Forget the cliches about plucky upstart brands taking on the establishment: Kia is well and truly mainstream in the UK now, selling in excess of 65,000 cars per year. The new Proceed GT will only count for a handful of those sales, but its potential as an attention-grabber, a brand-builder, could be much greater – as long as it's a good drive. Pro-Cee'd with caution? Read on for the full CAR verdict.
Are all the usual hot hatch trinkets present on the Kia Proceed GT?
Yes, with bells (and many LEDs) on. There's a punchy body kit comprising a snouty front bumper, beefy side skirts, and a pretend diffuser rear bumper with twin exhausts. There's also been an attack of the light brigade: note the 'ice cube' acne up front, extra foglights, and the outbreak of yet more lighting clusters on the Proceed GT's Scirocco-apeing backside. Two-tone 18in alloys are standard fit, with red-painted brake calipers within.
And what about inside?
Someone at Kia did their homework on hot hatch contact points. You get fake-suede Recardo seats up front, pleasingly bolstered although marred by their relative height in the car and the squab's cantered angle. Still, the six-speed manual gearbox's glossy ball top is tactile, the pedals have a polished metal finish, and instead of an over-nourished thick steering wheel, you find a tastefully slim, well-sized rim embroidered with red GT stitching.
Our test car was the top-spec Tech model, which adds £2500 to the GT's attractive £19,995 base price. It's a worthwhile addition, bringing heated seats and steering wheel, keyless go, an excellent touchscreen sat-nav, climate control, automatic wipers, xenon lights and a handy rear parking camera to help negate the poor rearward visibility. At £22,495, it’s £500 more than a poverty-spec Ford Focus ST1, but nearly 50bhp down as well.
Has Kia spent all the budget on toys rather than hardware?
No, there's a decent mechanical spec too. The 1.6-litre turbocharged engine develops 201bhp and 199lb ft, and drives the front wheels, though there's no limited slip front differential, a la RS Megane or VW Golf GTI. The GT does use stiffened, lowered suspension, and upgraded brakes though, and ignoring how spoilt we've become with recent hot hatch power wars, the on-paper specs aren't bad for a twenty grand Golf-sized hatch. The benchmark 0-62mph sprint is dusted in a claimed 7.4sec, and the GT tops out at 143mph. Claimed economy is 38.2mpg. Don’t forget, this is strictly a warm hatch, rather than an all-out Focus/Golf/Megane rival, hence the better kit/power ratio being weighted towards equipment over performance.
So, how does the Kia Proceed GT drive?
Well, remember all those delicious contact points we touched on earlier? Unfortunately, there's a pervading whiff of the mechanicals they're attached to not quite living up to the promise. Take the four-pot engine: it sounds rorty under load at 3000rpm, encouraging a charge for the redline (the full 201bhp isn’t unlocked until 6000rpm. But, arrive at 5k with that alloy pedal pinned and there's no extra urge to the top-end delivery, and a rather whiney blare too. Change up a ratio with the direct but not especially satisfying gearbox and repeat to (brake) fade. The stoppers are a weak point: there's no sense of any extra decelerative power versus a common-or-garden Kia.
It's a similar story with the chassis and steering. Little in the way of information is telegraphed through the wheel, though it must be said the rack is accurate and the front end bites hard as you charge through a series of bends, which is more than adequate for pacey on-road driving. Take the opportunity to explore the limits on a track, as we did, and you'll discover a sometimes unpredictable transition to lift-off oversteer: it's certainly a chassis that’s happier at seven-tenths than getting playful on a B-road, and away from Armco and grandstands, it's the obvious compromise. The Proceed GT is, after all, considerably more spacious than a similarly priced hot supermini, and far cheaper than a same-sized hot hatch, although substantially less potent. It'd certainly be interesting to see if the Kia Proceed GT is a faster point-to-point weapon on British roads than CAR's long-term Subaru BRZ, which by contrast gets its control feedback spot on, but wants sorely for the Kia's access-all-areas torque.
So you're not a fan of the dynamics then?
Certainly the Proceed GT won't be causing RenaultSport, VW or Ford many sleepless nights in pure driving terms, but the Kia is still a usefully fast tool, looks arresting, and is magnificent value. While cruising down a back road, eyeing the rear-view mirror for tell-take shake due to the stiffer ride (it's perfectly comfortable every day, though the tyres make a din) you’ll spot the 'seven year warranty' sticker in the back window. Factor in that carrot along with the performance, wealth of on-board kit, and low entry price and it's easier to overlook the could-do-better dynamics.
The LCD instruments are a cool touch. Prod the steering wheel's 'GT' button and the readout switches from a rendered analogue speedo to a digital version, surrounded by hyperactive turbo boost and real-time torque output displays. No VW Group hot hatch can muster such a party trick: take that, Audi S3!
Hot hatchbacks, even ones at the tepid to lukewarm end of the thermometer, have to be everyday-usable too, and the Kia plays a strong hand here: our hard-used test car averaged 28.2mpg, including some tyre-torturing track time. Dip into the boost more occasionally in The Real World and an average of 30mpg is pretty plausible. By contrast, our Ford Focus ST long-termer averages just 24mpg day-to-day, and according to CAR's road test team, its fiendish 247bhp brawn isn't enough of a payoff...
Kia has cleverly positioned the Proceed GT out of the Golf GTI, RS Megane and Ford Focus ST3's £25k firing line, meaning on value-for-money grounds, it's a bargain. Expect a similar relationship of dynamic finesse for your sterling and you'll be left disappointed, but as an austerity-era performance machine, the Proceed GT is a commendable first effort.