It’s a familiar tale to anyone brought up on a diet of clichéd martial arts movies.
This story was originally published in our July 2014 issue
The young upstart, full of hope and dreaming of a better life, bursts onto the scene, vanquishing all before him (it’s always a ‘him’) until the final showdown with the Grand Master, at which point there’s usually either a humbling defeat or an against-all-odds victory.
The ProCeed GT’s impressive showing against its obvious rivals made it clear we needed to cast further afield for some true competition. And while another boosted hot hatch, such as Renault’s new Sport Clio, might have made a little more sense, we could think of no tougher test than the sensei of the affordable performance car scene, the Toyota 86.
It’s been a while since we’ve driven the new-age hachi roku, but it instantly feels like putting on your favourite pair of shoes. You sit almost on the floor, the seat holding you in all the right places, with the upright steering wheel close but the pedals – perfectly placed for heel-and-toe action – stretched out nicely. Only a certain Stuttgart brand manages to attain the same level of intimacy between man and machine.
In contrast, the Kia’s driving position, which felt so low-slung and sporty in the context of its hatch rivals, suddenly feels a bit high and remote. The sensation fades after only a short time at the helm, but it’s a stark reminder the ProCeed has moved up a division.
Thanks to a twin-scroll turbo feeding air into the direct-injected 1.6-litre four, Korea’s new hero should at least have no trouble matching its Japanese foe in a straight line. Max torque of 265Nm is generated from just 1750rpm, so with peak power of 150kW arriving at 6000rpm, the ProCeed effectively has a 5000rpm powerband to play with.
It does its best work in the mid-range, though, feeling increasingly strained as it approaches the 6500rpm redline. At least that’s the impression from inside, as sadly little of the crisp, rorty exhaust note filters through to the cabin.
Having clocked 7.45sec to 100km/h and 15.34sec for the quarter mile in the five-hatch comparison, it should come as no surprise the Kia manages 7.47sec and 15.37sec this time around. It sure surprises us, though, thanks to heavy rain at the test track.
Despite the slippery conditions, it shoots off the line and actually records a higher terminal speed (149.36km/h) than in the dry (148.26km/h). Why? No idea, but with another 1500km on the clock since the last test, it’s possible the engine has freed up a bit.
Lack of mileage hurts the Toyota badly. It was given to us showing a mere 200km, but despite that increasing to over 1000km by the time we hit the drag strip, it’s clear the 86’s direct-injected 2.0-litre flat-four needs many more kilometres to deliver its best.
We’ve seen 6.9sec and 14.9sec from the Toybaru twins before, but the best it can muster today is 7.91sec to 0-100km/h and a 15.65sec 0-400m at 147.80km/h. And don’t point your finger at the wet surface. The 86 launches just fine, leading the Kia to 30km/h, but after that it just runs out of puff.
What’s more disappointing than the Toyota’s numbers is the way it delivers them. The 2.0-litre boxer has a strangely lumpy power curve, with an early burp of torque, then a hollow, lifeless mid-range before picking up again above 5000rpm. Its lack of punch is most obvious in its 80-120km/h times, the Kia’s 0.8sec advantage in third gear (4.6 vs 5.4sec) stretching to a substantial 4.1sec (9.0 vs 13.1sec) in sixth.
To be fair, the Toyota is faster than you’d think, but just feels flat. Getting the best out of it requires frequent use of the six-speed ’box, so it’s just as well the notchy, mechanical shift gets better the harder you use it. It can be cantankerous when cold, but once warm slotting the next cog home becomes an action of pure instinct and makes the Kia’s light, though accurate, shift feel a bit on the woolly side.
The 86 sounds okay, too, though when the tacho needle is kissing 7400rpm, it’s hardly the noise you’d get from something perhaps VTEC.
Of course, straight-line performance was last on Toyota’s list of priorities when developing the 86. As soon as the road begins to sweep and swoop, the rear-drive sportster comes alive. The electrically-assisted steering is perfect in its weight and response, feeding a clear stream of information to your fingertips about exactly how much grip is left in the front tyres.
The answer is probably not a lot, as the eco-spec Michelin Primacy tyres stick like wet soap, but the balance and predictability of the chassis allow you to throw the car around with abandon – if you know what you’re doing. The 86’s propensity to lose grip at the rear first means it isn’t foolproof and any initial rear-end movement needs to be caught quickly if ESP is disabled.
But can it actually be disabled? The presence of a yellow flashing light even with the systems off suggests not, but following further, highly scientific investigation at the test track – driving it on the lock stops – it appears ESP will subtly interrupt as soon as the car starts to slide, but drive through it and the electronics will leave you alone. Seems the wrong way around, but there you go.
Tyres are the only real chink in the Toyota’s armour. Their lack of grip costs the car under brakes and makes it so easy to slide at ridiculous angles in the wet it’s amazing police impound yards aren’t full of confiscated 86s. Maybe they are. That said, it is always a surprise how fast you’re going in the 86, to the point that, as long as you’re not driving uphill, the ProCeed has its work cut out keeping up.
Swapping into the Kia graphically illustrates the difference between a hotted-up hatch and a bespoke sports car. As good as it is, after driving the 86 its responses feel dulled by comparison, like an athlete that hasn’t trained for a while. Its steering isn’t as sharp, it doesn’t change direction as crisply and it lacks the immediacy of the Toyota’s responses.
It is faster though, gaining ground not just on the straights but also under brakes and in the corners, too. It’s more planted, skipping around less than the Toyota on bumpy roads, and thanks to those grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 3s, the Kia digs into the surface yet still shuffles around enough to make you feel like you’re making a difference.
The three-stage ESP can’t be completely disabled, but is lax enough in its most lenient setting that you’d have to do something extremely silly for it to trigger.
However, when it comes to the crunch, what costs the Kia most is while the 86 gets better the harder you drive it, the ProCeed starts to get scrappy. At its limit the front begins to wash wide as the inside front tyre struggles for traction.
So in the end our story is more Rocky than The Karate Kid, with our underdog challenger falling at the final hurdle. But the fact the ProCeed even warranted this extra test shows just what a surprise packet it is.
What’s even more amazing is we’re comparing a $30K Kia with a $35K Toyota and would be happy to drive away in either.
Supercars... who needs ’em?
Kia ProCeed GT
Engine: 1591cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbocharger
Power: 150kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 265Nm @ 1750-4500rpm
0-100km/h: 7.47sec (tested*)
0-400m: 15.37sec @ 149.36km/h (tested*)
100km/h-0: 37.7m (tested*)
Price: $30,585 (as tested)
4 out of 5 stars
Toyota 86 GTS
Engine: 1998cc flat-4, DOHC, 16v
Power: 147kW @ 7000rpm
Torque: 205Nm @ 6400rpm
0-100km/h: 7.91sec (tested*)
0-400m: 15.65sec @ 147.80km/h (tested*)
100km/h-0: 37.9m (tested*)
4.5 out of 5 stars