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As good as it looks?

Kia Proceed GT (2014)

21/07/2014 11:57 | Comments: 
Anyone who sees the Proceed GT is mesmerized by its sight, but it's hard to deliver a similarly stunning performance on the road.

It's always difficult to be the first. When little Joe is being pushed forward on the first day of school to recite a poem, it's awfully hard to break the silence with a weak voice. However, Kia's little Joe is quite capable, one should say, talented.

In fact, Kia hasn't done this before. They have never produced a car that was intended to be sporty, and in Europe, they haven't even offered a turbo petrol engine. You need quite some confidence to lose two kinds of virginity at once, and the Proceed GT, the souped-up 3-door version of the Ceed looks accordingly cheeky. At first sight I'd believe it to be as highly explosive as the Honda CRX once was, but deep in my heart I know, that's not possible any more. And I also know that the Japanese at that time have already been sharpening their swords for decades, they were just too shy to offer those hot domestic market products in Europe.

So, this is Kia's first go, although the sister brand, Hyundai already has a rear-wheel-drive coupe and an odd hot hatch, too. But as happens so often with those two Korean brands, the Kia is closer to our taste, although the company intends to do the opposite: they're trying very hard to push Hyundai up towards the premium brands and Kia's supposed to be the second choice.

That one went wrong, I suppose. I spotted the Proceed GT in the traffic even before I got the test car and it turned my head so badly it nearly caused a horrific crash. It looks good on your monitor but even better in reality – which is rarely the case. The four-beam laser-gun which acts as a daytime running light draws your attention on the flat-looking, masculine body. It's snooping around so impertinently with its long, plain nose that someone will soon hit it with a shovel. In fact, I guess someone already has, since the bonnet and the windshield are pushed down quite a bit.

Its back is probably even more impressive. Depending on the angle you're looking at them, the rear lights can reveal totally different shapes. The vertical light strips above the double exhaust pipes are bold, but good-looking. Korean or not, this is probably the best-looking three-door hatchback. You could start an argument with the Astra GTC, but it would be simply a quarrel. This tells us how good a design the Ceed has: it needs only two more aggressive bumpers and four big wheels and your hot hatch is ready to square up.

Similarly to the well-positioned red stripes, the extravagant lights and the red brake calipers, the interior also needs some corresponding go-faster items. The Proceed GT is a master of illusion: the red sill lights, the red stitching on the steering wheel, and the Recaro seats, decorated with some more red, create an inspiring atmosphere. Actually, the whole interior is bathed in red, even the pedals and the USB-socket have red illumination. Nevertheless, you won't complain about it, just murmur something like cheap show, but your mind will be already set for some turbo-assisted pleasure.

Before that however we have to stop for a second to praise the cockpit. Even if we ignore the tons of red stitching, the materials are surprisingly yummy; wherever you reach, you'll find soft padding. The whole interior has an incredibly good look-and-feel, as long as you are okay with plastic. The design is coherent, the switches are in the right place - this hatchback is much closer to the reference gauge –the Golf – than some Japanese competitors.

The touch-screen is quick and logical, the HVAC controls are intuitive, you understand instantly that Kia didn't want to start a revolution. The steering wheel is packed with buttons, but if you own the car, you'll learn how to use them quickly. Most of the time I just played around with the GT button that switches the central instrument from analogue to digital, adds a water temperature gauge and two funny stripes on two sides: one shows the torque of the engine, the other the turbo boost. If I gave four points to the BMW 5 series' digital cluster, I'll give at least seven out of ten for this one. It's not too Chinese, it gives some extra info and makes use of the digital screen. Okay, I agree, the torque display is too much.

On every car that has only one door on one side, I'd make the moving seat belt guide obligatory. This one should cost Kia about two cents, but every time you enter the car you feel that someone thought about that, because you don't have to search for the belt two miles behind your shoulder. And if someone wants to get to the backseat, they just turn it down. Ingenious!

On the other hand, it's a serious bug that you can't instantly fold back the front seat, because the headrest collides with the roof. You have to grab it and draw it back with folded-down seatback because the roof is only high enough when the seat's in normal position. Problems like that happen if you put a non-standard seat into a hot hatch. Nevertheless, I was impressed by the interior and the whole appearance of the car. If it also went as well as it looks, we'd have to start worrying about the power of Korea.

To be frank, you don't even have to start a 1.6 litre engine with 204 horsepower to know what to expect: a massive turbo lag, but once the charger kicks in, you have to grab the wheel to survive. Kia's first turbo petrol engine for Europe reveals its weakest point already in the first minute: it has no sound at all. All you hear is an unpleasant rattle, characteristic of all direct-injection petrol engines.

Once you get going you'll discover that the suspension is stiffer than in the normal Ceed, but not disturbing at all. You go over speed bumps with a slight nod, you feel the potholes, but not as spine-splitting strikes. On the first impression, this suspension could be a hit or a blow, you don't have a clue, but the dreamy steering forecasts some trouble: it turns three times from lock to lock, and the steering angle is not huge, either.

In the city, the GT behaves quite well, as soon as you get used to the lack of low-rev torque, which is not surprising, considering the output per litre. The gears are adequate for the engine's characteristics, but the short lever needs a firm grasp. It's quite different to the everyday Ceeds': those have one of the smoothest shifts, as if the gears were sucked in by a vacuum. The guys at Kia must have thought that this doesn't suit a sporty car, so they designed a stiffer, narrower mechanism where you need to force the lever into the gears, and it happens from time to time that you miss one. If you're asking me, I'd have saved the money spent on this one, since I prefer the slush standard box, but there are some who like the sportier one.

If you use the car every day in the city, it could be annoying that the reversing camera picks up dirt within seconds and doesn't deliver the best picture even when clean. Also, its software is not quite up-to-date: the lines showing the car's width don't turn with the steering wheel. It's not a huge problem, but if you spend about 1500 Euros for the sat-nav and this, you might well be disappointed.

If you have noted the size of the windows, you won't be surprised that looking back, you see from the driver's seat as much as through a keyhole. That's why you'll curse each time you reverse, because you need that damned camera which is dirty. Lane-changing is also a challenge, since the blind spot is well hidden by the thick pillars and the darkened rear side windows. Beauty is pain.

So, in the city, the GT is enjoyable if you're not too picky, but one can feel that this is not its home turf. You can put down the pedal and in first and second gear the wheelspin indicator will flash, showing that the electronics had to cut some power. The turbo engine's 265 Newton metres, available from 1750 rpm make the front wheels suffer, and you can feel that, even with the heavily assisted steering: it tends to get stuck in the position you hit the accelerator, so you have to turn it back at the corner exit, and sometimes it takes an effort to find a straight line.

But where can you have a good blast with a hatchback with more than 200 horsepower? Probably on a B-road, I thought. I took it out on the cold but dry asphalt on roads with almost zero traffic where I could find the suspension's limits. Unfortunately I have to say that this was merely for scientific purposes, since the GT didn't inspire me at all to go flat out.

What I missed the most was the engine sound. I know, it's not easy to design a good sound for a turbo engine. That's why nowadays they connect the inlet ports with the cockpit, like in the fantastic Fiesta ST or the Clio RS, which give a huge kick through your ears. The Kia is only audible for the onlookers, in the driver's seat you hear a noise spectrum similar to a hand mixer.

Of course, the low grip level and the strange behaviour of the Continental winter tyres compromises the fun you can get at the wheel, but this is no excuse for the dead steering at speed. As soon as you start going faster through corners, it starts feeling numb, and you have to make huge movements to get it working, it's as if it turned not three but five times from lock to lock. The rear suspension doesn't add to your confidence in the car, either: there is about half a second lag, until it settles in a corner, therefore quick maneuvers are a pain in the neck.

It may have a multilink rear suspension which is theoretically state-of-the-art, but the settings are a bit screwed up. The springs are stiffer than in the standard Ceed, so are the dampers and the bushes, but the characteristics somehow don't match, or, having fun on a B-road was not a requirement.

The engine is also like a turbo diesel: it has a good low-end grunt, but revving to the redline is pointless, the sound gets weaker and weaker and you can literally feel it getting annoyed. This doesn't mean it's not strong, rather to the contrary: as soon as the boost kicks in, in low gears the car is overwhelmed by the huge torque. Also on the motorway it starts going like the devil, no matter what the speedometer shows. It just lacks hot-hatch character.

After I got over the bitter disappointment that I won't turn on two wheels with that GT, I started appreciating its merits. You have to take gran turismo seriously: even if it's not a large car, the Proceed is perfect for touring. Its suspension is good enough for overtaking almost everybody, the engine is nice and torquey, and I guess, the steering was optimised for the German Autobahn where you don't want to have nervous reactions when speeding at 200 kph.

For quick motorway driving, the GT is perfect, it doesn't rattle too much and you won't get a headache because of the roaring exhaust, either. If you look at the practical things, even in the three-door Proceed you can accommodate some people on the hugging backseat for a longer drive – the rushing landscape won't disturb them, for sure. But you can also get a five-door GT, which has proper rear side windows, or if you put it the other way round, the five-door Ceed also has a GT variant.

I mean, the GT doesn't have as outstanding a personality as the Mégane RS, for example. It's rather a slightly overpowered Ceed. Sometimes I truly felt that this amount of horsepower is excessive for this car, but if you give it a second thought, there are not too many drawbacks because of that. It consumed about 10 litres per hundred kilometres while I was trying hard to find out what it can do. With a normal driving style 7-8 litres are achievable, I guess. Why not have 200 horsepower then?

Considering the figures, Kia leaves quite some room for the turbo-boosted hot hatches of the traditional brands. The current Golf GTI has 220 horsepower and it seems a bit weak against the others. The Astra OPC for example delivers 282 hp to the front wheels, and the Mégane RS is the most violent of them all, although it only has 250 hp. That's as much as the Focus ST has, but you have to consider that all those hatches have 2-litre engines and they are more expensive.

The Kia Proceed GT isn't cheap, either, with its base price of about 32 000 Euros, but it already has some extras included. The fully equipped test car, however, is not a bargain for almost 40 000 Euros. Even if the Kia is close to its competitors, the price difference is not as big as the performance difference. I'd consider it just as a strong hatchback, nothing more.

But it looks stunning. It's extremely desirable. Also the interior is nice. It almost got me. Probably I just expected too much. If you want to be a hooligan, go and get a Fiesta ST. And if you just want a beautiful, quite strong, but also rather comfortable car, this Kia is not bad. And I'm sure, there's more to come.

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