As far as niche products go the 2015 Kia Pro_cee’d GT isn’t probably the first car that comes to mind.
Yet this European-designed, Slovakian-built Kia slides neatly in between the light hot-hatch class (Ford Fiesta ST, Volkswagen Polo GTI) that cost a few thousand dollars less, and the small hot-hatch class (Ford Focus ST, Volkswagen Golf GTI) that charge a few thousand dollars more.
For those who want the performance of the former group with the space of the latter group, there isn’t much else on offer besides this $29,990 Kia Pro_cee’d GT.
We’ve tested this warm-to-hot hatchback after it launched locally in March this year, where it beat the entry-level, now-defunct Renault Sport Megane RS265 Sport and its most natural rival, the Hyundai Veloster SR.
Since then Kia has added an integrated 7.0-inch touchscreen satellite navigation option for $1500, as tested here. We’d hoped it would replace the dated monochromatic display on the push-button stereo of the standard model, but still, the relatively inexpensive option now addresses a criticism we’ve had with the Pro_cee’d GT.
Kia has also boosted warranty coverage across its range to a benchmark seven-years with unlimited kilometres, up two years on the old cover – yet another thing that makes a good car even better.
Unfortunately servicing every six months or 7500km can be a bit of an ownership pain, particularly at a capped-price cost of $474 for the first year and $1555 over three years.
The Pro_cee’d GT also remains available only as a three-door hatchback, which may irk some who will choose something like the more tepid and similarly priced Mazda 3 SP25 GT simply because it has two extra doors.
Likewise the Kia is a six-speed manual-only affair, so automatic buyers will need to look elsewhere (at least for now – a dual-clutch is on its way).
The wide front doors of the Kia can grate in tight parking spots, but once in the back there is legroom and head space competitive with anything in the 3, Golf and Focus class.
Then there’s the massive 380-litre boot, which matches the Volkswagen and beats the Mazda (308L) and Ford (316L) hands-down.
The new touchscreen system works a treat, and connects to Bluetooth very quickly as most Kia products do. Some of the ergonomics of the SUNA sat-nav aren’t as integrated into the rest of the interface as well as they could be, but the colour of the screen alone lifts what is otherwise a nice interior.
Plastics quality trails the best cars in the class, but the Kia more than makes up for it with the all-TFT instrumentation in front of the driver (with digital speedometer), proper door grabs, generous storage, snug Recaro sports seats with leather/Alcantara covering and alloy-capped pedals.
In addition to 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights and rear parking sensors on the outside, every Pro_cee’d GT also scores dual-zone climate control, cruise control and reverse-view camera on the inside.
You will, however, need to spend $34,990 to get the Pro_cee’d GT-Tech that includes xenon swivelling headlights with washers, privacy glass, panoramic sunroof, keyless auto-entry with push-button start and a luggage net with 12-volt socket in the boot.
The Kia Pro_cee’d GT may share a 1.6-litre engine capacity and use of turbocharging with the likes of the Fiesta ST and Peugeot 208 GTi, but as a larger car it also weighs a fair bit more than them.
With 150kW of power produced at 6000rpm, and 265Nm of torque online between 1750rpm and 4500rpm, the outputs are impressive. But a kerb weight of 1340 kilograms is about 150kg more than what may be needed to make this engine feel perky, at least around town.
From a set of traffic lights the Pro_cee’d GT is stall-prone, thanks to a combination of sensitive clutch, doughy thottle response and some turbo lag. It needs a good rev off the line to perform, which you soon get used to.
Ride quality is very busy though never uncomfortably firm; in fact the Pro_cee’d GT feels as though it has a sense of purpose and focus missing from the Kia brand’s other offerings.
It may come as a surprise, then, that this red three-door hatchback is at its best away from urban confines.
What feels like an average-sounding but only decently quick engine around town turns into a raspy, responsive turbo four-cylinder when the throttle is pinned after every gearshift between corners.
The manual shift is short and tight in its throw, and the steering is superbly direct and mid-weighted when winding lock on and off. Continuing the trend, only around town do you notice a slight resistance to self-centring.
All the major controls gel on the open road like no Korean-badged car before it, and it all comes together to meet with excellent handling.
The Kia Pro_cee’d GT feels very buttoned down, but it never turns harsh on a bumpy road and the suspension (with independent rear kinetics, unlike the Cerato with its solid beam) resists bodyroll extremely well.
This is especially helpful at the front end, because the Pro_cee’d GT has an open differential rather than a limited-slip unit that can prevent the inside tyre from turning into smoke when exiting a corner; instead, because the front-end stays flat, it keeps both wheels reasonably well pinned to the tarmac.
It’s then over to the 225mm-wide, 40-aspect Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres to multi-task clinging to the road and having lots of power put through its front hoops – something it achieves very well indeed.
The stability control system is quite intrusive in its standard setting, and although it can be fully turned off at the press of a button, it never fully goes away. That’s fine because the system then acts with more subtle intervention – but it should be called Sport mode.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the Pro_cee’d GT gets better the harder you push it, simply because late and hard braking sees the rear-end start to become lively to help the nose point into corners. At that pace, however, the brakes can start to wilter quite early and turn into smoke. At a less sporting pace, the handling can feel a bit grippy and dull.
There’s the feeling that more power could corrupt the chassis, yet anything less wouldn’t capitalise on the way the steering, suspension and tyres (if not brakes) all work harmoniously together. You’re never going as fast as in a Golf GTI or even a Focus ST, cars that are both perhaps a touch more finessed during harder driving, but just consider the price.
The Kia Pro_cee’d GT is a landmark car for the brand, and the best car from Korea (via Europe) bar none. More importantly for buyers in the small car class, lack of rear doors and auto excepted, it offers a cohesive blend of style, room, sportiness and comfort.