Car reviews - Kia - Cerato - range
Sharp pricing, comfortable seating, cabin space and storage, boot space, ride/handling on 16-inch wheel package
Room for improvement
SLi ride too sharp, reversing camera not standard range wide, plastic base model steering wheel, tyre noise
24 May 2016
The quiet achiever of the small car class has risen from the teens to sixth place in the sales race, and the Cerato model update has refined a package that is well worth consideration.
Starting our first drive in a base model manual, the gearbox impresses for its clean shift and solid feel, blighted slightly by the numb and high take-up point of the clutch.
Ride quality on the revised suspension is leaning toward firm but with enough compliance, particularly when rolling on the 16-inch wheel tyre package, which deals competently with rutted and rough metropolitan bitumen.
Tyre noise is not a serious issue until the Nexen rubber meets coarse chip surfaces, when the otherwise-quiet cabin is intruded upon by excessive amounts of howl from the wheelarches.
Slotting in and out of suburban traffic snarls, the two-litre engine is useful without being startling in its performance, offering a deceptive amount of flexibility, for a powerplant laying claim to just 112kW and 192Nm.
Using a higher gear does not massively hamper momentum, but revving close to the red line isn't as harsh a exercise as it can sometimes be in this segment.
Somewhat gentle use on the launch drive had the auto returning figures in the realm of 8.0 litres per 100km, while the manual could be coaxed closer to 7.0L/100km, which covered some metro mileage, plenty of highway and some country back roads.
The steering is light and has lost most - but not all - of the odd weighting off-centre, resulting in acceptable (for the segment) but not exceptional steering weight and feel.
Cabin comfort and space are good, with seat comfort, leg and headroom and bootspace all ample enough for small car duties.
The interior trim has had a materials upgrade but it's an evolutionary change for the Cerato's cabin trim - predominantly black and in the case of the S, a centre display lit in red the absence of the larger touchscreen and reversing camera as standard across the range will be a sticking point.
It is available on the automatic S for an extra $500 but the standard camera in a Corolla and Hyundai i30 might push its sister Korean brand to make a change.
The inclusion of parking sensors at both ends is intended to make up for it but drivers equipped with sensors and a camera are likely to feel better about car park and home driveway manoeuvring.
A plastic steering wheel isn't as a nice as the leather-wrapped items in the rest of the range, but the driver does get clear instruments and an informative centre LCD display.
There's reasonable forward vision, at least until direct sunlight throws up some dash reflection which can be distracting.
Jumping from the base-model straight to the top-spec SLi is a leap in more than just price.
The 17-inch wheel package has lower profile rubber - still the unimpressive Nexens - all of which conspires to roughen up the ride quality, suggesting the flagship is certainly aiming at more Sports and less Luxury in terms of the suspension.
The leather trimmed seats - with heating for both front occupants and cooling for the driver - are comfortable and the navigation/touchscreen-equipped centre stack is also endowed with dual zone climate control.
Also on the features list for the SLi is a paddle shift-equipped six-speed auto and Drive Select, but it doesn't offer a massive breadth of change to the flagship's demeanour, with the main highlight being the addition of blind spot, lane departure, forward collision and rear cross traffic warnings to the safety features list.
Perhaps the best all-round package in the updated Cerato range is the S Premium - it too is still noisy on coarse chip road surfaces, but the more aesthetically-appealing 16 inch alloy wheel package also helps takes the hard edge off the SLi's ride quality.
Only available in automatic, the mid-spec models' six-speed loses the paddle shifters of the SLi but works well enough with the two-litre, returning fuel economy figures within striking distance of the ADR laboratory figure of 7.1L/100km.
The features list is also destined to include full smartphone integration for both Android and Apple devices from July production vehicles onward, once agreements have been completed with the two suppliers.
Kia is aiming to topple Cruze from fifth spot in the small car sales race and there's every reason to think the refreshed Cerato can achieve that target given the competitive pricing, appealing exterior and class-leading warranty, it deserves a spot on any small car shopping list.
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