First drive: Kia Proceed GT
It's pitched as a swift daily driver rather than an all-out thrill machine. AOL Cars tested it on the demanding Col De Vence to see how it stacks up.
What is it?
A range-topping version of Kia's three-door Proceed hatchback. Now having established a solid model range in Europe, Kia is venturing into previously unexplored territory by launching a halo model for keener drivers. Obviously learning to walk before it runs, it has decided not to rival established class favourites the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen Golf GTI. Instead, it is targeting the 'warm' hatchback market, offering performance and dynamic gains through a beefier engine and revised suspension, without losing the everyday practicality and ease of use that draws buyers to the brand.
What's under the bonnet?
There's just the one engine option: a turbocharged version of the 1.6-litre 'Gamma' petrol engine already available in the cooking Proceed. Power is up to a healthy - if not mind-blowing - 201bhp, which is meted out through a six-speed manual gearbox. Thanks to a twin-scroll turbo, the engine feels almost naturally aspirated, with little lag and a willingness to be extended. It serves up useful urge everywhere in the rev-range, but push the motor to the red line and a thrashy cacophony percolates into the cabin.
What's the spec like?
Two trim levels will be available, with base 'GT' cars generously specified with nearly every creature comfort you could hope for including Bluetooth connectivity, reverse parking sensors and cruise control. 'GT Tech' models get a seven-inch touchscreen sat-nav, as well as keyless ignition, xenon headlights and heated seats and steering wheel. All models are available in just three colours: black white and red. Early customers will also get the opportunity to spec the GT 1st Edition model. Limited to 50 UK examples, it's further equipped with an electric sunroof, gloss black exterior trim detailing and illuminated door scuff plates.
Those in the market for a warm, mid-sized hatchback are currently spoilt for choice. We would recommend both the Ford Focus Zetec S, which undercuts the Proceed by around £450 in basic trim. It's a brilliant drive, but concedes around 20bhp to the Kia, and doesn't come with as much standard equipment. Also worth consideration is the Seat Leon in range topping FR 1.8 TSI spec. It's around £300 more expensive than the Proceed, but is just as quick to 60mph despite being slightly down on power, and arguably looks even better. Drivers wanting a more overtly sporting car for similar money will need to look at B-segment hot hatches, most notably the sublime Ford Fiesta ST and Renaultsport Clio 200, both of which will serve up greater thrills than the Proceed, but suffer from reduced practicality and space, and aren't as well equipped.
What's it like to drive?
While the sculpted (and fabulously comfortable) Recaro sports seats, alloy pedals and 'GT' badged steering wheel all certainly put you in the mood for a hard-edged performance machine, the Proceed GT actually rides superbly, with even severe speed bumps quelled effortlessly under its squidgy suspension. Remarkably, given this comfort, the GT controls its mass in the corners well, with scant body roll or pitching under braking. However, the brakes can fade quickly under hard use, while the pedal itself has a spongy feel, lacking a reassuring initial bite at the top of its travel. Crucially, though, the Proceed GT is an entertaining steer when the road gets twisty. From the well-insulated confines of its cabin, there is a lot of fun to be had developing a rhythm with both it and the road, and it is this, more than outright performance figures, which is the mark of a good driver's car.
The AOL Cars verdict
Kia has achieved exactly what it wanted to with the new Proceed GT. It is a credible lukewarm range-topper for an already likeable hatchback, which does not sacrifice any of its qualities in the pursuit of greater performance. Those wanting the last word in hot-hatch dynamics and power are better off looking elsewhere, but for drivers simply looking for an added dash of entertainment to their everyday car, the handsome, well-equipped and good value Proceed GT should definitely be on the shortlist.
Model: Kia Proceed GT
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged, petrol
Power: 201bhp 265NM
Max speed: 143mph
0-62mph: 7.4 seconds
MPG: 38.2mpg (combined)
Emissions: 171g/km CO2