This is Kia’s new Ceed GT, the five-door sibling of the three-door Proceed GT that’s just joined our long-term fleet. It gingerly steps into the fast-hatch sector, one of the most fiercely contested arenas in the automotive market. Wisely, Kia hasn’t lobbed the fast Ceed directly into the bloodthirsty outright power war: with 201bhp to its name, the GT is tepid rather than hot, and accordingly it’s being pitched as a brisk and civil means of covering ground rather than a blistering trackday hero.
There are two models in the line-up – the standard GT, as driven here and priced at £20,495, and then the even more generously appointed GT Tech, which weighs in at £22,495. As you’d expect from Kia, value-for-money is high on the agenda. On the standard GT you get a lot of go-fast addenda for your money. Grippy part-leather Recaro front seats, cool-looking 18in alloys, split twin pipes and wincingly bright icecube DLRs. Inside, there’s a very tactile button-laden steering wheel, lots of GT badging and a set of alloy pedals top the list. The Tech model adds further goodies like Xenon lamps, sat-nav and heated seats.
It certainly looks good for a first stab at a hot hatch...
Yup, all those Euros that Peter Schreyer pockets each month is money well spent. On its long wheelbase, the Ceed is a rather sharply designed hatch with sound proportions and a welcome chunky stance. The handsome GT body kit does an excellent job of enhancing the Ceed’s wedgy profile even further, giving it a pronounced nose-down-tail-up attitude. Visually, it all works very well indeed – the GT astutely treads the somewhat tricky line between understated intent and overt trying-too-hard visual muscle.
Inside, the visual appeal is maintained – the Recaros maybe mounted a touch high, but they’re wonderfully supportive, all the driver touch points are coated in leather or alloy, the plastics are soft to the touch and visibility is good. There’s also plenty of glossy black plastic and red stitching just in case you missed the other fast-car cues. That long wheelbase also results in competitive levels of accommodation and a decent boot. Pity the yawning gap between brake and accelerator pedals rules out playful footwork, the audio system is a bit weedy and that the red instrument illumination looks a little late 1990s.
Okay, so it looks good. Does it have the muscle to match?
The 1591cc blown direct injection four-pot – shared with the Hyundai Veloster Turbo but tweaked for more grunt in the Ceed – dishes up a relatively modest 201bhp at 6000rpm and a more useful 195 lb ft of torque between 1750 and 4500rpm. That’s enough to scamper through the six-speed manual ’box to 60mph in 7.4sec and onto a 143mph top speed. The CO2 and combined economy figures are 171g/km and 38.2mpg.
The engine may sound a bit industrial, but it’s effervescent and willing, as keen to run up to its power peak as it is to pull hard through the mid-range. Oddly for a modern turbo engine, power delivery is rather stepped, as if its power curve was plotted using a 50 pence piece. There’s a step in pace at around 2000rpm, a more pronounced surge at 4000rpm and then a final raspy gasp for the redline. Sort of like a Civic Type R coming into its VTEC powerband. The gearlever slices through the gate with a rather lovely mechanical oiliness and the clutch has plenty of bite. There is, however, rather more road and wind noise than expected.
This is all sounding very promising – does it ride and handle the way we’d want it to?
No, in a nutshell. Push the GT and it gets up and goes. Fling it down an interesting road and it feels composed, neat and biddable. It feels sorted, capable. But push harder still and rather than upping its game accordingly, the warm Ceed succumbs to the pressure. The steering, suspension and brakes are to blame. Always mute and light at lower speeds, the steering doesn’t improve with pace. There’s plenty of front-end bite, but the wheel’s wafty arcade-game feel would never let you in on the secret. The front strut and multi-link rear suspension is too easily flummoxed by intrusions, dips, crests and cambers, with body control quickly becoming loose and baggy. But the biggest culprit is the braking – it never feels capable of matching the engine’s enthusiasm, upping your beats per minute rather than providing failsafe reassurance. The centre pedal is soft and indecisive about the level of retardation it’s going to hand out.
Oh dear. That’s a great pity.
It is, but to write off the Ceed is to miss out on its trick. List its dynamic shortcomings and on paper the GT is a clunker. But spend time with it on the road, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. If you thrash it within an inch of its life at every opportunity, it will disappoint. But if you drive it within its well-defined limits, drive it as a mini GT – smoothly, quickly and concisely – then the Ceed will dish up a pacey and polished experience that is significantly better than its so-so individual parts would suggest. Everything – looks, performance, dynamics and versatility – somehow gel together to create a very appealing package.
Look, this is no VW Golf GTI contender – it can’t match that car’s dynamic polish, refinement and integrity – but then it never set out to dethrone the king. It’s also at least £7k cheaper than a decently-equipped five-door GTI, and there’s the advantage of that transferable seven-year warranty. We thought this Ceed was going to be another forgettable hot hatch, and given its dynamic mediocrity we initially thought we were right. But after driving it for a week and fully exploring its abilities we can’t deny its overall ownership appeal.