.
Developing 150kW of power at 6000rpm and 265Nm of torque between 1750rpm to 4500rpm, Kia says the front-wheel drive Pro_cee’d GT delivers more than 80 per cent of its maximum torque from below 1500rpm. It also claims a 7.7-second 0-100km/h sprint, 230km/h top speed and a claimed 7.4 litres per 100km average fuel consumption. Impressively, given a day's worth of flat out track driving, the latter never went above 10.3L/100km.
And while in a pure straight-line sense the 1448kg Pro_cee'd GT isn't the fastest out of the gates (the $25,990 Ford Fiesta ST and $32,000 Alfa Romeo MiTo QV both claim quicker sprint times), around the racetrack, the engine feels frisky with solid pickup and response. It doesn't mind being kept to higher revs either.
Grabbing the slick-shifting six-speed gearbox's fourth ratio we blast down Sandown's 899-metre-long front straight, the Kia hitting just shy of 180km/h. The slightly longer 910m back straight necessitates a shift into fifth gear, seeing speeds climb slightly higher to around 187km/h – despite some noted boost surging (suspected to be wastegate related).
Under brakes the Pro_cee’d GT’s multi-link independent rear end can get a little light, however, once you are aware of its progressive but somewhat lively nature, you can use any rear-end movement to aid turn-in.
Speaking of turn-in, the Kia’s standard 40-profile Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres are excellent. Unaided by any limited-slip front differential, the Michelin rubber, in no small way, gives the Kia a sharpness and agility far beyond that of its circa-$30k price tag.
The only catch of having sportier tyres, though, is that by the time they are nicely heated up and stickier, the brakes – the largest of any cee’d model worldwide – start to move beyond their optimum operating temperature.
Comprising 300mm ventilated front discs and 262mm solid rears, with five hard laps under the belt, you can start to feel the Pro_cee’d GT’s stoppers going off and requiring deeper and deeper applications of the middle pedal.
Teaming well with the tyres, and ensuring the Pro_cee'd GT sits reasonably flat and strapped down through bends, is a suspension set-up featuring stiffer springs, dampers and bushes front and rear, longer bump stops and a 19mm-thick rear anti-roll bar.
After a full day of track laps mixing it with the likes of a Subaru BRZ, Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG and Volkswagen Golf R, apart from the road-focused brake package getting a bit warm after a handful of circuit laps – far from unreasonable – the Kia Pro_cee'd GT proved itself to be a fun, entertaining and capable little weekend warrior.
And, given names like Golf GTI and Megane RS have been around for a combined 51 years, for a first genuine effort from Kia, the Pro_cee'd GT is hugely impressive, with later generations sure to be even better again.
But, most importantly, remember, if you are interested in any sort of track work, don't be shy. Look up your local driving school or car club and get out there and give it a go.
Note: CarAdvice attended the day at Sandown Raceway as part of a Driver Dynamics Level 3 High Performance driver training day.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2015 Kia Pro_cee'd GT images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.