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Car reviews - Kia - Cerato - S sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Value, packaging, sprightly manual’s performance, low fuel consumption, big interior space, grown-up cabin ambience, long warranty, 12-month service intervals,medium size at small-car price
Room for improvement
Numb steering, vision-impeding thick pillars, sometimes-vague gearshift, no digital speedo


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5 Aug 2013

Price and equipment

KIA’S Cerato small-car stalwart has come of age – and, my, hasn’t it grown.

Now in its fourth generation, the fraternal twin to the ever-improving Hyundai Elantra released two years ago has become a much better proposition itself, undergoing a complete makeover that has left little in common with its pretty but patchy predecessor.

In fact, we reckon Kia should have entertained calling the Cerato something else – such as its overseas names K3 or Forte.

Besides chunky good looks, the South Korean-built YD-series four-door sedan (and, soon, five-door hatch variant) hits the hot small-car segment hard on a few fronts.

Not only does the $19,990 S tested here brim with the usual features (air-con, remote central locking, Bluetooth CD/MP3 audio), it also includes cruise control, front foglights, front and rear parking sensors, body coloured door handles and mirrors, heated and electric exterior mirrors, as well as a few other surprise and delight goodies we’ll go into later.

On the safety front, the Cerato is ready for the five-star ANCAP crash-test club armed with six airbags, including head-protecting side curtain airbags, and a full suite of electronic driver aids, such as the required ESC electronic stability control.


Seriously, the only things that give the Cerato S away as the entry-level model are the monochromatic cabin presentation, missing rear-seat map pockets,plastic steering wheel, and steel instead of alloy wheels (albeit sheathed with attractive hubcaps).

We had to double-check the press release, for it wasn’t too long ago that Bluetooth audio streaming, padded door armrests, a (sizeable) sliding lower-console jalousie, lidded bin, sunglasses holder, mirrored sun visors with extenders, rear centre armrest with cupholders, and a steering wheel complete with remote buttons for the phone, cruise control, trip computer and even a button to adjust the amount of weighting, were either the provenance of posher marques, or not even yet invented.

Yet the latest Cerato’s most lasting impression is how large it is, following in the footsteps of the Holden Cruze in being virtually medium sized.

Commenting on the room, several passengers assumed the Kia is a Camry rival. In fact, we can’t imagine the average 2.4-child family needing more space – though the rear centre spot is best as a kids-only domain.

Measuring in 30mm longer (4560mm), 25mm lower (1435mm), and 5mm wider (1780mm), with a wheelbase extended by 50mm to 2700mm (the same as the Sorento SUV), that not-so-small car feeling isn’t just an illusion.

Hot on that coat-tail is the Cerato’s long, low and wide dashboard layout it fits the exterior’s generous dimensions to further bring that ‘big car’ feel to the interior.

Beautifully made and stylishly executed, the fascia is the very definition of simplicity and functionality, combining sophistication without intimidation.

The instrument dials, with their illuminated red needles and white markings, are supremely clear to behold there’s ample ventilation the driving position is absolutely first class and there’s seemingly a spot for every sort of receptacle you can think of.

Besides that folding armrest, the back seat, meanwhile, also includes headrests for five, an especially comfy backrest angle, windows that power all the way down, overhead grab handles, an a light.

Kia’s (and Hyundai’s) interior design department provide stunningly user-friendly and effective environments for people to get on with the business of travelling from A-to-B.

So what don’t we like? The pillars are thick enough to regularly impede vision, with the front ones in particular obstructive through roundabouts. The driver’s seat feels a bit flat in the cushion and could do with lumbar support adjustability. The sheer sea of black trim serves to make the interior seem dour. And what is it with Kia’s petroleum-like cabin odour? It smells cheap.

Kia has designed the 60/40 rear-seat backrests so they can’t be folded from inside the vehicle – bringing an added element of security for items stored in the long, wide though not especially deep boot.

Nonetheless, at 421 litres it should serve most buyers’ needs.

Engine and transmission

The positivity applies to the new 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, too.

On one hand, it is a few kilowatts short of the hoary old 2.0-litre unit from the previous (TD series) Cerato.

Despite being quieter, there are less raspy units around. And a fair amount of pedal prodding is mandatory for performance to graduate from ‘meh’ to sparkling.

Flex your right foot, though, and the standard six-speed manual combo turns into a terrific little trier.

Rorty as well as torquey, the engine will happily rev past 7000rpm (red line’s at 6750rpm), to help the 1287kg S hit 100km/h in 9.3 seconds. Not fast, then, but quick enough for most. Remember, we are talking about an aspiring used Camry alternative here.

The 1.8 will amble around town in higher-than-recommended gears without hesitation, highlighting its flexibility and ease.

On the flipside, however, at 100km/h in sixth gear,the tacho is showing a busy 2500rpm.The gearshift is light but a bit long in throw. And sometimes third can be snagged instead of first.

The official fuel consumption figure is a miserly 6.6 litres per 100km – we managed a real-world average of 7.6L/100km.

Kia says between 42kg and 67kg depending on the model have been shed from the previous Cerato despite being stronger than before excellent aerodynamics (0.27Cd) also help improve efficiency.

Ride and handling

Bad news for keen drivers: the Cerato’s steering is the dynamics’ weakest link.

And that’s despite Kia’s effective ‘Australianisation’ program that sees a degree of local testing and tuning.

Unusually for this price point, the base Cerato offers a three-mode steering system called ‘Flex Steer’: Comfort, Normal, and Sport. Kia ought to rename it Coma, Numb, and Workout.

While all offer a sufficient degree of response to inputs, none are even remotely interactive in either feel or feedback. After a short time it’s best to leave it in Normal, since Comfort is as overly light as Sport is heavy.

Yet, with an eager stability control system at your side, the Cerato is a predictable and controllable handler, taking corners with a flat and measured attitude that’s become a hallmark of modern Kias and Hyundais.

Even when you press on hard, there’s a surety and agility to the car that belies its humdrum positioning, but most buyers are unlikely to explore the limits on offer anyway.

The S’ chassis is obviously set-up to be absorbent, but still firm enough to ensure the Kia remains planted through tight fast turns. It’s an adequate compromise, upset only by some rear-end skittishness over gravel and/or uneven roads.

They’re not the quietest in terms of noise suppression, and a little more wet weather grip would be appreciated, but the Nexen 205/55 R16 tyres are fine for comfort.

To sum up, then, you wouldn’t buy a Cerato for its steering feel, but the overall result is one of dynamic competence and surety.

Safety and servicing

Five-year’s worth of unlimited kilometre warranty, with 12-month/15-month service intervals, help make the Cerato one of the least expensive vehicles to own and run in its class.

The published servicing prices are $261, $334, $314, $486, and $292, for a total of $1687 during that five-year period.

While the old TD-series Cerato managed a four-star ANCAP crash-test rating, and the newcomer’s results have yet to be announced, Kia says it expects five stars.


We grew to dislike the old Cerato, despite the sharp styling and low pricing.

It felt and drove cheap, and so was no bargain.

The TD Cerato S Sedan, on the other hand, is nothing like that, transcending the mediocrity of old, to shine brightly as a competent and likeable example of affordable quality family-car motoring. We wonder whether it is worth spending more on the 2.0-litre versions.

Really, Kia should have changed the name, because this is a different animal to the lame ones that came before.


Ford LW II Focus Ambiente Sedan (from $20,290 plus on-roads).

A bit more power and standard cruise control is what the roomy base Focus needs to be a class leader, for the combination of chassis dynamics and refinement is unbeatable at this price.

Mazda3 Neo Sedan (from $20,330 plus on-roads).

Excellent value and lacking for nothing in terms of power, dynamics, and equipment, the base Neo is a great all-rounder – though it can get noisy and requires six-monthly service intervals.

Honda Civic VTi Sedan (from $20,490 plus on-roads).

Well made, with excellent reliability and resale value, the base Civic sedan offers smooth and effortless motoring, though servicing is also every six months, while cabin presentation isn’t flash either.


ENGINE: 1797cc 4-cyl DOHC petrol
LAYOUT: FWD, transverse
POWER: 110kW @ 6500rpm
TORQUE: 178Nm @ 4700rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-spd manual
0-100km: 9.3
FUEL: 6.6L/100km
CO2: 124g/km
L/W/H/W’BASE: 4560/1780/1435/2700mm
WEIGHT: 1287kg
SUSPENSION f/r: Struts/Torsion beam
STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
PRICE: From $19,990 plus on-roads

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