By Jonathan Crouch
Whether you see it as a smart coupe or a sleekly-styled three-door hatch, Kia's pro_cee'd offers a sensible spin on sporty motoring and is a smarter proposition in second generation guise. It's also well built, aggressively priced and comes with almost bullet-proof reliability. Sensible then, but with a little sexiness thrown in.
Flair and desirability weren't words really associated with Kia in the early years of this century. But that was before the brand brought us a stream of new models delivering just that - the funky Soul supermini as well as more dynamic versions of the Sportage Crossover, the cute Picanto citycar and before those, this car, the pro_cee'd.
Today, the temptation is to see it as little more than a three-door version of the Focus-class cee'd family hatchback, but back in 2008, this was a shocking departure for Kia dealers used to the dull family fare offered across the rest of the South Korean maker's range. Styled and positioned as a stand-alone affordable sports coupe, it was a key component in Kia's progression to their current place amongst the mass market's most forward-thinking brands.
In 2012, the launch of the second generation cee'd range gave Kia an opportunity to refresh the pro_cee'd proposition and it's the early version of this MK2 model that we're going to look at here. This original design sold until the Autumn of 2015 when it was replaced by lightly updated facelifted model.
What You Get
Longer, lower and lighter than its five-door stablemate, this MK2 model proc_ee'd might not now attract quite as many admiring glances as it did at launch back in 2008 but it's still a good looking piece of design, built in Slovenia and designed by Europeans for Europeans. The front end of this second generation version featured Kia's 'tiger nose' grille to lend it a bit more attitude, something clearly evident in the sharply raised beltline and the sharp crease leading into the rear arches. These features help disguise the fact that this design rides on the same chassis as the cee'd and features the same windscreen angle. Other than that though, only the bonnet and front wings are shared. At the rear, the raked-back window emphasises a low coupe-like stance further underlined by a subtly sporty rear spoiler.
Inside, the only really sporty touch is the four-spoke wheel. Depending on the model you choose, there's faux aluminium or piano black trim to jazz things up a little, but none of it is quite enough to differentiate the cabin much from that of a five-door cee'd. Still, the cabin itself is a pretty nice place to be, the three-dial instrument cluster sitting below a single cowl, while the centre stack is slightly angled towards the driver. The doors shut with a quality 'thunk' and it's easy for almost anyone to find a decent driving position, thanks to a height-adjustable driver's seat and a steering wheel you can alter for both reach and rake.
Getting into the rear is made easier by extra-wide-opening doors and memory position seats and once there, thanks to a wheelbase length identical to that of the five-door cee'd, space for a couple of adults is reasonable on all but the longest journeys, providing occupants don't mind the slightly claustrophobic feel created by the high windowline. Out back, there's the same 380-litre boot you'd get on the five-door model and the 1225-litre total you get when pushing forward the 60/40 split-folding rear seats is only 93-litres less.
What to Look For
The pro_cee'd has proven an extremely reliable car, with both petrol engines and the diesel motor scoring well in reliability surveys. Customers have noted that some of the interior finishes can get scratched quite easily and the alloy wheels fitted to top models are quite easy to kerb. Other than that, it's a clean bill of health. Kia's brilliant seven-year warranty arrangement means that these vehicles very rarely fall into premature neglect.
(approx prices, based on a 2013 1.6 pro_cee'd 2) Kia spares prices have gained an enviable reputation for good value, and replacement parts for the cee'd are no exception. A clutch assembly is around £150, whilst front brake pads weigh in at around £40. An alternator will cost around £130, and for a starter motor you'll be looking at £120.
On the Road
Slip behind the wheel of a pro_cee'd and you might begin to doubt Kia's claims that this is a stand-alone, sportier model. Save for a grippier four-spoke steering wheel, there are, after all, few interior differences between this car and any ordinary family five-door cee'd. It's a slight surprise after the stylised lines of the bodywork but one you quickly come to terms with on the road. Here, as with the cabin, only small detail changes differentiate the pro_cee'd from its five-door stablemate but in this case, they're enough to make more of a difference. A thicker anti-roll bar, uprated dampers and re-programmed power steering.
The pro_cee'd won't be first choice if yours is habitually a dynamic driving style. And the main reason why is tinged with irony: a lack of feel through the steering. If you were familiar with the technical spec of this car, you might think that would be dealt with by the Flex Steer system Kia developed for this second generation model. Wrong. For a start, that feature couldn't be specified on entry-level pro_cee'd models. Those variants that do have this set-up offer their drivers a button on the wheel that enables selection between 'Comfort', 'Normal' and 'Sport' modes. Given that 'Comfort' is rather light and 'Sport' artificially heavy, you end up leaving it in 'Normal' all the time, which rather defeats the point. And is essentially as lifeless as the steering system in the previous version of this car.
Does all this matter? Probably not. Forget what the motoring mags tell you, buyers in the affordable coupe segment don't tend to prioritise on-the-limit handling. What's important is that this pro_cee'd is a match for most rivals in terms of body control, handling response and chassis balance, thanks to a structure that's 45% stiffer than the MK1 model could offer and a front end offering effective bite as you turn into sharp corners.
Engine-wise, the mainstream line-up is based around two engine sizes - 1.4 and 1.6. The smaller unit comes in petrol form with 98bhp or as a CRDi diesel with 89bhp. More sophisticated though, are the 1.6s, fitted as they are with the ISG 'Intelligent Stop & Go' system that makes both the 133bhp petrol GDI and the 126bhp CRDi diesel impressively green and frugal. These models are certainly as rapid as most owners will need them to be, the diesel 1.6 making sixty from rest in 11.5s on the way to 122mph, a second and a half and 16mph quicker than its 1.4-litre CRDi counterpart. There's a bigger difference between the two petrol variants though, the direct injection 133bhp GDI petrol unit in the cee'd 1.6 making sixty in 9.8s, over two and a half seconds quicker than the petrol 1.4, on the way to 118mph. At the top of the range, Kia announced its first really sporting model, the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol pro_cee'd GT, which boasted 201bhp: it offered a lot of performance for the money.
Is this a sports coupe? Or merely a three-door family hatch? Your answer to these questions is key in determining how you'll view this car. If, as Kia says, it really is an aspirational sports coupe, then it's not only extraordinarily practical but also fantastic value for money. If, on the other hand, you see this car as nothing more than a Kia cee'd with two fewer doors, it's clearly less desirable - though even then, those key attributes still apply. As of course does this brand's industry-leading warranty.
True, you might not think that practicality, peace of mind and price would rank very highly amongst the priorities of sports coupe buyers, even in this very affordable sector of the market. And for real enthusiasts, that might be the case. But real enthusiasts aren't the only people who buy cars of this kind. Take for example, young buyers who want a racier look but don't want to be saddled with high insurance premiums. Or older customers who like the idea of a sporty coupe but don't want one with an uncomfortable and impractical low-slung feel. Both will find a pro_cee'd to be a perfectly sensible proposition - but one with a touch of flair. Just as we've now come to expect from Kia.