Reinforcing its market position is the task being undertaken by South Korean carmaker Kia, reports Iain Robertson, as it grows its share and reputation to fresh peaks and the coupe-like Proceed demonstrates its high-end market-grab intentions.
Illumination is a powerful psychological trait. When the ‘light’ comes on, other doors open. Staring at the rear elevation of the all-new Kia Proceed was proving a feckless task for me, until I decided to let my local Romanians loose on washing it prior to taking the photographs. Ahead of me, in the queue, was a Porsche Macan, the German sportscar firm’s Audi Q5-based family car.
Obtaining a soapy view of its pert rear-end was the revelation. The light came on. The similarity between Proceed and Macan is uncanny. Of course, they are not identical twins but, were you to stick a Porsche badge on the rear of Proceed, apart from the alliterative potential, they could be kissing cousins…none of which is hard cheddar for Kia. Proceed is a handsome machine.
My first-ever drive in a Proceed model was in the mid-Noughties, when I drove solo to and from the 2006 Geneva Motor Show. To be frank, my expectations were not high, after all, despite its unusual name, which was never displayed on the car, it was essentially a two-door coupe version of the Ceed compact hatch. However, the Ceed had enjoyed a prettification exercise and, while the Proceed model was not exactly ‘fanfared’ as a Capri for a new generation, the more kilometres I piled onto its odometer, the more involved with and closer I felt to the car.
In fact, that was its magic. Proceed was a close-coupled four-seater that improved significantly on the ordinariness of the Ceed. I should highlight that I am not suggesting that there is anything intrinsically ‘wrong’ with being ordinary, as Kia needed to make an impression at that time and, if possible, dent slightly Ford’s and Vauxhall’s domination of the company car sector. On that one extensive experience, I had to state, at the time, that Kia was headed in the right direction. I really liked the car.
The escalation of the Kia brand from budget to mainstream, while not dissimilar in some ways to Skoda, has been little short of miraculous. Proceed is now a brand removed from its uncomfortable and unbadged former ‘pro-c’eed’ (or whatever) denomination and it starts with design. Peter Schreyer’s intuitive team has performed a wondrous task with it. There is not a duff angle on its 4.6m long, 1.8m wide and 1.4m high form. The ‘Tiger’s-nose’ treatment is largely the same as the regular Ceed model but the profile is markedly different, like a crossover between coupe and estate car. As stated earlier, with a tail-end that looks juicily like that of a mid-range Porsche, Kia can do no harm.
In top-of-the-shop and highly-specified, 1.4-litre T-GDi ‘GT-Line S’ trim, it is priced at a Focus rivalling £28,690 (before any dealer discounts are employed) but, as a very complete package, from a line-up of six models that starts at £23,840, few owners will desire much more from a car of this class. Powered by a 138bhp, 178lbs ft torque, four-cylinder petrol-turbo engine and driving through a seven-speed twin-clutch automated-manual gearbox (with paddle-shifters), it can zip from 0-60mph in 9.1s, before hitting the buffers at a moderate 127mph, which is exceptional for a car tipping the scales at 1.4-tonnes. It is beautifully geared, at 32.5mph/1,000rpm in top, which is tall enough to provide up to 51.4mpg, while emitting 133g/km CO2. The range also includes the even zestier 201bhp 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine, driving through the 7-speed twin-clutch ’box at £550 less (which strikes me as something of a bargain), as well as the 134bhp 1.6-litre turbo-diesel, with a choice of either 6-speed manual, or 7-speed DCT, if frugality is your aim and you are not an anti-diesel campaigner.
Thanks to fully independent suspension, Proceed’s ride quality is quiet and sublime, even on 18.0-inch diameter alloy wheels clad in 225/40 section tyres. However, it is helped by high-geared, electrically-powered steering (2.44 turns lock-to-lock) that not only provides deliciously faithful feedback to the driver’s fingers but is also supremely well-weighted. The Proceed’s handling fluidity, freedom from body roll and dynamic prowess, which includes unerring grip, is of a very high order indeed. Lane changes, which are usually a measure of handling prowess, can be carried out glitch-free, the Proceed never feeling less than obedient to a driver’s demands. In fact, it feels so competent at the helm that I add freely the word ‘sporty’ to its descriptive range of capabilities.
The cockpit detailing is fantastic. While the plastic ‘stitching’ across the soft-touch dash-top is a tad gauche, the instrument display is crystal clear and the centre-stack touch-screen is bang-on. The dark grey hide and faux suede seats are bolstered supportively and there is good space fore and aft. The coupe roofline and electric sunroof do rob a bit of headroom for taller occupants but there are zero issues with the high-quality trim detailing and comprehensive fittings. The stylish slope of the rear window does encroach on boot space, although it is greater than that of the regular Ceed and boasts a number of useful below-floor storage compartments that augment its first-rate practicality. Naturally, the car carries a full complement of driver safety and connectivity elements, as well as its customary 7-years warranty package, to supplement its up-market desirability.
Gone are the days of suggesting that Kia is a ‘coming company’. Kia is here and has earned its stripes most satisfyingly. It used to be a brand that raised consumers’ eyebrows; now, it is a brand that scares its mainstream rivals and it has attained its higher place without resorting to the herd-like mentality of most of them. I hold Kia in very high regard and I appreciate that I am not alone in having that belief.
Kia’s progress has been extraordinary. As Proceed highlights, good design is central to its success but so is driver appeal and Kia delivers it competently and honestly. Compare like-for-like and Kia Proceed percolates to the top, by being better in every respect than the equivalent Ford, Vauxhall, or other PSA products.