Kamils’ review of the remarkably good Optima started off with an emotionally charged tale of heartbreak involving a Honda Civic and a beautiful girl. I’m afraid this review doesn’t. I’m going to start mine by talking about balls.
Beach balls, actually. When I was little I would be taken away on holiday to Cornwall, year after year. With the geography it possesses, in Englands’ most Westerly county you’re never far from a beach, and that means a great many tourist shops, all selling the same thing. Buckets and spades, beach balls, as you enter these shops your nostrils flare and fill with the rich scent of new, cheap rubber dinghies and the slow decomposition of low grade plastics.
All these memories were triggered the first time I sat in a Kia Rio.
Today, in this brand new Kia, there is no olfactory nostalgia. There are actually no reminders of the past at all.
It’s a silly name, pro_cee’d. It’s baffling that Kia should choose that moniker, cee’d being bad enough already. Names are important, and I hope this one doesn’t make for too much of a handicap especially when sister company Hyundai’s naming strategy, though vague, isn’t daft.
First thing I found myself thinking when I strolled around the pro_cee’d was how unexpectedly terrific it looks. From the “tiger nose” that has become Kias signature under the direction of Peter Schreyer, through the taut flanks and those unnecessary but enjoyable bulges in the door surface, through to the broad hips and shapely arse end. This is a genuinely attractive motor car. And not just for a Kia.
The colour, a retina-scorching pearlescent orange, draws the eye even if the shape didn’t, which it did. Selecting such a colour is a high-risk strategy on any car with uncertain proportions, but here it works just fine. I’m going to go further here, and say that the pro_cee’d (the Kia people don’t capitalize it) stands out rather successfully from some of the consumer-clinic-bland offerings in its class. I rather like it.
Previously, when a Korean car has just about got its act together on the outside it has all rather fallen apart when you investigate the interior. If it wasn’t the styling it was the layout, if it wasn’t the plastic quality it was the feel, and more often than not it would smell of rotting vinyl. Being honest, my expectations for the pro_cee’d weren’t high; if the thing at least seemed contemporary I’d have been pleased. I now feel like a complete idiot.
Sitting behind the wheel of the new Kia was little short of a revelation. My hands patrolled the dashboard and doors, inside and out, even probing the little crevices that fingers should never enter in search for nasties, which I never found. Try as I did, I never made with anything that any European models would feel particularly ashamed by. The steering wheel itself, handsomely leather wrapped and precisely stitched, and bedecked with more than enough control buttons, felt excellent in the hands. The view through it at the heavily styled gauges, was clear. The dials themselves are free of embarrassment, although I can’t remember ever seeing a fuel gauge the same size as a rev-counter before.
Generally, the whole dashboard is a pleasant sight to behold. The plastics are either soft-touch, chrome-effect or piano-gloss, depending on where you look. The minor switchgear is perfectly up-to-task, and the lavish navitainment display in this posh SE model seems well implemented and features suitably swoopy proprietary graphics. They’ve even got that right. If I could grumble, and I have to find something, I could say that the LCDs for the clock and HVAC control panel are a bit behind the times. But so what?
I was reserving final judgement for when it came to take the pro_cee’d onto the track, really hoping to pick yawning chasms in it and yet again I was disappointed. There is literally nothing you could possibly want to complain about.
It offers the exact same driving experience that sits at the core of any well-sorted European hatchback. It goes without saying that there is masses of grip, thanks to big wheels with fashionably phat tyres, the resultant stickiness doing much to offset the natural understeer that’s engineered into the chassis. The turn-in isn’t ultra crisp, but then there isn’t enough back through the steering to confirm it anyway. There is, mind, plenty of weight at the helm; enough that it feels like you’re putting a bit of effort into your wheel-twirling antics. The manual gearbox is fast, too; with a foolproof, swift, slick slice through the ratios.
If you didn’t know better, you’d think that this was a really nice handling car. I’d say that for a huge number of Saturday-evening TV watching, music-chart-listening, instant-coffee drinking young drivers this is all the driving experience they could possibly want, or understand.
It actually reminded me of the new Mercedes A-Class, a car which absolutely doesn’t reward the enthusiastic driver; but feels so nice while it isn’t doing so.
I was crestfallen when I returned to the Kia hospitality suite after giving the pro_cee’d a through evaluative shakedown on the Hill route, totally failing to find any glaring incompetencies. And then, as I engaged reverse up popped a reversing camera on the centre screen. This was a feature I would have no more expected the Kia to offer than a dishwasher.
When Kia first made English shores, it was with Pride. The Kia Pride, a Koreanised Mazda 121, faithfully reproduced right down to fake plastic stitching on the early 80’s theme dashboard. It even had whitewall tyres, presumably fitted to encourage ridicule. That the pro_cee’d should have evolved from that is like finding that the lithe, sleek blonde you fell in love with and married, started life as the ginger-haired girl in your pre-school who ate worms and smelled of processed meat.
These days there’s increasingly less to mark Kias out as anything other than a competent, mainstream, desirable cars, albeit ones whose prices are creeping upwards. After my stint in this one I began to accept that these cars are becoming logical choices rather than just budget alternatives. And with the pro_cee’d somewhat resembling the VW Scirocco from the rear, why buy one of those when this has a better interior?
If you’re that worried about image, hide the badges. This Kia deserves to succeed. This cee’d doesn’t suck.