Late to the party, Korean carmaker Kia should have tended to its ‘hot hatch’ offering several years ago, although, as Iain P W Robertson affirms, better-late-than-never is a mantra that might still hold some merit, however minor.

kia-img_7462Possessing a soft spot for Kia has been a long-held remit for me. Spotting the firm’s former connection with Mazda Cars, which led into links with Ford Motor Company (the early Kia Pride was sold both as a Mazda 121 and the Australian Ford Festiva), I guess that I always reckoned that Kia would come good eventually.

However, its past is lightly peppered with some disasters that were not of the company’s making. The late-1990s economic crash, in countries of the Asia-Pacific basin, led to its near-demise, followed by its salvation in the form of Hyundai and a carefully brokered alliance.

kia-img_7463Since then, the two firms have grown and developed new models like Topsy. A consistent round of improvements, often introduced at random intervals in whichever model’s production life, has garnered a level of genuine respect and much-needed success from both media and car buyers alike.

Read about the ‘GT-line’ of Kia’s latest c’eed model (yes, it does have a lower-case ‘c’, apostrophe and ‘eed’ as its name), and the reportage ranges from serious-titles’ ‘Okay’, to the bloggers’ and websiters’ ‘WOW!’. The opinions are varied largely because of experience levels…the latter group usually ‘wowing’ everything because they suffer from a combination of ‘don’t know’, ‘zero history’ and ‘fear of not being invited to another plush launch exercise, whether possessing a driver’s licence or not’.

kia-img_7464Therefore, I want to get the negatives out of the way up-front. I loathe the semi-shiny dark grey plastic that clads the GT’s dashboard, door cards and centre console. It is all a bit much. Yet, I raved about the new Kia Soul and, in truth, it could be said to be enduring a similar base life of polymeric greyness, except that its plastics are of a significantly higher moulding grade and that they do not harbour the same cheap and nasty, used car, silicone sheen-enhanced reflective qualities of the GT’s dashboard. No. I do not like it.

By the same token, I think that the four daytime running lamp LED arrays at either end of the lower front bumper are little more than overkill. By all means give a car a signature, which these days seems to be carried out increasingly by wiggly lines of increasingly blinding and tedious blue-white LEDs, but keep it subtle. Although the reaction is immensely personal, no, I do not like them.

kia-img_7466Yet, take all of the various elements of the GT, such as its exceptionally accommodating and supportive Recaro front seats, robed in hide and the suede-like Alcantara, which also happen to look quite good, or the slightly ‘blingy’ three dials placed ahead of the driver, which are easily read and feature a natty centre-screen that can, after depressing the ’GT’ button on the steering wheel controls, flick between a conventional speedometer reading, or a three gauge (oil temperature, turbocharger boost and a ‘torque’ sector, as well as a comprehensive on-board computer) digital read-out, and the c’eed GT is like a montage of classic ‘hot-hatchery’ of the past twenty years.

There is a lot to like, if you can sort the wheat from the chaff. Yet, the big question is, does it all go together, or was Kia, when it styled this concoction of ‘the great and the good’, simply satisfying whims, without engineering a more tangible solution to a market’s perceived needs? That, dear reader, is the problem with which I am confronted. Taken individually, each element of this car, from its twin exhaust pipes and rear air diffuser, to its piano-black dash and bumper inserts, or even the hinted sensuality of its exterior styling, is actually carried out most proficiently. Yet, the overall impression is that the GT model is somehow not as complete as its overall raft of parts.

kia-img_7467Driving it is a delight. Its steering is judiciously weighted. The clutch effort is matched to that of the brake and throttle pedals. The gearshift linkage is slick and sportingly short. For a ‘hot hatch’ it rides fluently, yet the body does not roll excessively in bends and even road noise is maintained at low levels, despite the ultra-low profile tyres wrapped around big, attractive alloys at each corner. You can tell that Kia spent a lot of time refining its car’s platform on the roads of the UK and Europe, because its dynamics are so well resolved.

However, as good as the GT is, it still feels like an ‘Etch-a-Sketch’ toy. Surely you can remember, from those days prior to laptops and even rudimentary art and design programs, the delights of the aforementioned machine.

kia-img_7468Yet, I do not want to stop loving it. In so many ways, the GT is as crude as the very first Escort XR3, despite its modern technological refinements. It possesses that level of appeal and I was prepared to forgive the semi-iconic Ford its sins, which, at the time, were myriad and very few of which the Kia now suffers from. Yet, the impression of not really being ready for the market continues to weigh into my thoughts.

The 1.6-litre, turbocharged petrol engine fires-up conventionally via the ignition key. A cliché-ridden pushbutton ‘start’ was sidelined, clearly, for this ‘lesser‘ version of two. However, its anodyne responses and even the noise levels are no more involving than they are with a regular c’eed model, despite the twin pipes and the turbo’s potential. However, £20,500 is a tad too expensive for a new one, although a second-hand version, having lost its initial and subsequent annual depreciation, were it priced at around £15k, would represent decent VFM (value for money).

Kia’s problem is that the enhanced specification ‘GT Tech’ version carries an additional £2,500 premium, which might well be ‘market priced’ (my most-feted bugbear) but is also way too expensive. kia-img_7469It receives the aforementioned pushbutton starter, with both front seats and steering wheel rim heated (Jeez! What wimps are being born these days?), a few other fripperies and sat-nav for its ‘value-added’ offering. If you feel compelled to spend money, at least reach a decent proposition with the dealer. Argue for a hefty discount.

Anodyne, or not, the engine delivers an almighty amount of grunt for a relatively small capacity unit (201bhp). Its top speed is given as 143mph, although the GT will register 150mph with moderate ease (on a German autobahn, of course!). Its benchmark 0-60mph acceleration time is around 7.0 seconds, although it does feel a lot quicker. Thanks to variable vanes in the turbocharger, bottom-end punch is strong and there is virtually no ‘lag’ encountered (the delay that occurs in some turbo-cars between flooring the accelerator pedal and awaiting a motive reaction).

Sadly, dipping into the treasure trove of performance niceties does result in a major penalty at the fuel pumps. Although 38.2mpg is given as the Official Combined fuel return, without indulging too often, kia-img_7470I struggled to obtain much more than a disappointing 24mpg and there are plenty of modern performance cars that can exceed that figure by a handsome amount, when driven in a similar way.

However, the downsides continue with a wallet bending on the CO2 emissions front. The 171g/km equates to Band H on the government table, which means a year one VED (tax disc) payment of £290, followed by an annual consideration of £205. That is far too steep and is the notional straw to break the camel’s back.

Conclusion: Kia is still slightly out-of-step with its GT offering. Believe me, it is a situation that will improve dramatically and speedily, even though customers will be forced to wait for the next generation examples. The latest Soul demonstrates that Kia can change with remarkable zest, hence my confidence. However, as enchanting as the current c’eed GT is (or wants to be), it is still a ‘nearly’ model and my heart does not ache for it as I hoped that it might.

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).