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More sporty Kias are on the way

It has unveiled a GT-Line version of its popular Ceed, a rival to Volkswagen's Golf.

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"The minute you go high performance, you need to work at a racetrack, and then the costs go up and the business case gets very challenging." - Albert Biermann, formerly of BMW's M division, who joined Hyundai-Kia group

Singapore

KIA has a sterling image for delivering value for money and, thanks to a growing body of positive survey results, a budding reputation for quality. But what about sportiness?

That could well be next, as the brand prepares to usher in a range of cars that, while not necessarily built for speed, at least look like they wouldn't look entirely out of place on a racetrack.

At this week's Paris motor show, Kia launched a rakish new model called the ProCeed, but also took the opportunity to unveil a GT-Line version of its popular Ceed, a hatchback designed in Europe to challenge the Volkswagen Golf.

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In Kia's nomenclature, GT-Line is a styling package that includes a number of sporty looking upgrades, such as brake calipers painted a racy shade of red, larger wheels and parts of the body covered in glossy black paint.

It's not a new label; the Sorento, a Sport Utility Vehicle with seven seats, has been available with GT-Line accoutrements in Singapore since last year. In the Sorento's case, the GT Line package costs S$8,000 and adds a few more goodies than the items listed above, such as special upholstery, slightly posher cabin trim, and an all-wheel drive system.

While the GT-Line branding isn't new, the idea of sporty Kias that are exciting to drive has arguably been brought to light only recently by the Stinger, a powerful turbocharged fastback aimed at BMW. It was launched here early this year, and the basic 2.0-litre version accelerates to 100kmh in only 6 seconds.

Around 100 have been sold in Singapore, giving the Stinger a chance to be something of a sporty ambassador for its brand. That's a huge reason it was conceived in the first place. Gregory Guillaume, the Stinger's designer, told The Business Times earlier this year that he wanted the Stinger to change people's perception of Kia. "Our challenge is to get people to realise how good our cars are," he said.

While the Stinger was carefully tuned to perform well on the racing track (it racked up twice as much development mileage as regular Kias at the notorious Nurburgring circuit in Germany), don't expect the same of other Kias.

Albert Biermann, the engineering guru who headed development at BMW's M division before leaving to join the Hyundai-Kia group, has ruled out high-performance Kias for now. "The minute you go high performance, you need to work at a racetrack, and then the costs go up and the business case gets very challenging," he told Autocar, a British car magazine, last week.

Instead, he intends to work on making Kias nicer to drive on a more fundamental level. "It can be the way the gearshift feels, the way you feel when you sit down in the cabin," he said. "It's a wider philosophy that's being introduced and there are many more things to follow."

In the meantime, the GT-Line label will find its way onto more Kia models.

A source from Cycle & Carriage, the brand's importer, says a GT-Line version of the Kia Cerato will go on sale here, most likely in 2019. It will serve as the flagship version of the popular family car, and add sporty styling elements and extra equipment to what is essentially a family-oriented saloon.

The Ceed GT-Line that Kia launched in Paris this week is also a candidate for the Singapore market, with discussions under way to bring it in. Since GT-Line is mostly about cosmetic equipment, you're unlikely to see the new cars being driven at the track by enthusiasts, but Kia would be just as happy for them to proliferate on public roads.