SOUTH KOREA has been in the news for its achievements in education that have left British schools in its wake, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Schoolchildren in Seoul work staggeringly long hours to get on in the world. One mother said there was no alternative to her daughter finishing her day around 2am after double-shift lessons if she wanted to “stand out”.While some of us might find this kind of commitment dehumanising it is not only in education where the South Koreans are racing ahead.
Their car industry is on a roll. Specifically, Kia Motors Company, part of the giant Hyundai Motor Group, has turned around its fortunes in the past several years. Whether this is down to South Korean car plant workers toiling without rest 24/7 I have no idea. However the results as far as Kia is concerned are plain to see.
Under the well-documented leadership of Peter Schreyer, a German, Kia has vaulted back into the global car market with a stream of successful new models. These are good cars — or at least the ones I have driven, and I have tested most new models so far. In this day and age this is an extraordinary feat: to take a stagnant brand and turn jibes of derision for its products into paeons of praise.
This week’s drive was another new model from Kia, the exotically named Kia pro_cee’d GT. As with all new Kia models this car looks the part. And that I think has been crucial in its renaissance. You can up the ante by packing cars with gizmos and gadgets but if you do not get the look right — that first, important impact of any car on the buyer’s eager eye — then you are virtually lost before you begin. Kia has realised this salient fact. I suppose another word for it is “serious”. You cannot compete in today’s world car market unless you are a serious contender. Whatever car marketing people think about the punters that purchase their vehicles, they treat them as idiots at their peril.
The choice of good cars has never been so vast. You have to be on the ball to survive but not only that, you have to “stand out” — as our South Korean friends might put it — to thrive.
Kia says that the pro_cee’d GT is “the most eagerly awaited new model” in the company’s history. The one major reason for this is because with this model Kia is moving into new territory, into the realm of high-performance cars.
What drives the pro_cee’d GT (literally) is a rather wonderful engine. I remember clearly my first encounter with a turbo petrol-powered car. It was a left-hand drive French car that was brought over to Britain for me to try: quite a privilege back in the day and one I found memorable. And the reason that car stuck in my mind was its turbo petrol-powered engine. With diesel-powered turbos the method of driving is a sort of winding up process: you get up to speed eventually (though newer turbo-diesels are pretty quick without any discernible “lag”).
Kia’s pro_cee’d GT is powered by a turbocharged version of the “Gamma” 1.6-litre direct-injection petrol engine. This enables the car to accelerate from 0 to 60mph in 7.4 seconds and achieve a top speed of 143mph. Which is all very fine. When I was able I thoroughly enjoyed opening up the pro_cee’d GT: this Kia really motors. However, Kia declares that this hot hatch was designed “not to be the most powerful in class” but with “everyday usability and civility in mind”.
I very much like that last phrase. It gives us all hope simply because there is no way our roads should be race tracks. It is evident to me that drivers who think this — and practise high-speed driving almost anywhere they like on our roads — are definitely on a hiding to nothing. They are, in that time-worn phrase, an accident waiting to happen.
Kia’s balanced view gets my vote: here with the pro_cee’d GT you have an extremely capable car that can turn up the heat and deliver great performance if you need it. But it is happy enough to take a civilised, quieter attitude where necessary.
And as our highways and by-ways run at such a high capacity of vehicles, discipline and safety should be our primary concern.
In short, pro_cee’d GT is yet another good, if not great car from Kia. The art historian David Piper said in another context “the distinctive Korean quality is one of refinement”. I will expect nothing less from Kia’s future production line.
Kia pro_cee’d GT
-Price range (on the road): from £19,995 to £23,995
-This first high-performance Kia features a 1.6-litre turbo engine
-Comes with a seven-year warranty
-Two trim lines — GT and GT Tech (latter additions include seven-inch touchscreen with satnav, reversing camera, heated front seats and steering wheel, auto dimming rear-view mirror)
-Power up by 51 per cent and torque by 61 per cent compared with the 1.6 GDi
-First Kia with Recaro front sports seats
-Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres
-LED signature tail lights
-Choice of colours: Track Red, metallic Phantom Black, Fusion White