Kia Cerato

Takes some bold forward steps, but engine is not one of them

TONY O’KANE

Model Kia Cerato Sport+ sedan

Engine 1999cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v

Max power 112kW @ 6200rpm

Max torque 192Nm @ 4000rpm

Transmission 6-speed automatic

Weight 1320kg 0-100km/h 9.0sec (estimated)

Economy 7.4 L/100km

Price $26,190 (driveaway)

On sale Now

Good-looking interior; infotainment; back seat; comfortable ride

PLUS & MINUS

Lacklustre carry-over engine; high-spec AEB only on top-spec

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

CONSIDER this: the Kia Cerato, so ordinary and unassuming, is responsible for a third of Kia Australia’s sales. What’s more, those stats are for the second-generation model, a distinctly average vehicle right at the end of its lifespan.

How? Well, pricing has played a big part in the Cerato’s success – a key reason why Kia has retained a compelling $19,990 entry sticker for the Cerato S manual – but for the new-gen sedan price isn’t the only reason to give it a look-in.

Styled to mimic the broadshouldered and confident stance of the Stinger, the new Cerato sedan shares the previous model’s 2700mm wheelbase but is fractionally larger all around. The front and rear overhangs have grown with the rear stretching by 60mm, a change which boosts boot space by 20 litres to a largecar-rivalling 502 litres, seats-up.

The new Cerato’s dash also lifts the cabin ambience markedly.

More upright with soft-touch uppers and featuring a large tombstone-style infotainment screen front and centre, the blobby aesthetic of the old Cerato’s dash has been banished in favour of a more satisfying design.

The rear seat is spacious with generous leg and foot room, plus rear windows that are low enough for kids to see out of due to Kia’s conscious move to avoid an upswept beltline. Headroom is also decent, and a fold-down centre armrest houses two cupholders. That said, rock-hard rear door card uppers and the lack of rear air vents on all but the range-topping Sport+ impart a low-rent vibe to the back seat.

Elsewhere around the Sport+ you’ll find heated seats, dual-zone climate control instead of manual air-conditioning, a self-dimming rear-view mirror, keyless ignition, power-folding wing mirrors and active cruise control. That’s on top of the already-generous standard equipment level of the base Cerato sedan.

Unfortunately, lifting the bonnet reveals a carry-over 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder that makes 112kW and 192Nm – identical numbers to the outgoing car. And thanks to a kerb weight that’s 19kg heftier than before, fuel economy acutally worsens to 7.4L/100km.

That’s 0.2L/100km more than the car it replaces, making the Cerato sedan’s powertrain story not just a case of “nothing to see here”, but one that actually comes with a penalty. It’s clear that Kia has tried to compensate by making the auto’s ‘smart’ shift programming preference high gears as often as possible, but the end result is a car that feels dozy and sluggish until you really sink the right pedal. In Sport mode it feels reasonably perky, but it’s a shame that’s not its default mode.

Fortunately, the chassis makes more progress than the engine. A stiffer bodyshell combined with locally-honed handling gifts the new Cerato sedan with direct steering (albeit devoid of feel or feedback) and a ride that feels stable and tieddown in regular driving. It grips fairly well, but its cornering performance is typical FWD Korean – safe, but unexciting.

Besides some thumping on rough-edged asphalt, the Cerato’s suspension is fairly well contained, though can border on floaty when the speed gets up and big compressions are encountered.

There are some great leaps forward with the new Cerato sedan, and arguably they’re the most important ones to the average small car buyer – cabin comfort, features and design.

It’s just a shame that the big improvements contained within its well-kitted interior haven’t been matched on the other side of the firewall.

TONY O’KANE

LUXE LITE 01

Soft-touch upper dash pad, circular vents and silver trim look quasi-premium, though the unyielding leather-grained lower cabin plastics offset that. ‘Leather Appointed’ upholstery in Sport+ grade feels faux, but finer hide covers the steering wheel.

FULL KIT BAG 02

All Cerato sedan grades get a significant spec boost with the arrival of the new-gen car, with DAB radio, 8.0-inch colour touchscreen, reversing camera, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and AEB now standard range-wide.

AIM FOR THE TOP 03

Mid-spec Cerato Sport is expected to be the volume-seller with a 40 percent slice of sales (the auto-equipped Cerato S base model accounting for another 40 percent), but the flagship Sport+ is keen buying considering the extra equipment gained for just $2500 more than the Sport.

Holden Astra LT sedan $25,790 Holden’s small sedan has soggier handling than the Cerato and less impressive spec levels, but benefits from a punchier turbo engine that flexes nearly 50Nm more torque and burns less fuel.

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Hyundai Elantra Elite $26,990 Cerato Sport+’s Korean cousin, the Elantra Elite makes do with the same engine, yet suffers due to lower equipment levels, no AEB, and a higher pricetag.

Smarter AEB

All Cerato sedans are now fitted with AEB – a solid step forward in a segment where the potentially lifesaving equipment is far from standard-issue – but the Sport+ grade goes a step further with a more intelligent system that can detect pedestrians and cyclists, rather than just other cars. The same technology is optional on the base S and mid-spec Sport at a cost of $1000, but putting it on the options list for those grades rather than making it standard range-wide seems like a missed opportunity for Kia to take a position of leadership on safety in the small-car segment.