Style, technology and dynamics improvements for Kia’s up-and-comer.
WHAT IS IT?
The updated version of Kia Australia’s best-selling model, the Cerato, which now sports a fresher look, improved equipment and even sharper dynamics, yet retains its competitive sub-$20,000 starting price.
WHY ARE WE DRIVING IT?
Because after years of sitting in the middle of the sales pack, Kia says the Cerato is finally ready to play with the big boys, and be a genuine threat to the hugely popular Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3 and Hyundai i30.
Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3, Hyundai i30, Volkswagen Golf, Holden Cruze, Nissan Pulsar, Subaru Impreza
As facelifts go, this is a light one, but Kia has refined what was already a very appealing package. Increased value and equipment are highlights, as are improved dynamics tuned for Aussie roads.
PLUS: Improved ride and handling; perky engine; new equipment and safety tech
MINUS: No AEB; no reverse camera in base model; lacks overall finesse
THE WHEELS REVIEW
KIA knows when it’s onto a good thing. The current Cerato, on sale here since 2013, has been something of a slow-burn success story, steadily climbing the sales charts from outside the top 10 in its category to now sit on the cusp of the top five, poised to overtake Holden’s ageing Cruze.
So when it came time for an update, Kia played it smart. All the Cerato’s core strengths remain – strong value, energetic engines, and a spacious, comfortable interior, backed by Kia’s industry-leading seven-year warranty.
But its handsome styling has been freshened, there’s more equipment with enhanced safety, and its Aussie-tuned dynamic package has been honed further.
The range is simpler, too. There are still four variants to choose from (S, S Premium, Si and SLi), but all are now powered by an energetic 2.0-litre four that produces 112kW/192Nm and offers decent performance.
But the biggest improvement is the way the Cerato handles. Kia’s local suspension guru, Graeme Gambold, specified stiffer springs, different bushes and a new type of damper for improved handling on Australia’s pockmarked roads, and the results are tangible. It’s still no sports car, or in the same league as Focus and Golf, but the Cerato’s chassis is balanced, offers strong roadholding and rides with reasonable compliance.
The lifeless steering of old has also been improved, thanks to an upgraded system that improves weighting and accuracy.
Even better news is that Kia has retained Cerato’s sharp pricing, which starts at $19,990 driveaway for the S with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
Mid-spec Si models now boast blind-spot detection and a rear cross-traffic alert system as standard, while the range-topping SLi adds lane-departure warning and forward collision warning.
S Premium models and above get a new 7.0-inch touchscreen, which is compatible with Android Auto and future-proofed for Apple CarPlay, and boast sat-nav and a rear camera. While base models still make do with a dated 3.5-inch LCD screen, buyers can upgrade to the 7.0-inch unit for $500.
The only real disappointments are a lack of AEB and Kia’s decision not to give S variants a reversing camera as standard, doubly disappointing given the base model is expected to make up 60 percent of sales. Another gripe is the driving position in the Si and SLi, with electric leather seats that are set too high.
Overall, though, Kia has refined what was already an appealing package. Value and ownership credentials remain key strengths, but as a car, Cerato is now closer to where it needs to be. It’s a decent thing, made that little bit better.
GT in the wings
It may have ditched the slow-selling Cerato Koup and Proceed GT hatch, but Kia says there’s still a place for sporty flagship models in its range. The likely choice for Cerato is a GT variant, similar in philosophy to the Optima GT, which adds a turbocharged engine, bigger wheels and styling tweaks.
“The GT badge makes a lot of sense for the Cerato,” Kia Australia boss Damien Meredith said. “Australians have a love of sportier cars, so we think it’d be well received.” But we won’t see it until 2018’s next-gen Cerato.
Model: Kia Cerato S Premium hatch
Engine: 1999c 4cyl, dohc, 16v
Max power: 112kW @ 6200rpm
Max torque: 192Nm @ 4000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1332kg
0-100km/h: 10.2sec (claimed)
Fuel economy: 7.1L/100km
Price: $24,990 (driveaway)
On sale: Now