Kia is really turning up the wick when it comes to their performance offerings. Just two years ago they didn’t have a single performance car in their entire line-up – then out of nowhere, Kia Europe threw the Pro_Cee’d GT (I’ll just call it the PCGT from now on) at our faces and shocked the automotive world.
They didn’t shock the automotive world by simply releasing the PCGT. They shocked people because it was actually a good car that very easily went toe-to-toe with the MK7 Golf GTi. For Kia’s first effort, it was excellent.
So excellent, in fact, that I was one of the first people in the United Kingdom to order a car in January of 2014.
The car itself has been a delight – supple road manners yet it knows how to hang on in a corner like a champ, with an engine that’ll push 300Nm (35Nm more than the brochure states) and respond well to throttle inputs. The looks, too, pretty much place it as the best looking small car you can buy right now.
Though, it wasn’t perfect (since nothing ever is), and there were some glaring foibles that stopped it from being the best in the price bracket. Coming to a stop from rather high speeds often sends the brakes into screaming agony – hell, you can even hear the disks creak and moan from inside the cabin as the pedal travel increases in a less than reassuring manner.
The steering wheel also had a few foibles – it looked good and felt good in the hand, but the gloss black insert is never clean due to its placement, and the red over-stitched GT symbol quickly goes slightly brown after your sweaty hands have rubbed over it a few hundred times, making it look dirty.
The big thing, however, was the exhaust note. The car has a wonderful rasp from the outside that’s very befitting of a hot-hatchback, but inside the cabin you can barely hear anything. Warm up the engine and you can get some of the boom forcing its way through the firewall, but the aural excitement is a little lacking.
Kia, instead of just face-lifting the PCGT and calling it a night have made some very significant changes to the car that should make it much better to drive and even more uncomfortably close to the Golf GTI.
First is the interior. Gone is the old wheel replaced with a very chunky flat-bottomed job with much thicker grips at 10 and 2. The red stitched GT badge has also been abandoned and replaced with a subtle and classy aluminium decal. Other changes inside include a few extra lashings of chrome trim around the reshaped centre vents and window switches, and the CD player has been abolished altogether. Finally, the gloss black starter button is now machined aluminium.
The brakes have also been given a tweak. The rear disks were fine, but the fronts were the ones that started to fade badly (expected, given its FWD) – so Kia have increased their size by a whopping 20mm to a total of 320mm, reducing breaking distances by 1.6m to 35m and allowing for better heat displacement.
The GT button on the steering wheel now adds some more functionality rather than simply switching the central instrument binnacle to show the Turbo and Torque gauges. When pressed, the GT button now pumps in, via the speakers, the note from the engine directly into the cabin. This can only be a good thing, as something is better than nothing at all – but hopefully it won’t end up a burbling mess like the Peugeot 308 GT.
A new turbocharger system has been added to the car. It’s still the same 1.6L Gamma Engine as the present model, but a higher pressure means better throttle response below 3000rpm, rather than an increase in overall power.
Lastly, the suspension and chassis will be getting improvements to make it handle better, eschewing its all-rounder suspension for something leaning more toward sport. To do that, they’re using the Australian tune that Kia Australia applied to their own PCGTs, and then tweaking it a little more for good measure.
Kia is serious with this car, and it’s amazing to see such a large company listen so carefully to customer complaints and acting upon them, despite the car being nowhere near its most popular model.
One thing that will be getting a few people hyped up is the new Optima. Okay, so a FWD family car isn’t exactly the pinnacle of excitement, but as the previous generation Ford Mondeo and current generation Mazda 6 have taught us, big FWD cars can be a hell of a lot of fun with a little poke and prod from some keen engineers.
Well, scour the internet for a while and you’ll find leaked images of the new European Optima sporting a rear diffuser (akin to the North American SX Turbo), twin oval tailpipes and the same GT badging present on the PCGT.
Rumoured to have the 2.0L engine from the SX Turbo pushing 250hp if not more, the Optima GT should be a fast car. Throw in the fact that Kia Europe appears to be deadly serious with its sporting intentions, you can expect a raft of brake, chassis and suspension tweaks over the American SX Turbo to make the Optima GT a fun thing to chuck around a corner - double-so for the Estate (Wagon) version that’ll drop next year.
With the Kia GT premium saloon (rumoured to come with the Turbo V6 from the new Hyundai Genesis) green-lit for production and expected to land as a 2017MY car, Kia don’t want to do their lesser GT models half-heartedly. The PCGT was already a massive leap in the right direction, and it’s clearly going to get better from there.