Kia goes Pro
WORLD EXCLUSIVE FIRST DRIVE
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.
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.
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.
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.
Six airbags and a five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP.
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.
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