There are two driving modes available – Normal and Sport – which govern the calibration of the power steering, accelerator mapping and shift behaviour of the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. But the biggest noticeable difference in the car when you select Sport mode is the increased engine/synthesiser sound produced in cabin. In any mode, the four-cylinder engine feels ready and willing from below 2000rpm, giving its best at intermediate crank speeds, but it starts feeling abused when it gets near the 6500rpm redline. Performance figures have yet to be released but it feels as though they should be pretty strong, and competitive for a 200-horsepower compact family car.
Hurry the Proceed along on some twisty roads, as we did on smooth Tarmac in the south of France, and it resists understeer well and has nice, consistent-feeling steering that gives you most of the information you might need to go faster. Handling is balanced and precise, and if you take your foot from the accelerator at the heart of a corner, you’ll feel the car’s line and attitude both adjust, if only just a bit. Traction is never a problem for the front wheels, with torque vectoring by braking featuring as standard.
This is a car where you take satisfaction from the well-struck balance of the car’s driving experience, which juggles precision and ease of use quite skilfully. Until you mention the double-clutch gearbox, that is.
Kia’s 7-DCT gearbox is an in-house development and is the sort of system that might make you wish Hyundai-Kia had instead simply chosen one off the shelf. There’s no big problem when you use it strictly as an automatic. But when your fingertips start looking for those alloy shift paddles, its performance gets much worse.
Going up the gears is a surprisingly slow process, and when you need a fast downshift, the gearbox is even slower. The unit’s clutches seem particularly prone to slipping, making each downshift feel that it’s going on forever. It rarely concludes a downchange when you need it, sometimes forcing you to enter a corner in the wrong gear. It feels as though the gearbox is protecting itself from the dangers of a sudden 195lb ft hit; which, given that’s not a great deal of torque for a 2018 car, is a puzzling quirk for it to have.