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KIA pro_cee’d GT – Driven and Reviewed

KIA pro_cee'd GT front and sideIt’s never easy being the new kid in school, trying to maintain your own identity within a well established peer group, and that’s just what Korea’s first hot-hatch  – the pro_cee’d GT is currently attempting to do. So just what have KIA done to gain the respect of the big boys – the likes of VW’s Golf Gti and Ford’s Focus ST?

KIA pro_cee'd GT side and rearWell, I think the way the GT looks is a good place to start – from any angle, it’s pretty stunning. Where the old-timers had a recipe to stick to and a look the public have come to expect, the designer of the GT – Peter Schreyer was only restricted to his own ‘Tiger nose’ design feature – the rest was a blank canvas. From certain perspectives there are hints of Fiesta ST, Astra GTC and Alfa Romeo Brera, but not enough of any-one to take away from the GT’s own identity. It’s sweeping lines, minimal glass-housing and deep side-strakes make the pro_cee’d GT stand out from the crowd and it all adds up to make a distinctive, attractive car that gets attention wherever it goes.

Could only be a pro_cee'd!!

Could only be a pro_cee’d GT!!

It’s impossible to talk about this car without mentioning its daytime running lights (DRL). Audi were the first to introduce LED DRLs, and for a while they were popularly referred to as ‘those Audi style lights’, but since then (and especially since DRLs became law on new models) they’ve become a common feature on many new cars and each manufacturer has strived to find their own lighting pattern to make them stand out. So, again, just how were KIA going to ensure that their debut performance car gets noticed amongst the sea of bright lights? – Well, with ice-cubes apparently. That’s what KIA themselves have christened this quad-bulb design, but whatever you call them, they’re surely a stroke of genius – if any other car were to be launched with this style of lighting, it’d permanently be referred to as ‘that car with the same lights as that fast KIA’. So they may be complete novices to this sector, but already they’ve stamped their mark and established a trademark feature, just by fashioning a cube of twinkling LEDs.

KIA pro_cee'd GT interiorThings are a little more orthodox inside the pro_cee’d GT. There’s the usual varying grades of plastics, dependent on how near the eye-line they are, but the ones you’ll see most are of admirable quality and feel more expensive than you’d warrant too. The leather and suede Recaro seats with their ‘GT’ logo were always going to impress prospective buyers in this segment, but how comfortable they are might surprise some. I’m not the widest bloke in the world but I’m increasingly finding that my shoulders don’t fit in-between the side bolsters on more sports-orientated seats, leaving my back suspended in mid-air. Not so with the GT. They provide sufficient support to stop the driver sliding around through the bends, whilst actually letting you settle in and feel cosseted.

KIA pro_cee'd displayThe rest of the surprisingly spacious cabin is a bit of a mixed bag really. The build quality tends to fall into one of three categories; there’s many parts that look solid and feel solid – some parts that look a bit cheap but feel solid enough, and a couple of parts (i.e. the overhead glasses compartment) that look cheap and feel like they might not survive the journey, but on the whole I think you’d be pleasantly surprised with the environment you’re sat in. No modern fascia would be complete without the usual splashes of piano-black plastic that are so de rigueur at the moment, but press the GT button on the steering wheel, and the electronic dash transforms into something that you’ve probably never seen before. On each side of the central pod a neon day-glow millipede appears and climbs up and down the display – these act as gauges to demonstrate the turbo pressure level and the amount of torque being created. Now, I’m inclined to think that the majority of drivers wouldn’t really know what to do with information pertaining to their generated torque levels, but either way, it looks impressive and, yet again, is a feature that can be associated with the pro_cee’d GT.

It may not seem like such a big deal, but I’m  getting a little irritated with certain manufacturer’s attempts to personalise steering wheels. Well, if you’re like me then you’ll be more than happy with the pro_cee’d GT and its perfectly shaped and sized, multi-functional, traditionally round effort. Whether it’s accidental or not is another matter, but as you grab hold and glance through to see the GT’s natty graphics flash up on entry and exit – there’s a real sense of pride in what KIA are trying to achieve here.

KIA's tiger-nose

KIA’s tiger-nose

For the time being at least, the pro_cee’d GT is available with just one engine – a turbocharged derivative of the 1.6l ‘Gamma’ engine that’s found its way into many KIAs and Hyundais. With 201bhp and 195lb ft of torque on offer, the figures are impressive enough without breaking any records in the super-competitive hot-hatch segment. 143mph and 7.4s to 60mph would have left everything else in its wake a few years ago, as would the 38.2 combined mpg, but with engine technology moving at unprecedented rates these days, the pro_cee’d GT struggles to match its peers and the whole driving experience feels somehow detached and distant.

In contrast, with independent Macpherson struts up front and independent multi-link suspension setups at the rear, the way the pro_cee’d GT navigates around turns doesn’t leave much to be desired at all. The ride feels rigid enough to let you know it means business, without making that fatal mistake found in some hot-hatches and leaving it nigh-on impossible to live with on our less than perfect roads. You’d really have to push the GT to get the nose pushing wide through corners and the whole car feels unflustered as you straighten up or change direction in a hurry.

KIA pro_cee'd GT sideWe all know that car makers are being increasingly constrained regarding how much noise they’re allowed to generate, and the likes of Ford have come up with clever systems that pipe engine noise into the cabin, keeping people like me who place such importance on the aural quality of a car happy. It might be to keep costs down, or it could be due to the Korean’s stereotypically polite nature, but the pro_cee’d GT doesn’t seem to place much importance in this area, and to be honest, they could do with turning the volume up a tad. Turbo-charged engines are always going to be muffled by their very nature, but inside the GT really is whisper quiet, and outside, the few pleasant burbles the engine makes could easily go unnoticed.

Mention KIA to anyone and they’ll probably want to talk about two things; the price and the warranty. I’ve not included them in this review yet as I prefer to judge a car on its merits as a car, not as an asset, but I don’t think I can go any further without bringing them into the conversation. First of all, that market-leading seven-year warranty; A confident move some might say, others could say it’s a little foolhardy. Well, looking at it purely subjectively, the seven-year warranty was introduced alongside the pro_cee’d’s sister car – the cee’d in 2007, exactly seven years ago. If the concept was flawed and the product wasn’t up to such a lengthy guarantee, KIA would be hemorrhaging money by the bucket-load by now, and the offer would have to be revised. Having had first-hand experience of the build quality of KIAs (some slightly flimsy interior features aside) I’d say that the pro_cee’d GT feels properly screwed together and capable of withstanding anything you’d care to throw at it.

KIA pro_cee'd GT badgeSo what about the cost? Is the £19,995 price-tag enough to tempt people out of their Gtis and STs? It might take a brave person to turn their back on the more established models and opt for the KIA, and the people who only know badges, not the car behind them might be impossible to convince just yet. But whichever may you look at it, the pro_cee’d GT offers a teasing saving of nearly £3K over the alternative Focus, and a massive £6K+ over a Golf Gti, and that’s before you add any extras or extended warranties.

So have KIA done enough to establish themselves amongst the hot-hatch hierarchy? I’m not completely naive and I’m not going to say that the pro_cee’d GT is better than the competition in every way, but I will say that in some aspects it’s better than its peers, in many ways it’s just as good, and in a few ways it’s got to try harder. But taken at face-value, this car is well-built, a lot of fun and undoubtedly belies it bargain-basement price-tag.

By Ben Harrington


Specifications; KIA pro_cee’d GT, Engine – 1.6l 4-cyl 16v turbo, Transmission – 6 speed manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 201bhp, Torque – 195lb ft, Emissions – 171g/km CO2, Economy – 38.2mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 143 mph, Acceleration – 7.4s 0-60mph, Price – £19,995 OTR, £19,995 as tested

For full details, go to http://www.kia.co.uk



Peugeot 208 GTi – Driven and Reviewed

When Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement from management earlier this year, Manchester United were left with the unenviable task of replacing one of the most successful managers since the notion of hoofing an inflated pigskin was deemed to be an idea worth taking seriously. They took a grand total of four days to name his successor.

Only time will tell whether Mr Moyes will be up to the job, but still, four days is pretty impressive.

The original - Is it still the best?

The original – Is it still the best?

Believe it or not, Peugeot‘s mighty 205 GTi was killed off almost two decades ago and so far, regardless of how hard they try, a replacement worthy of being uttered in the same breath has been conspicuous by its absence. I’m well aware of the various 306s and 106s that have got near, either in XSi or Rallye guise but nothing has dragged Peugeot back into the limelight in the same way that the superb 205 GTi did all those years ago. Trust me – I owned one. (1.9, in case you were wondering)

The 208 GTi - can it retake the hot-hatch crown?

The 208 GTi – can it retake the hot-hatch crown?

What we have here then is the latest attempt from Peugeot to reclaim its place on the hot-hatch throne – the 208 GTi. Can it possibly be the car to live up to its lofty bloodline?

Initial impressions are good – on paper.The 208 GTi trumps the much-lauded Fiesta ST in the race to 62 mph, and although it may lose out by a smidgen in that department to the Renaultsport Clio, it’s more economical, undoubtedly prettier and has a ‘proper’ 6 speed gearbox – not the much maligned ‘flappy paddle’ effort as found in its Gallic cousin.

So, that’s the competition sorted out – on paper anyway, let’s get back to taking the 208 GTi on its own merits though.

Peugeot 208 GTi rearFrom the moment the first press shots of the standard 208 were released, I found the whole thing, well, a bit ‘busy’ if you know what I mean? That’s not to say that it’s ugly by any means – the jutting jaw and toothy grin may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s a welcome relief from the recent ‘wide mouth frogs’ that Peugeot seemed to have developed a fixation with. The 208’s proportions are near-perfect and it’s got some very pleasing features. I simply felt that the 208’s designers should maybe have known when to stop and adopted the ‘less is more’ theory a little more readily when applying some visual aspects to the car.

Peugeot 208 GTi sideOf course, a GTi is supposed to be an assault on the senses, and that’s why the 208 GTi gets away with it. The only downside to all this is the slight lack of contrast between the GTi and its lesser brethren. I found myself studying passing 208s, checking whether they were also GTis and this just won’t do. If you’ve worked hard and want your supermini to be the most superest (!?!), it’s got to stand out, not only in a crowd but in a family photo too.

GTi's gear-knob is particularily satisfying!

GTi’s gear-knob is particularily satisfying!

It’s a completely different story in the GTi’s cabin, with many highlights and features that constantly remind its inhabitants just what statement this car is intent on making. Ignoring the 208’s multitude of red flashes that adorn just about every surface at some point (in homage to the 205), there are other, possibly more significant features that transform this car’s living space from everyday hatch into B road king. Not least of which is surely the slightly unusual driving position.

The 208 GTi’s grippy sports seats are mounted 8mm lower than the standard car to give a more ‘sit in’ rather than ‘sit on’ sensation. Once in the driver’s seat though, things can initially feel  rather alien due the combination of a semi-race- car, small diameter steering wheel and the fact that one’s view of the dash dials is achieved by looking over it, rather than through it. There has been much already written that this position is distracting and the steering wheel can end up in the driver’s lap – I’d say that this is purely due to driver error, as after two minutes’ instruction from a trained Peugeot representative on how to match seating and steering wheel position, the whole effect was conducive to a spirited, almost rally-driver effect, whilst all dials were clearly in view.

One of the many homages to the 205

One of the many homages to the 205

On the road, the GTi feels instantly alive, as it should with 200bhp on tap from it’s 1.6 litre engine. This unit may be the same one as found in Mini’s Cooper S but it’s important to remember that it is a Peugeot product, not a BMW one so fettling it to the 208’s needs shouldn’t be a problem. 0-62 mph is taken care of in less than seven seconds, with the driver feeling an integral part of achieving this speed as they grip the wheel, correcting the inevitable torque-steer from the front-driven wheels. The GTi – only exhaust outlets may look the part but one of my major criticisms of the 208 is the lack of drama and noise. I’ve recently driven Peugeot’s excellent RCZ, equipped with exactly the same engine and the aural sensation was worlds apart. Definitely an area to improve upon to achieve true GTi greatness.

The most often admired quality of the 205 GTi was the way it negotiated corners in a go-kart like fashion. It’s modern-day equivalent has extra weight and power which usually hinder satisfying handling but it’s certainly no slouch on the twisty stuff. There are obviously a whole host of electronic aides to assist in hedge-avoidance but the trick for manufacturers is to keep them operating in the background without being intrusive and I’d say the 208 does an admirable job of achieving this. By utilising variable-electric power steering, the feather-light feel around town recedes at higher speeds and weights-up nicely, although I did find myself yearning for a touch more feedback around the tighter corners.

Any front-driven car is asking a lot of its multi-tasking front wheels, even more so when power is increased as they attempt to direct whilst also providing drive. Introduce an uneven surface for the suspension to deal with and this is where the 208 GTi can come slightly unstuck. I found that the, once train-like handling characteristics developed an unnerving, skittish feel over  typically unkempt British Tarmac, which could undoubtedly lessen confidence as our roads aren’t likely to be completely fixed anytime soon, if ever.

Peugeot 208 GTi headlightIn reality, it’s nigh-on impossible for anyone to recreate the hot-hatches of the ’80s and ’90s due to the added complications of safety and emission constraints. It’s therefore a fairly fruitless task to constantly compare Peugeot’s GTi products to the 205. Peugeot are obviously proud of their heritage though, and are keen to utilise it in their marketing of the 208 so I’ll go along with it. No, it just doesn’t feel alive as the original, no car ever will. However, the 208 GTi is undoubtedly faster, more comfortable, built to a higher standard and, perhaps most importantly, safer than the 205 so I think we should lay that old ghost to rest and look forward.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Peugeot 208 GTi 1.6 THP 200, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engineFWD, Power – 200bhp, Torque – 275Nm, Emissions – 139g/km CO2, Economy – 48 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 143mph, Acceleration – 6.8s 0-62mph, Price – £18,895 OTR, £20,070 as tested.


The all new Peugeot 208

Peugeot have released details and, perhaps more importantly pictures of the upcoming replacement for the 207, the imaginatively titled 208 (One wonders what they’re going to call the replacement for the 209?) I was lucky enough to own a particularly good 205 Gti when I was 18 so this story caught my eye immediately, especially when the Peugeot press office took the bull by the horns and pre-empted that burning question- will they build a Gti that’s fit to wear the badge? They’ve cut kerb weight dramatically in a bid to capture the essence of the 205’s driving ability and have already released details of the all important Gti which will come in two guises, the really hot version being powered by a turbo charged, four cylinder engine producing 204 bhp.

First impressions visually are promising with front overhang reduced dramatically, not only giving the car a more sleek profile overall but also improving handling as Peugeot are so keen to stress was their main focus. There are some neat design touches, the shoulder line incorporating the door handles and fuel cap is smart, even more so where it enters the rear light cluster and performs a U-turn to become the rear indicator. I feel that some aspects of the exterior are almost in competition with each other for your attention which can just result in a headache, I’d describe this as a ‘busy’ look. Peugeot should maybe have followed the old mantra that simplicity is best when deciding which little flicks and curves were appropriate and which should maybe have been saved for the next model.

Peugeot 208

One glaring improvement on all recently released Peugeots is the deletion of that ridiculous ‘wide mouth frog’ front end. The 208 may look a little generic overall, sharing styling cues with the Ford Fiesta and Renault Clio but I feel it’s just about recognisable in a crowd.

Subaru BRZ

In other news, Subaru have released images of their take on their joint venture withToyotato create a sports –coupe. Named the BRZ (Boxer engine, Rear drive, Zenith), it is quite expectedly similar to Toyota’s upcoming FT-86 with only the rear end being significantly different, I would say more aggressive, more Subaru. This model could really do with being a big hit for Subaru as they’ve announced a profits crash of 27%, blaming, amongst other things, the Japanese earthquake that struck earlier this year.

By Ben Harrington

Anyone for Golf? Why Volkswagen’s Hatchback is truly a car for the people

Volkswagen Golf mks1 - 6

The Volkswagen Golf through the ages

Whenever anyone asks my advice regarding what car they should buy, I have a one size fits all answer. Without the need for any further questioning, I can almost guarantee that there is a car which in one of it’s many guises will suit your needs. It may come as no surprise to some of you that this seemingly magical automobile is, drum roll please, the humble Volkswagen Golf. I know, I know, surprise surprise I hear you chant but I truly believe that there’s a Golf to suit every need and I just can’t shake my own personal desire to own one.

I’ve recently decided that, excellent as it is, it’s time for the Audi to go. I can’t fault this truly amazing car but I’ve owned it two and a half years now and anyone who knows me will testify that this is the equivalent of nearly three decades in Ben’s car ownership years (it’s a little like dog years). As many men grow bored of perfectly fine women and play the field, I find a similar compulsion with cars. It’s a blessing really as changing your car undoubtedly results in miniscule financial and emotional suffering when compared to divorce.

Inevitably, one decision has spawned another question and that is which car to purchase as the Audi’s replacement? I’m fairly certain that I don’t need such cavernous proportions anymore, although reasonable storage is still necessary and five doors is still a must. I’ve made no secret of my desires to get away from diesel but a fairly frugal petrol engine is the only acceptable alternative. Having read many, many car reviews, I’m aware that the Ford Focus is an excellent all rounder, as is the Mondeo and oh my god, who am I kidding, all of this reasoning and weighing up is completely irrelevant because I just know that I’ll end up with a Golf.

I can only put this borderline-obsessive behaviour down to certain automotive perceptions developed during my formative years. As a young child, I was brought up on a strict diet of Jaguar and Ford but as my more opinionated teenage years loomed menacingly, the quality control departments at both marques were seemingly redundant. The German brands however were all conquering with their seemingly effortless cool and their reputation for indestructible build quality.

But what was the big deal about the Golf? On the surface it appeared to be an ordinary hatch like any other but we all knew that this couldn’t have been further from the truth. If you wanted ordinary, you bought an Astra or an Escort, buying a Golf simply screamed that even in an every day family hatch, you demanded excellence, and that was the fundamental difference.

Back to the present time, in my head I know that many of the Golf’s competitors are in many ways its equal, some have even surpassed it. Unfortunately though, we all know how events in our youth can leave an indelible impression upon us and for me at least, the Golf will always have a special place in my heart.

By Ben Harrington

Smarter Insurance

Fact number one – car insurance is not getting any cheaper, in truth it is estimated that the cost of insuring your motor will rise by 40% in 2011.

Fact number two – males aged between 17 and 25 are the demographic most likely to make a claim on their insurance policy.

Modded R5 GT

Modified Renault 5 GT Turbo

Sorry for the rather bleak news there but I doubt it will come as a surprise to anyone to read these inescapable truths. What we have to do is find a remedy for the problem of soaring insurance costs because, as with most things, it’s the decent, law abiding folk of this country who are finding themselves paying for others’ mistakes. The European Union were their usual helpful selves recently when they banned lower premiums for females as this was sexual discrimination. Of course, this didn’t result in lower premiums for all, don’t be ridiculous! It simply means that the statistically safer female drivers of the world are beaten with the same large stick as everyone else come renewal time.

One solution to this problem was forwarded recently in the form of the ‘Smartbox’. In simple terms, this is a box attached to the underside of your car which monitors everything about your driving habits, from speeds and distances driven to cornering techniques and the time of day the car was on the road. This little supergrass then transmits the recorded information to your insurance company and your premium is adjusted accordingly. Not a bad idea eh? Well, not too bad in theory but the glaring oversight in all of this is that it’s voluntary and I’m guessing that the type of driver who would volunteer to have their driving cross examined would not be the type to make a claim anyway, leaving Johnny Boy-Racer to drive in his usual fashion as he has no box fitted. In short, no fewer people would be making claims but there would be even less in the coffers to compensate any losses.

You’ll be relieved to know that I have come up with a rather ingenious solution to this mess. It would involve a rather simple law being passed; the salient points would be as follows-:

1. All drivers between the ages of 17 and 21 can only be insured on vehicles with two seats or less. 2. All drivers between the ages of 17 and 21 can only be insured on vehicles with an engine not exceeding 1 litre in capacity.

smart-carNot a substantial law I know but the more observant amongst you will have deduced that it leaves very few choices of car for the younger driver. My solution therefore is not so much the ‘Smartbox’, more the Smart Car. If all young drivers were forced to drive a Mercedes Smart Car, it would surely cut insurance claims at a stroke.

Firstly, they’re equipped with the automotive equivalent of bicycle stabilisers – removable plastic panels. These cause less damage when our young driver does bump another car, as they inevitably will and are both easily and cheaply replaceable, leaving a smaller dent in the insurers wallet.

Perhaps more significantly though, they’re painfully slow. The original models would only reach 61mph and achieve 0-60mph in 16.2 seconds, admittedly this is a lot faster than a BMX but it’s never going to set the world alight. The most important factor in my masterplan however is the lack of rear seats. I can confirm from first hand experience that many accidents involving young men occur as a result of that most masculine of pastimes – showing off to their mates. Removing the rear seats would cut this ‘mate factor’ by two thirds, rendering it almost extinct.

Now I’m not saying my solution’s perfect and I’m glad no-one forced me to drive a Smart when I was 19 and tearing around in a 205 Gti  but at this desperate stage, you can’t deny it’s worth a go.

By Ben Harrington

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