Kia Pro Cee'd
2008 onwards model
Kia's on a mission to build its image in the UK and much, for the time being, hangs on the pro_cee'd. Apart from the silly name and punctuation, the pro_cee'd has dynamic and sporty styling, even though fundamentally it's a three-door version of the five-door hatch, albeit with almost every body panel changed. The only other company to do that is Vauxhall, which differentiates its three-door Astra with a much more aggressive, coupé-like body. Both this Astra and the pro_cee'd effectively give you something for nothing, the sense of buying into a coupé without the price premium this would normally involve. The pro_cee'd costs exactly the same as the five-door version, but gets additional equipment - 17-inch alloys and a sports trim pack in this level 3 model.
It may look sporting, the pro_cee'd is mechanically almost identical to the regular model, though with one important difference, which we'll come to shortly. That means the most powerful model is the 2.0 CRDi with 138bhp, though it's this 1.6-litre petrol model with 124bhp that is arguably more fun. That's because, if you choose to push on, there's a wide rev range and an eagerness to the engine at the upper end that makes it seem to be on your side of this driving adventure. Ultimately it's not that fast - 0-62mph takes 10.8 seconds, a long way off hot hatch pace - but it does well enough. There's a fair level of torque too, so you don't have to keep changing gear to keep the speed up.
That one significant difference to the five door is the suspension. Kia has uprated it by stiffening the dampers and anti-roll bar. The claim is that the changes are small, but the effect is significant and not in a good way. The pro_cee'd rides noticeably more firmly than the five-door hatch, in itself no magic carpet, and at times the bumpiness can get simply irritating. The trade-off in cases like these should be sharper responses in the bends, but it's hard to notice much difference. As Kia only too readily admits, the pro_cee'd is no hot hatch, so why these unnecessary compromises?
There are few compromises inside the car. The interior is up to the same high standard we've seen with earlier cee'ds, and this is the nicest, most upmarket interior yet from what is still a budget brand. The pro_cee'd 3 gains alloy pedals and some neat seat covers in the style of tyre tracks that are well on the interesting side of naff. Seat comfort is good all-round and goes some way to compensate for the iffy ride quality. There's genuine space for four adults, with room in the rear compromised very little with the new body style. It's a bit of a scramble getting there, inevitably, but the front seats do slide forward to help.
Air conditioning is standard on all models (the aircon-less base cee'd is not offered in the pro_cee'd), but the mid-range 3 version gets desirable full climate control. There's proper USB iPod compatibility too. Boot space is excellent for a car of this size, well shaped and voluminous, though the sill is particularly high for hefting luggage over. The rear seat folding mechanism has been simplified, the back rest simply flopping down onto the cushion, rather than the cushions being lifted first and then the backrest folded into the well that's left. It's a reasonable idea in a three door, where access to the levers is always going to be more awkward, but the consequence is the floor is nothing like flat.
The cee'd in five-door form gets a full five-star result in the EuroNCAP test so it's reasonable to expect the three-door to be similarly safe. Economy and emissions are in the mid-field, with 44.1 mpg claimed as the average for this 1.6, though we never approached even 40mpg in our very new and tight example of this pro_cee'd. Kia seems to have missed a bit of a trick with the C02 figures too, none of the models cutting below the magic 120g/km level; this 1.6 produces 152g/km. The pro_cee'd is built in the same European factory in Slovakia as the other cee'ds and the Sportage 4x4, and all these get a considerable edge over rivals with a seven year warranty.