Half a century on, the Jaguar E Type is still held up as a classic of car design and grown men still drool over a Jensen Interceptor or an Aston Martin DB5. There have been some modern masterpieces too, like the Range Rover Evoque which has taken the world by storm, or earlier, the gull-wing Mercedes. More recently there’s the previous model Mercedes CLS – the latest version doesn’t quite hit the mark – and when I drove one of the first Audi R8s at its launch a few years ago, it literally stopped the traffic in downtown Marseilles.
At a less exotic level, some dramatic things have been happening at the lower end of the market, thanks largely to one man, German Peter Schreyer. He’s credited with the design of the iconic Audi TT and the re-invented new VW Beetle but in 2006 he was hired by Korean manufacturer Kia to lead their assault on the European market and he has certainly done the business as design chief for both Kia and partner Hyundai. He has taken Kia in particular, away from its bland Far Eastern range to create some of the best looking cars on the roads today.
Leading that look is the Sportage SUV but the biggest success has been with the quirkily-named cee’d mid-sized hatchback. Schreyer has achieved the near-impossible by giving a sparkle to a standard family runabout.
His latest creation, seven years on from the launch of the first cee’d, is one of the best-looking cars you will find in this sector. The pro_cee’d GT takes the basic look and adds lots of great styling touches – along with beefed up power, suspension, chassis, steering and other technical stuff to create a car that looks brilliant and returns some real driving fun at the same time.
It’s not the fastest around but it looks, sounds and feels great, and propels Kia into a new era as a manufacturer moving from mainstream into the performance area for the first time... and at a very affordable price of just under £20,000.
At the front it has a lower, broader bumper and airdam underscored by a red trim line. This is flanked on either side by high-gloss black inserts which house four “ice-cube” LED daytime running lights and foglamps.
The car’s broad stance is emphasised at the back end with broad shoulders and steeply angled tailgate glass and a diffuser section in the lower edge of the bumper between the twin sports exhausts. On either side are vertical reversing lights and reflectors in their individual pods. There are bold side sill mouldings and dark grey 18-inch alloys over red brake callipers front and rear. Inside are part leather and suede Recaro sport seats and LCD dials in the three-instrument display.
There’s only one engine, a new turbo- charged version of Kia’s 1.6-litre petrol, developing just over 200bhp – up 51 per cent on the standard engine and 60 per cent more torque for superb performance from a relatively small unit. Coupled with a delightfully smooth six-speed manual gearbox it returns massive enjoyment while still keeping consumption at sensible levels.
A special “GT 1st edition” is being produced but only 500 are being made, with just 50 coming to the UK, and I suspect most of them have already been snapped up. For general consumption there are two variants – the GT and the GT Tech – and only three colour choices of Track Red, Phantom Black metallic and Fusion White metallic. Like the rest of the Kia range, the car is packed with equipment and comes with the standard seven-year warranty. The car will have limited appeal and sales are expected to be only in hundreds rather than thousands. With 170 Kia dealers around the UK, they’ll all be clamouring to get their hands on at least one – if for no other reason than to have an example of the best looking car on any town’s motor mile of showrooms.
CAR Kia pro_cee’d GT
PERFORMANCE Max speed 143 mph; 0-60 mph 7.4secs
MPG (combined) 38mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS 171g/km