Kia has made its first ever hot hatch. Designed, developed and sold exclusively in Europe, the rakish three-door Pro_cee'd GT is first to arrive, with a more practical five-door model due out by the start of next year.
The styling does an excellent job of setting it apart as the flagship of the range. Bold quad LED lights sit at either corner of the aggressive new front bumper and Golf GTI-inspired details like the honeycomb grille and red pin-stripe along the front splitter all look fantastic.
Side skirts and a set of dual exhausts complete the styling overhaul, while a smart set of two-tone multi-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels neatly fill out the wide arches.
Under the bonnet sits an uprated version of Kia's 'Gamma' turbocharged petrol engine. The 1.6-litre direct injection unit uses a twin-scroll turbo to boost power to 201bhp and the torque curve offers a flat 265Nm from as low as 1,750rpm.
That leaves it some way off its key rivals like the new Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST in the current hot hatch power war, but still translates to a brisk 0-60mph time of 7.4 seconds and a 143mph top speed. It also falls short in terms of running costs, managing less than 40mpg on the official test, while emitting more than 170g/km of C02.
On the road, there is plenty of low down urgency from the engine, and the turbo gives the engine a punchy - if not electricfying - boost in the mid-range, before pulling more urgently to the 7,000rpm redline.
To cope with the extra power, the GT gets stiffer springs and dampers, bigger brakes, a thicker rear anti-roll bar and a stickier set of Michelin tyres over the standard car.
The result is some very tidy handling indeed. At low speed the ride thuds and jitters slightly but it gains composure the faster you go, and does a good job of smothering bigger bumps in the road. There is enough front-end grip to keep the GT feeling stable even in tight hairpin corners and the steering is weighty and accurate enough, although doesn't provide a great deal of feedback.
The 'Flex-steer' variable setup from the standard car has been dropped, but the rack still has an odd tendency to self centre and can suddenly go light around the straight-ahead, and it lacks the sharpness of pricier rivals like the Megane RS and Ford Focus ST.
Inside, the Kia feels every bit as plush as its rivals with figure-hugging Recaro seats, brushed alloy pedals and plenty of soft-touch plastics. The driving position is excellent and every model gets a smart TFT central colour display between the dials that gives vital performance data.You can access the screen at any time by simply pushing the 'GT' button located on the multi-function steering wheel.
Upgrade to a 'Tech' model for an extra £2,495 and your Pro_cee'd gets a seven-inch colour display, sat-nav, heating for the seats and steering wheel and xenon headlights - but the entry-level car comes with more than enough kit to meet the needs of most buyers.
Despite its three-door bodystyle, the boot is a decent 380 litres in size, and there is a really generous amount of space for rear passengers - although it feels a little cramped thanks to the dark headlining and small rear windows.