What do you get when you turbo charge a euro styled, euro built, Korean designed 3 door hatch? The Kia pro_cee'd GT.....yes it is an interesting name, and what better way to test the hotness of said hatch than by throwing it around a race track.

Full Disclosure: Kia wanted us to drive this so much that they sold one to my mate, then used their awesome Korean magic powers to give us a 30C+ (86F+) temperatures without a cloud in the sky on exactly the same day the event was on. They also implanted thoughts in my head to take along sunscreen, but not the instructions on how to apply it correctly. Also forgive my text, first one of these I've put together.

The Car

So what we have here is the 2015 model in 'GT Tech' trimmed GT, which has such nifty things as :

  • 18" alloy wheels
  • Smart key with push button start
  • Panoramic Sunroof
  • HID type front active headlamps with washers
  • Recaro front seats (leather & suede)
  • 7" full touch colour LCD screen Satellite navigation multimedia system with traffic information

Specifications :

  • Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl turbo
  • Power/torque: 201bhp/265Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
  • 0-60mph: 7.4 seconds
  • Top speed: 143mph
  • Mileage: 31.8 miles/gallon

Now in my defence, my daily driver is a full size V8 sedan, and the last 'small' car I ever really drove was my 2001 Ford Laser, which I sold over 6 years ago, never really punished. So hopping into the Kia I had no idea what I was in for. But I was pleasantly surprised.

The GT shares the same running gear as the Kia Koup Turbo which you Americans know and love (yeah no), producing the same power and torque, but jams it into a completely different chassis with much spiffier multi-link independent suspension. Power wise, I was quite impressed, the 7.4 0-60 may not make it the fastest hot hatch around, but the torque was great for the hill section of the track.

There is a huge amount of room for both the driver and the front passenger and the interior feels solidly built, no squeaks or rattles, even while being pushed on the track. Roof height is great too, even with the extra thickness due to the sunroof. We're both 6'1 and fit fine, but did have to push the seats back a bit once the helmets went on. The back seats do have a fair bit of leg room, so you can bring along more friends then your double amputee mate.

The Recaro seats..oh God the seats. Butt heaven. Perfect support, no sliding around at all, even when doing some stupidly hard cornering. I almost want to rip the ones out of the Commodore and replace them now.

The clutch is nice and light, gear changes are fast and smooth, and also very forgiving. I'd only managed to drive the car for about 20km in highway conditions before I was racing it, didn't stall out, and only jumped a gear once, which is a first for me when getting into a new car.

Steering and handling is incredibly sharp and responsive. This car was point and shoot and went exactly where I wanted every time. Barely any under steer (unless it was me doing something stupid), and I put it into some corners pretty hard and didn't feel it sliding out at all. Spring-rates and damper tunes are firmer than the European-spec suspension, and the sway-bars are fatter thanks to some Kia Australia tinkering. You also get a spiffy digital speedo flanked by torque and turbo boost gauges when you click the GT button on the steering wheel.

The Michelin tyres that are fitted to the GT are pretty good, but we did notice some feathering around half way through the day, and some slight traction issues after that. Put that down to abusing road tires on a race track.

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By the end of the day we'd put 100 km (60 miles) around the track and only managed to burn a quarter tank of petrol, going from 23.5 MPG to 21.4 MPG, which was sweet.

The Track

Starting from where the arrow is, an easy curve turning into a hill climb with a a series of bends, downhill into a straight into another series of curves into a large banked curve (note, it's the section disappearing off the image, it was still being built) onto the large straight, slightly over 1 kilometre in length. So, not a terribly long track, but full of nice twists and turns that should favour a smaller car.

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Neither my friend and I are nowhere near experienced track drivers, but between the two of us we managed to rank up quite a few passes on experienced drivers just due to the fact the GT had the power and the handling to ignore all our stupid mistakes and soldier on. Most of these were hot hatches as well, the majority of which were actual 'race cars' that had been stripped down, partsed up and roll caged, driven by people who's race experience was more then playing Forza with a steering wheel controller, so we were feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves.

We were reaching speeds just shy of 60 mph on the downward straight, and 70 mph on the final straight. The majority of the track was run in second gear, 3rd for the straights.

Now, you may have noticed the GoPro stuck to the top of the car in an earlier picture. What we didn't notice was that it didn't like the SD card inside it, so no footage. We did make an attempt to record some footage with an iPotato, which ended up completely unusable unless you want to test if you get motion sickness.

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I would have liked to have given you guys some footage of the runs, but oh well. Derp. Always check your gear before you leave home.

Conclusion

So, there were a few things I didn't like. The gear stick has one of those stupid 'lift this to be able to flick into reverse' locks, and I know that's a small gripe, but god I hate them. I found the steering wheel way to thin, it's freaking tiny in my hands. The brake pedal and clutch both feel like they have a lot of travel before engaging, the brakes are great though, no issues with stopping the car. The car was also quiet, and I mean too quiet, not fun quiet, 'hey I'm revving the tits off this thing why can't I hear it' quiet. Kia is looking at doing what all manufacturers seem to be doing these days and digitally 'enhancing' the sound in the next model, so....yay? I guess. These are really only small complaints though, the car handled better and drove better than I thought it would.

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So, would I buy one? Ehhhhhhh this is where it gets tricky. For a starting price of $39k (For the GT Tech trim), you'll be cross shopping this against the Toyota FT86, Renault Clio RS, Ford Fiesta ST/Focus ST, Peugeot 208 Gti and VW Golf GTI where it sits in the middle of the pack for price, performance and included goodies. This is a market segment with a lot of choices available and I think that the Hyundai doesn't do enough to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack. There's nothing...stand out about it, except for the 7 year, unlimited km warranty. For me I'd have to try all the competition out before I could give a solid verdict.

But it is one hell of a fun car to drive.

Bonus Round

Random cars from the day!