Rarely does a car so exceed your expectations that you find yourself chatting merrily away about it for days afterwards to anyone who’ll listen.
The first Cee’d, released nearly seven years ago as Kia’s cornerstone model, was one of them. And this, the Pro_cee’d GT, might just be another.
The hot Kia may be 16 horses shy of the segment benchmark GTI, but it has a whopping list of standard equipment and a unique seven-year warranty. And while the Golf is now nudging the Dh115,000 mark in base trim, the Pro_cee’d is expected to slot in way below Dh100K.
But this is not a GTI, Kia is quick to add. It’s not an out-and-out performance-focused hot-hatch, being instead more about usability and practicality. But funnily enough, that’s more or less what VW says about the modern Golf GTI. While the likes of Renault and Opel compete for the more extreme hot-hatch crown, the new Kia — the Korean firm’s first performance-oriented car — is undercutting the other mainstream competition with a product that, for the price, is nigh-on untouchable.
It’s definitely quick enough. It pulls harder the closer you are to 6,000rpm, but with a meaty midrange that, given the Pro_cee’d’s near-1,400kg kerb weight, does a brilliant job of hustling the sleek three-door shape along.
Full power lurks after a step in the throttle pedal travel, with which the GT delivers very brisk overtaking pace against a modestly rorty engine note.
If you’re lucky enough to have a road like the famous Col de Vence on your doorstep, as we were for this test, you learn quickly that the Pro_cee’d GT is no half-hearted, amateurish boat pretending to mix it with the old guard. It attacks corners with poise and stability, but underneath is a deep-seated feeling of unity throughout the chassis, linking front to back and side to side with a fantastic sense of togetherness that perfectly allows the car to maximise its potential. That helps to inspire huge confidence.
The steering, a new variable-assistance set-up that replaces Kia’s Flex-Steer arrangement and gives a greater sense of weight, transmits a degree of textural feel from the road for even more reassurance and control. Although at times turn-in feels a little slower than you’d like, the steering’s overall ability to cope with your demands — even when you’re driving like the ghost of Steve McQueen — is thoroughly impressive.
Thanks to excellent new Michelin tyres, grip levels are superb, allowing subtle chassis movement at both ends to shine through while not placing the grip limit beyond what the car is comfortable doing. It feels like a perfectly matched package.
The gearbox is much the same six-speed manual as is used on the non-turbocharged version of the 1.6-litre Gamma series engine from which the Pro_ceed’s uprated powerplant is derived. The ratios have all been changed though, and unusually while first and third to sixth have all been lengthened, second is fractionally shorter than on the less powerful version. It’s designed to reduce the need to change down to first through particularly slow corners, which keen drivers will know can cause problems. The end result here is that the third cog is perfect for most winding roads, with second on hand for tighter bends like hairpins. The closely set pedals even encourage a little heel-and-toe playtime.
The Pro_cee’d is genuinely great fun to drive, and it doesn’t matter that it’s not quite as sharp at the front end as a Focus ST or as raucous as an Astra OPC. What counts is that its every facet works to make the driving experience better than the sum of its parts.
And yet after a very memorable drive across Provence, the GT settles down to a quiet 120kph highway cruise, with its firm but well-controlled suspension adapting to this new, less strenuous task just as well as it passed the Col de Vence test.
You take in the slightly over-large perforated leather steering wheel, the stylish red GT details and the brilliant central digital speedometer that can pose as either an analogue speedo or a mix of speed, torque usage, turbo-boost pressure and trip info. You poke around and feel the high-quality materials and your overall impression improves still further.
This car is not just a stylish and accomplished all-rounder, it’s a car that you can love for its sheer value as well as its abundant talent. The Pro_cee’d GT is probably the biggest and best surprise of the year so far.