With 'only' 201bhp, Kia's hottest hatch to date merely counts as warm, but could it hit a sweet spot of usability, driver reward and value?

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When the third-generation Kia Ceed was signed off, we’re told Kia spent a further six months fettling the suspension of the range-topping GT specifically for European roads.

For a car designed in Frankfurt, manufactured in Slovakia and tested at a little-known circuit called the Nürburgring, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. And yet because the project was overseen by Albert Biermann – formerly head of BMW M, now chief engineer at Kia’s parent company Hyundai and therefore the man behind the excellent i30 N – neither can one so easily dismiss such a claim as marketing hot air.

Like almost all downsized turbo units, it is massively tractable relative to its modest displacement, but turbo-lag and a pronounced flywheel effect mean it doesn't match the precision of the chassis

The Ceed GT predates the i30 N, of course, and so has some history. Good history. Introduced in the 2015 as the Kia Procee'd GT, Kia’s first go at a driver’s hatch wasn’t what you’d call quick, and yet with a 7.7sec 0-62mph time, neither was it slow. Similarly, while the front-driven chassis never felt as sharp as that of even a Volkswagen Golf GTI, it was a very long way from feeling blunt. Kia stuck to the line that, rather than being a sabre-toothed road-racer, this was a hatchback with more easy-going ‘grand touring’ pretensions, and only a faintly brittle ride undermined that. It felt honest, handled pleasingly, was comfortable even over long distances, and we liked it.  

What's the difference between the GT the standard Kia Ceed?

For 2019 the philosophy hasn’t changed, to the extent that this second attempt at a GT-grade Ceed might at first seem to move the game on not at all. You still get a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine making an identical 201bhp at 6000rpm and 195lb ft of torque, which now, in fairness, arrives a smidge earlier at 1500rpm.

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It continues to drive the front wheels through an open differential (though there is still brake-based torque vectoring) and, just like the regular Ceed, you get fully independent rear suspension for improved steering precision. Renault’s Mégane GT, a key rival, might have four-wheel steering but does with a mere torsion beam. 

The important development is that it’s all put together atop Kia’s brand-new steel-monocoque K2 platform. (As an aside, given the additional safety equipment, the palpably sturdier interior and the fact this new hot Ceed is now five-door only compared with its predecessor's three-door shell, a mere 19kg weight increase, to 1386kg, is mighty impressive.)

This is an excellent platform, wider and lower than before but with an unaltered wheelbase. Upon it, the GT sits 5mm closer still to the road than lesser Ceed variants and benefits from firmer state of tune for its passive suspension, though not to the extent that the chassis oscillates at the first sight of an uneven surface, as does its Hyundai i30 N sibling. On sensibly sized 18in alloys, the ride is firm but unobtrusive, and if the mandate of a ‘warm’ hatch is to tidily dispatch motorway and B-road alike, then mission accomplished.

Does the Ceed GT drive like a true hot hatchback?

The GT is better than tidy on B-roads. The combination of Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, beloved by Kia’s chassis engineers, and softer anti-roll bars have dramatically curbed the old car’s taste for understeer. Moreover, the quickened steering ratio (up 17%) and a convincingly weighted action allow you to really indulge in the front axle.

Up the ante and tighter bends highlight an ultimate preference for handling stability rather than agility – nicely balanced, it’s nothing like as expressive as the similarly powerful Ford Fiesta ST – but the GT carries eye-widening speed through third-gear sweepers. Gung-ho adjustability is in short supply but when loaded up the suspension geometry will respond subtly to the throttle, while torque vectoring helps stick the nose on line. 

High-speed suspension compressions can briefly expose a lack of pliancy, and adaptive dampers might subdue the chassis’ faint fidget at a cruise, but even so the Ceed GT goes about its business with a maturity beyond Kia’s experience level. Call it the Biermann Effect.   

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Less mature is this T-GDi engine. Like almost all downsized turbo units, it is massively tractable relative to its modest displacement, but turbo-lag and a pronounced flywheel effect mean it doesn't match the precision of the chassis. Even specific valving can't remedy the exhaust note, either. The crank might happily spin up to 6000rpm, but the nasal monotone could do more to inspire – as could the six-speed manual gearbox, whose throw is accurate but a bit insipid (it’s possible, but not necessarily advisable, to get the slant-roofed Kia Proceed GT with a dual-clutch ’box). Those are jobs for the facelift.

Along with the inherently good ergonomics of the third-generation Ceed, as everyday transport the GT is not only a convincing car but also a promising one.

It's clear this chassis has more to give: in fact, it feels only 30bhp and a tauter rear axle away from being genuinely entertaining. As it is, only an underwhelming combined economy figure of 38.2mpg – the engine is a weak link in general – and this new model’s indistinct styling give genuine pause for thought. 

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering.