Two households, both alike in dignity…..the opening line to Shakespeare’s evergreen “Romeo and Juliet” applies equally to two wonderful turbocharged vehicles A Wheel Thing squired for a week: the mental Fiat 500 Abarth Esseesse and Kia’s sublimely potent Pro_Cee’d GT.
Engine wise there’s not much in it size wise, 1.4L under the Abarth’s pert bonnet and 1.6L for the Kia’s scalloped cover. The compact Fiat finds 118kw and a healthy 230Nm of torque while Kia throws out 150kW and a more than useful 265Nm. Impressively, that figure is on tap from 1750 to 4500 revs, meaning even in sixth gear (manual only at this stage, a smart move to attract proper drivers), a gentle (well, maybe not so gentle nudge) of the loud pedal at freeway speeds sees the inside of a jail cell in seconds. The test car from Fiat came with a five speed auto, with a somewhat counterintuitive push button gear selector (1 for the actual drive, R for reverse, N for neutral and A/M for the box or you to do the work via the flappy paddles) and an excessively jerky change. Under full acceleration, the Abart slingshots forward with alacrity, with a measure of torque steer pulling the tiny car off to the left. There is a system called Torque Transfer Control which minimises this and it works pretty well. There’s joy to be had by driving the Abarth hard; the sound. Oh dear deity, the sound. A combination of banshee, lion roar and porn film, the quad tipped exhaust emits noise of the most beautiful kind for such a car in its class. There’s a rasp, a braaaaarp! as the gears change (shaking the passengers back and forth as it does so) and when in fifth, takes a deep breath before farting fire and and brimstone when the loud (and in this case most definitely loud) pedal is given its instructions. Punt it into corners, there’s a growl from the exhaust as the transmision changes down bt the slightly higher seating position leaves the body’s COG (centre of gravity) higher than in the lower slung Kia, with the brain wondering at extra angle in a turn. The Kia, on the other hand, is more restrained in the aural department but manages to break the laws of physics as the horizon suddenly appears in your lap. With the dash display a switchable TFT screen, displaying either a normal speedometer or a digital readout with torque and boost pressure, numbers change quicker than a farmer slams a beer on a hot day. The slick gear lever, a perfectly weighted clutch pedal, a free spinning engine and that mountain of torque form a perfect storm, launching the Pro-Cee’d GT cleanly off the line, a muted yet sprited buzz from the 1.6L, with more noise from the wind flow over the driver’s outside mirror than anything, the short throw change snapping delightfully through the gate as zero to oh myyyyyyyyyyyyy arrives in an eyeblink, even in top gear. There’s the barest tug at the tiller from torque steer as the suspension firms up (sometimes being a touch too jiggly, needing a little more initial compliance) abosrbing most of the imperfections on the road. In contrast, the Fiat’s short suspension and rubber band thick tyres find a five cent piece and enlarge it to a football. Steering in both is sharp, precise, with the 500’s communicating harder bumps with more definition, thanks to the super short travel suspension and tyres. There’s a surprising lack of wind noise in the Abarth, over the cloth roof, but naturally is noticeable when semi retracted. The good thing here is being able to listen to that burbling exhaust, all snap crackle pop of it.
Both share a common body shape, a three door hatch configuration, although in vastly different proportions. The Abarth is a short, squat, rounded, almost eggshell profile; the Pro_Cee’d, the very first of its lineage in Australia, is perhaps more of the traditional hatch style. There’s a long bonnet flowing into a steeply angled windscreen before terminating in a taut and pert bum. Fiat throws in a full retracting cloth roof for the Abarth, programmed in a three or four stop routine whilst the Pro_Cee’d came sans sunroof.
The only hard edges on the Abarth are on the shutlines; it’s near impossible to find a straight line apart from the doors and bonnet. The GT is much the same, even the swage line from hawkeye headlight to protuberant tail light is soft edged. The Abarth has warpaint that clearly identifies its intent, displayed on both flanks plus a couple of vents in the front bumper. The Kia has the new quad LED driving lights and two cornering lamps, bright to start then fade as the car straightens. Looks cool but the real worth is questionable. The petite Fiat rides 12 spoke, 17 inch, cast aluminuim wheels, painted white and wrapped in Michelin rubber. Each vehicle gets red brake calipers and both haul down with alacrity when the non-go pedal is needed. The Kia gets grippy Michelins also, 225/40s on 18s that look fantastic in grey and machined alloy.
Interiors on both are subtle and understated; sports seats (GT printed on the Kia’s), comfortable, cloth and leather; grippy steering wheels with piano black on the GT’s matching the plastic surrounding the dials (the GT’s needs to be thicker), the Sport button mounted dash top in the Fiat (leave it on, Normal mode is MUCH less fun with no overboost), a perhaps somewhat restrained console look for the Kia with cleanly marked controls, with the Abarth retaining the signature circular look of the 500. An oddity in the Kia with the dual zone climate control, to me, if a light is lit on a button I would think it means both zones are controlled via one dial. In this case it means the zones are separate and that’s counter intuitive. Room in the Kia is good, with two kids, two adults and reasonable cargo space (380L seats up); not unexpectedly, the Fiat struggles in cargo space and back seat room, with barely enough leg room for two kids. The GT has wide opening doors however the lower seating position makes it somewhat harder to lever a body from the superb sports seat. The lack of extra glass topside does make the GT a little claustrophobic with its all black interior while the Fiat’s folding roof takes getting topless to a new level. Neither were fitted with satnav, with the Slovakian buit Kia (yes, they do build outside of Korea) not having an Australian compatible setup. Soundwise the Fiat was fitted with that well known (cough) Interscope setup whilst the Korean came with a bespoke installation; quality in the Abarth was surprisingly good, with decent bass, even with the roof down. The Kia’s didn’t get a huge workout but did sound mostly ok. What was notable about the view from the Kia’s seat was how reflective the inside of the windscreen is; even with a largely matt black interior it was reflected and was definitely distracting. A non reflective coating for the inside would be MOST handy.
Quite frankly, there is a market for both cars and there’s appeal from each. The Abarth Esseesse has that wonderful, snarly exhaust; the Pro_Cee’d GT has immense driveability. Economy from the small Italian is touted as 6.5L/100km…it’s a small tank, not much bigger than a can of soft drink at 35L and “proper driving” saw closer to over 8L/100. Kia lobs a 53L tank into the GT, with a claimed 7.4L/100 combined. A Wheel Thing saw that but only on a long freeway run. On a day to day basis though, the GT takes the Abarth to town; a fluid gear change, the interior room, the immense useability of the engine score the goals. For A Wheel Thing, the Kia takes the points however the the Fiat is by no means disgraced. Price wise….the Fiat suffers from a near $40K price point with the GT landing near $10K cheaper. Dollar for dollar the Kia is a clear leader and that, combined with its overall friendliness, hands the Duel of Turbo crown to the Koreans.