Base price: $38,490.
Powertrain and performance: 2.0-litre petrol four, 129kW/209Nm, 6-speed automatic, front-drive, Combined economy 7.4 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 4560mm long, 1435mm high, kerb weight 1319kg, luggage capacity 482 litres, fuel tank 50 litres, 17-inch wheels on 215/45 tyres.
We like: Premium style, handsome cabin, excellent value and equipment.
We don’t like: Ordinary powertrain, firm ride, leather that feels like vinyl.
How it rates: x/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
Think of a Korean brand Kia and you’ll probably think of one thing first: high style. That’s no bad thing, as it comes courtesy of head of design Peter Schreyer (ex-Audi and Volkswagen), who created Kia’s current corporate design ethos: tiger-inspired grilles, straight lines with power, and so on.
The new Cerato sedan (there’s a hatchback version on the way) keeps the faith. This is a humble small-car, competing with the likes of Toyota Corolla and Mazda3. Yet if you judge the book by its cover, Cerato has a premium attitude, especially in flagship SX guise.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Here’s where the Cerato’s cool looks work against it: the look might be premium but the driving experience is still mainstream. The 2.0-litre engine direct-injection engine (the entry LX has a lower-tech 1.8-litre) looks good on paper with 129kW/209Nm, but it’s hard to get excited about it on the road. It could do with a bit more pulling power down low (peak torque is not reached until 4700rpm) and sounds coarse when you work it hard.
A six-speed transmission is standard, with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles for the flagship SX model tested here.
The Cerato shares its underbody architecture with the Hyundai i30 (Kia’s parent company, although the two brands are distributed separately in New Zealand), so it gets the latest FlexSteer system. This allows you to choose between comfort, normal and sports levels of assistance for the electric power steering via a simple button. None of them are particularly full of feel, but it’s a nice feature that helps you engage with the car a bit more.
The chassis is competent – less fluid than the sister i30, but strong on grip with the larger wheels and tyres fitted to the SX model. However, the ride is firm for what is still a mainstream sedan. The lesser EX and LX models are on smaller footwear and much more compliant.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH?
Full marks to Kia for the Cerato’s cabin. The dashboard architecture is clean, elegant and makes good use of soft-touch materials in the places where you really notice them. It’s a different interior to the i30, by the way, and a much nicer one at that.
The SX has a few luxury-car touches as well: power-adjustable seats with three-stage heating, or example. There’s seat cooling as well, but oddly only for the driver. The SX gets a larger 4.2-inch colour information screen with touch operation (which also serves as the reversing camera), and although Cerato doesn’t yet have satellite navigation, it’s on the way later in 2013. Might be worth waiting for, to really get the benefit of that colour screen.
The SX is upholstered in leather, although like so many other Korean cars it’s leather that doesn’t feel very natural. The fabric in lower-spec Cerato models is actually better to sit on. They’re more spacious too, as the SX’s standard-fit sunroof eats into headroom.
SHOULD I BUY ONE?
If you’re swayed by styling (we can understand how you would be) and Kia’s deserved reputation for quality, then sure. Just remember that Cerato is not quite as swish as it looks: at less than $40k, how could it be?
The SX is tempting because of its extra equipment. But the next-model-down EX is worth a look, as it rides better on 16-inch wheels (even if you lose some of the visual drama) and the seats are more comfortable without the leather.
Even in the EX and entry LX (just $29,990), you still get front and rear parking radar, cruise control and a trip computer.
Air conditioning: Dual climate
Audio: CD, iPod compatible
Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
Blind spot warning: No
Cruise control: Yes
Driver footrest: Yes
Gas discharge headlights: No
Head-up display: No
Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/Yes (cooling on driver’s seat only)
Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
Lane guidance: No
Leather upholstery: Yes
Parking radar: Front and rear with camera
Power boot or tailgate: No
Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/Yes, two settings
Remote audio controls: Yes
Satellite navigation: No
Seat height adjustment: Yes
Self-parking technology: No
Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
Steering reach adjustment: Yes
Trip computer: Yes
Find a Kia Cerato HERE