Reflecting on the current crop of GTi-class hatchbacks, states Iain Robertson, can lead to bamboozlement in its rivals’ race for increasing potency but, if you desire a fast road car, do not ignore the Ceed GT, as it delivers in abundance on all counts.
Volkswagen created the GTi, which was, for many years, and still is in its more basic of weight-inflated forms, the ultimate hot hatchback that meets most demands head on. However, VW, as with most of its competitors, has bowed to perceived consumer requirements and increased the power output to continuously higher levels. Well, I need to tell you that power is NOT everything, despite pool room, or pub boasting rights, as there is always a higher cost involved, whether in technological support (bigger brakes, more expensive tyres, hairier turbos), or plain running costs (steeper insurance, greater fuel consumption, more road tax).
For the past couple of years, 300bhp has become a target for most of the contenders. It would seem as though a sub-5.0s 0-60mph time and in excess of 160mph top speed are primary pursuits. Yet, in the real world, where speed cameras proliferate and beefed-up suspension fails to provide little better than a bed-of-nails ride quality and impossibly harsh responses at the helm, these cars are starting to lose their appeal, rather than enhancing it. Most recently, a new target of 400bhp has hoved into view, which will only serve to exacerbate the worst problems of our failing roads network, despite increasing bragger’s rights and hiking prices ever skywards.
The Kia route is based on a notional power output of 200bhp (201 in this form), which seems flaccid by comparison with the rest of the class, but with every ounce of driveability retained at a pinnacle level. It is a perfect balancing act, which is not bad at all for a class of vehicle that is always going to be compromised. It starts with the car’s appearance, hunkered down, riding 5mm lower than the regular hatchback, with lower front ‘splitter’ and cross-hatched radiator grille, past tidy sill extensions to the aerodynamic rear undertray and twin tailpipes. Its 18.0-inch diameter alloy wheels clad in 225/40 section tyres are another sporting giveaway. More importantly, it is a designed performance of the highest possible quality and competence, making this version of the Ceed look right, straight out of the box.
Pop the bonnet, if you will, to see the transverse layout of the 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine…of which not much is visible, in the current idiom, as it is clad in plastic shrouding. While the 195lbs ft of torque it delivers may seem modest in relation to its power output, it is over a plateau that runs from 1,500 to 4,500rpm, which ensures a vibrant amount of punch, regardless of which of the closely stacked six forward gears is selected. You have to keep reminding yourself that it only displaces 1,591cc but it is enough to score a 0-60mph sprint in just 7.2s and leggy enough for a top whack of 143mph. Yet, it is an efficient unit, capable of its 38.2mpg official combined fuel return, while emitting 163g/km of CO2 (under WLTP legislation).
Never less than eager to accelerate briskly on demand, the Ceed GT’s greatest capabilities lie in covering cross-country driving routes in the most engaging manner. Its engine enjoys being revved to around 7,000rpm, all without complaint, but it is equally content to footle at around 3,000rpm, short-shifting up the box and using that wide spread of mid-range urge. The gorgeous snickety-snack of the positive gearchange is matched to a well-weighted clutch pedal, while the brake and throttle action are also perfectly balanced. There is a slight issue created by the car’s anti-pollution gear, which causes the revs to drop too slowly, although it is seldom a problem, when indulging in the GT’s potential. There is a ‘Sport’ button, which also generates more exterior, as well as ‘composed’ interior sound effects that are truer and far less annoying than similar systems used by Renault and Ford.
Ceed’s ride is firm but not uncomfortably so, while body roll is controlled and the quick power steering reacts perfectly to driver input. The conversion from stock hatch to GT involves stiffer springs and gas-filled dampers but less imposing anti-roll bars front and rear. It works most efficaciously. Slight over-damping of the steering relieves it of a small amount of feedback to the driver’s fingers but not enough to cause upset and the Ceed GT retains a high degree of pointiness to its directional stability. Even on the most demanding of B-roads, the GT provides a high level of responsiveness that allows amazingly high speeds to be maintained in complete safety. In other words, it does not jounce and jostle occupants, by keeping its tyres in maximum contact with tarmac and avoiding the frantic nature of some firmer rivals’ handling envelopes.
Front seat occupants benefit from excellent space utilisation, although the back seat can be cramped behind taller people. The driving position is perfect, thanks to a good range of both seat and steering column adjustability. The black hide and grey Alcantara style upholstery is elegant and enhanced with sporty red stripes and red stitching. While a multi-purpose touch-screen sits proud of the dashboard and provides direct links to sat-nav, stereo system and all aspects of comprehensive connectivity, the driver is fronted by a pair of dials for the main analogue instrumentation, a couple of minor dials for fuel contents and water temperature, and a digital trip computer and information screen between them. The adjustable height boot floor is well-shaped (395-litres) and as well-trimmed as the rest of the car. In fact, it is the overall quality of the Ceed GT’s trim that confirms its excellence.
Priced at a fairly steep £25,850 but with excellent lease rates available, the well-equipped Kia Ceed GT is the consummate high-speed hatchback that proves outright potency should never be the owner’s key demand. ‘Old skool’ in many ways, it is ultra-mod in all the right ways and is very easy to engage with.