An ability to tread the line between agile handling dynamism and everyday refinement and intuitive drivability is one of the key markers of a great sporting family hatch. It’s a tricky compromise to strike, but one that’s certainly achievable – as last week’s test subject, the Ford Focus ST-Line X, ably demonstrated.
With the Proceed, Kia has taken a creditable, if not entirely successful, swing at occupying this Goldilocks zone. It’s on faster stretches of country road that the Proceed is at its most convincing and where the benefits of its firmed-up, lowered suspension become apparent. There’s a reassuring sense of closeness in terms of how it controls vertical body movement over rippling road surfaces, while there’s considerably better mid-corner handling poise, too, than in the standard Ceed – and better, even, than most family hatchbacks can provide.
There is, in fact, quite striking agility and a keenness to change direction about the Proceed’s dynamic character. Were it not for the fact that Kia still seems to think that unnatural cloying weight is a passable substitute for genuine contact patch feel through the steering wheel, that characteristic would be all the more enjoyable.
Still, the linearity of the car’s handling response inspires plenty of confidence, while the car’s Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres continue to cling to the Tarmac tenaciously mid-way through a corner.
The flip side of the Proceed’s more sporting set-up is a little bit predictable, but not dismayingly so. The car doesn’t ride with quite the same sense of civility as the basic Ceed around town, having a pattering secondary ride quality that gets a bit excitable at times, and can be slightly noisy at motorway speeds. But there’s fluency about the way the suspension deals with bigger intrusions out of town, and enough suppleness about the ride overall to justify a grand touring billing reasonably well.
Millbrook’s Hill Route further unearthed the Proceed’s underlying dynamism, while shining a light on its sure-footed handling composure. During high-speed directional changes, its lowered suspension set-up (firmer of spring but softer of anti-roll bar) helped to mitigate lateral roll, and also absorb the impact of hitting compressions at pace.
While it took a level of abuse you would be unwise to exhibit on the road to reach the limits of the car’s front-end grip, the manner in which it broke into understeer was gentle and easily managed. Steering response was usefully linear, too, and chassis response smart but predictable; there was no need to add on or wind off lock mid-corner.