Kia goes Pro

WORLD EX­CLU­SIVE FIRST DRIVE

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - JOSHUA DOWLING NATIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDI­TOR joshua.dowling@news.com.au

Kore­ans aim at big league with GT hatch

MEET the hot hatch that might fi­nally and con­clu­sively change peo­ple’s per­cep­tions about Korean cars.

It’s called the Kia Pro_cee’d GT and, while the mar­ket­ing depart­ment deserves a pull-through for such an awkward name (let’s call it the Kia GT hatch), it shows Korean-mak­ers have all but leapfrogged their Ja­panese ri­vals and are now on their way to chal­leng­ing the Eu­ro­peans.

It is built in Slo­vakia which, in­ci­den­tally, pro­duces more cars per capita than any other coun­try. This pos­si­bly ex­plains why it’s the most un-Korean Korean car to date.

VALUE

There are three Kia GT miodels in Europe start­ing at the equiv­a­lent of $32,990 and stretch­ing to $42,990. Ex­pect two vari­ants in­Aus­tralia when it goes on sale in­March.

The start­ing price is yet to be fi­nalised but bank on about $30,000, un­der­cut­ting the en­emy from within, the Veloster Turbo coupe from sis­ter com­pany Hyundai.

In Europe top-line mod­els get a full-length glass sun­roof, Re­caro seats, nav­i­ga­tion, push but­ton start and il­lu­mi­nated scuff plates on the door open­ings.

The suc­cess of this car will de­pend on how far un­der $30,000 Kia Aus­tralia can ne­go­ti­ate with the fac­tory. Here’s hop­ing they un­der-price and over-de­liver.

TECH­NOL­OGY

The dig­i­tal in­stru­ment dis­play is like some­thing out of a fighter jet. Press a but­ton on the wheel to se­lect your speed read­out: ana­log dial or dig­i­tal. A gauge to one side shows how much turbo power you’re us­ing.

The sen­sor key de­tects when you ap­proach the car and au­to­mat­i­cally un­folds the mir­rors and un­locks the driver’s door. The elec­tric park brake re­leases as you drive off.

A cruise con­trol func­tion can set a speed limit that can’t be eclipsed no mat­ter how hard you hit the ac­cel­er­a­tor.

DE­SIGN

The birth cer­tifi­cate cred­its many par­ents. It­was de­signed by a French­man work­ing at Kia’s de­sign stu­dio in the heart of Frank­furt, and the en­gi­neer­ing was com­pleted at its Euro­pean re­search and de­vel­op­ment cen­tre at Rus­selsheim, near Opel HQ.

The French con­nec­tion may ex­plain its Re­nault-like lines, par­tic­u­larly at the rear. Deft touches in­clude the “ice-cube” style day­time run­ning lights above the sleek fog lights, the wide blacked-out grille and the red VW Golf GTI-like flash across the front bumper.

The faux-LED rings in the tail-lights look cool, as do the black-ac­cented 18-inch al­loys, among the more orig­i­nal wheel de­signs of late.

In­side, the Re­caro seats are su­per com­fort­able (they don’t try to eject you as do the tootight Ford Fo­cus ST seats) and there is am­ple stor­age in the glovebox, cen­tre con­sole and door pock­ets.

There are two 12V out­lets up front (plus aUSBand a 3.5mm au­dio in­put socket) and a 12V out­let for the cargo area. Rear pas­sen­gers get air­con vents, rare in this class.

With the rear seats in use there is 380 litres of boot space, with the back seats down ca­pac­ity stretches to 1225L (both fig­ures about aver­age for a hatch).

Vi­sion all-round is good and the rear cam­era takes the guess­work out of tight ma­noeu­vres.

Room for im­prove­ment? The steer­ing wheel could feel and

look more sporty, and the in­di­ca­tor and wiper stalks feel flimsy by class stan­dards.

SAFETY

Six airbags and a five-star safety rat­ing from Euro NCAP.

DRIV­ING

Take away the Kia lo­gos and any prej­u­dice the brand con­jures and what you are left with is a stylish, ca­pa­ble and af­ford­able hot hatch.

The 1.6-litre turbo is a lit­tle un­der­done to com­pete with hot-hatch fron­trun­ners such as the Re­nault Megane RS, Volk­swa­gen Golf GTI and Ford Fo­cus ST. But the Kia GT comes tan­ta­lis­ingly close, yet it will be about $10,000 cheaper.

The of­fi­cial claim for 0-100km/h is 7.8 sec­onds but in­de­pen­dent tests have clocked 7.4s. The bench­mark hatches do 6.1 to 6.9 sec­onds.

We got to sam­ple two dif­fer­ent hatches on the city streets and high­ways of Slo­vakia and Ger­many— nearly 500km in to­tal.

Kia has not fallen into the trap of mak­ing the sus­pen­sion as stiff as a board. The ride is ex­tremely com­fort­able yet there is am­ple grip thanks to Miche­lin Pilot Sport 3 tyres, as used on BMWs and Porsches— a good in­vest­ment.

Aus­tralia will have a lo­cally de­vel­oped sus­pen­sion set­ting but if the cars we sam­pled are a guide there isn’t much work to do. The high-speed sta­bil­ity was phe­nom­e­nal, even at 220km/h on an au­to­bahn— ir­rel­e­vant for Aus­tralia, sadly, but ev­i­dence that the Kia is some­what over-en­gi­neered to han­dle a com­par­a­tively hum­drum 110km/h.

And just in case you’re in any doubt, the brakes have a pre­cise, re­as­sur­ing feel. De­signed to han­dle high speeds on Euro­pean roads, they’ll be more than suf­fi­cient for the daily grind in­Aus­tralia.

The 1.6-litre is a small item among the hot-hatch hi­er­ar­chy but doesn’t strug­gle, with a good spread of power through the rev range (un­like the on/off na­ture of other tur­bos).

Points for im­prove­ment? The six-speed man­ual shift feels a bit soft, the steer­ing wheel it­self could be of a more sport­ing de­sign and the ex­haust note, while great fromthe out­side, can barely be heard in­side.

The Kia GTis an im­pres­sive hot hatch with sharp looks and a con­vinc­ing fun-to-drive pack­age at a rel­a­tively af­ford­able price.

But we reckon it’s so good Kia now needs to build on its con­fi­dence to go the whole hog — tak­ing the Kia GT to hothatch fin­ish­ing school and fit­ting a 2.0-litre turbo and per­for­mance add-ons. It al­ready has the in­gre­di­ents, now it just needs the courage.

VER­DICT

En­thu­si­asts: dis­miss the Kia GT hatch at your peril. Early adopters: a bar­gain hot hatch is around the cor­ner.

Euro-hatched: The Korean twodoor has French styling cues

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