Thursday, January 15, 2009

Kia Pro Cee'd

What is it?

According to Kia, this is their 'first aspirational car'. But, in simpler terms, the oddly named pro_cee'd (yes, that's its official title) is the three-door version of the five-door cee'd hatchback that was launched just under a year ago.

However, rather than just filling in a couple of doors to create the new model, Kia has decided to follow the path already trodden by Vauxhall with the standard and Sport Hatch versions of the Astra. So, the new three-door Kia has a thoroughly distinct look to go with the new name, and the only common body parts between three- and five-door versions are the bonnet and front wings.

Perhaps more importantly, the pro_cee'd is also a little longer and lower than the five-door model, which makes it a little sleeker and, dare we say it, sporty. In fact, this could just be the first Kia you actually want. In the past, people bought Kias because they were sensible and practical, but that all changes with the pro_cee'd. Now, you can buy a Kia for its looks.

At the same time as giving the new car a separate identity, Kia hasn't followed other manufacturers and made its three-door a budget-conscious lesser brother to the five-door. Instead, the pro_cee'd costs the same as the equivalent five-door cee'd, compensating for the loss of the two doors by the addition of retuned suspension, more sporty looks and some extra equipment. The pro_ceed, for example, gets a unique design of alloy wheels and a smarter look thanks to black bezel lamps, body-colour door handles and metallic trim on the door inlays and centre console.

What's more, in view of the pro_cee'd's position as a more sporty, desirable car, there will be no equivalent to the entry-level S trim that's available on the cee'd. Instead, the pro_ceed's trims run through 2, 3 and Sport, the first two roughly matching the GS and LS trims on the five-door.

For all that, though, the pro_cee'd remains true to its Kia badge: it is still an eminently sensible buy. Despite the more coupe-like profile, there's still plenty of room inside, the prices (starting from less than £12,000) represent good value for money and - perhaps most importantly - the car comes with an astonishing seven-year warranty.

Even the model range is sensible. You won't find any out-and-hot hatches here; instead, at launch, there will be just three engines available: a 124bhp 1.6-litre petrol, plus a 1.6 diesel (in two states of tune, with 89 or 113bhp) and a 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel, with prices running from £12,295 to £15,495. And, while the range will grown, the next engine to arrive will be an entry-level 1.4-litre petrol model. It reaches showrooms later this year, bringing the starting price of the range to just £11,795.

Does it do the job?

If the job you want the pro_cee'd to do is to sit on your drive and say that you're the owner of a very smart little hatchback, then, yes, it does the job. Indeed, we're sure passers-by will be more than a little surprised to discover that a car this good looking wears a Kia badge. There's nothing ostentatious about it, just honest good looks that could easily pass for something from any mainstream manufacturer you care to mention. Vauxhall and Honda perhaps spring to mind, but that's no bad thing, and neither is Kia's decision to design their new car in Europe. The cee'd is sold only in Europe, and this new pro_cee'd sits very happily on any European street.

Then, once you turn the key and head off down that same street, you won't have much to complain about. For a start, as with the outside, so with the inside, there's nothing showy here, just good sense and sound ergonomics.

The dash and centre console are brightened up with silver detailing, but they still do all the important things right. There are big buttons to control the stereo and (standard) air-conditioning, for example, an iPod socket and no shortage of space for the passengers in the front seats. Despite the reduced headroom compared with the five-door, you'd have to be well over six feet tall to start brushing the roof or need to push the seat right back on its rails.

Even in the back, where the lower roofline is most obvious, there's still plenty of space. True, six-footers do brush the roof, but there's plenty of legroom and this is a genuine four-seater that will take five at a pinch - all very impressive for a supposedly sporty three-door hatchback. The 340-litre boot, too, is a decent size and shape, as well as being bigger than the Astra Sport Hatch's. In fact, just about the only complaints are that the rear lights intrude slightly into the boot opening, and the 60/40 split rear seat backs don't sit flat when you fold them down.

On the road, too, there's something very attractive about the way the pro_cee'd goes about its business, and the car is at its best with the 113bhp 1.6 CRDi engine. It's not the fastest of the models - that honour goes to the larger 2.0-litre diesel - but its combination of performance, refinement, flexibility and economy mark it out as the pick of the range.

With peak torque coming at less than 2000rpm, it makes for a very easy drive, always ready to pull you along with no hesitation. It's so good that the official 0-62mph time of 11.4 seconds seems an almost conservative estimate. Out in the real world, it feels appreciably quicker than the bald figures suggest. Besides, we think the 1.6's slight lack of pace over the 2.0-litre is more than compensated for by the better fuel economy: the best part of 10mpg better, at more than 60mpg.

The facts that the smaller engine is also the more refined of the pair and much cheaper to buy (especially as the 2.0-litre comes only with the most expensive Sport trim) just secure its position as the better buy.

In keeping with the pro_ceed's more sporty brief, the suspension has been retuned with a view to providing a more sporty drive, but that does produce one of the car's few weak points, its ride. There's no getting away from it, the ride is firm, verging on the uncomfortable, especially on the 3 and Sport models, which have the Sport pack with larger alloy wheels.

On the other hand, that stiff suspension does at least give the car decent handling: it sits solidly on the road, there's plenty of grip in sweeping high-speed corners and you can enjoy chucking the car around in complete safety. The only trouble comes when the road stops being flat and stops being straight at the same time. Hit some big bumps in a corner and the car (and its driver, for that matter) can start to feel really rather nervous as it bounces around.

The steering doesn't help matters, either. There's a fair bit of play at the straight-ahead and, once you start to turn the wheel, the initial action is quite sharp. In tighter bends, it's not too bad, but on the more gentle turns on a motorway, for example, it can be rather more disconcerting. However, few people will find this a real problem, and instead they will just be happy that the light steering means that getting around town and in out of parking spaces is simplicity itself.

Perhaps the only major complain in the urban jungle is that the driver's vision can be rather limited. The angle and width of the windscreen pillars can occasionally be annoying, but more of a problem are the thick rear pillars and slim rear window, which combine to make the view to the rear and over the shoulder rather limited. Still, to the front and sides, there are no problems and the large side mirrors make up for the restricted over-the-shoulder view.

In other words, the way the pro_cee'd drives is typical of the car. It does a thoroughly decent job, and there's nothing downright bad about it. Most people won't find anything to complain about, and it's only in the finer details that it comes up short. Overall, there's no doubt that it doesn't quite have the ultimate quality and finesse on the road of rivals such as the Vauxhall Astra or Ford Focus. However, when you take into account the extra value it provides - even the cheapest Astra Sport Hatch costs more than £14,000 - you may well conclude that getting something like 90 per cent of the car for 80 per cent of the cash is a compromise you're prepared to make.

Should I give it garage space?

What with its smart looks, generous space and reasonable drive, the pro_cee'd has so much going for it that, rather than give it garage space, you'll park it out on the street, just so that other people can see it. For the first time, this is a Kia that you'll want to be seen in, a car that you could buy for its looks alone.

Above all, though, despite the brave new world Kia is entering, it hasn't forgotten why its cars appealed to buyers in the past, and the pro_cee'd is every bit as sensible a car as previous Kias. For a start, it's excellent value for money and a thoroughly sensible choice, with low running costs and excellent practicality for a three-door hatch. But, to really clinch the deal, just look at that seven-year warranty. This is a car that its maker has total confidence in, and so can you.


4 stars

The pro_cee'd is a fine example of just how far Kia has progressed as a car manufacturer. If you were to cover up the badges, put someone into this car and ask them to tell you who made it, they'd never suggest Kia in a month of Sundays. Honda, perhaps; some other Japanese maker, maybe; but a Korean company? No, and especially not one that used to make a living flogging cars as poor as the inappropriately named Pride.

The pro_cee'd is a genuinely good car. And, that's not good by Kia - or Korean - standards; this is good, full stop. With smart looks on top of decent practicality, fine build quality and Europe's only seven-year warranty on a three-door car, it scores high marks right across the board.

It would be even better if the ride was more forgiving and the steering felt less artificial, but these are only minor niggles on an otherwise excellent car. If this is a sign of what is to come from Kia - and the company says it is - the mainstream European and Japanese manufacturers should be very worried.


Model: Kia pro_cee'd 2 1.6 CRDi
On sale: February 2008
Price: £13,045
Engine: 1582cc four cylinder turbodiesel
Power: 113bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 188lb ft at 1900rpm
Performance: 0-62mph in 11.4 seconds, 117mph top speed
Fuel economy: 60.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 125g/km

No comments:

Post a Comment