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Car reviews - Kia - Cerato - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Styling, space, interior design, big boot, smooth 2.0-litre engine, easy to operate and drive, ESC availability
Room for improvement
Steering too light, ride quality suffers over rougher roads, cruise control should be standard, Kia’s cheapo image still to be conquered

Kia logo23 Jan 2009

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

“Your role as a motoring scribe ... is to provide a balanced point of view for features, benefits and value for money,” Kia tactfully reminded the assembled press at last week’s Cerato launch.

On every one of those points, the latest sedan from Korea will probably exceed most small-car buyers’ expectations, not least because it is as good-looking in the metal as the previous-generation model was dumpy.

And we’re talking feel-good good-looking here. From every angle, the TD Cerato sedan is proportionally spot-on, strikingly handsome and even quite original, leaving us with no reason to doubt Kia’s assertion that hatch buyers will be lured to it, in much the same way that Mazda has managed with the current 3 sedan.

The same goes for inside too, thanks to a nicely designed dashboard, with its neatly presented centre stack, attractive instrumentation and plentiful features that spell neither cheap nor chintzy.

Comfort, space and convenience features are not lacking either, with ample seating for five, plenty of spaces to store stuff and a huge boot.

The ABS/EBD-equipped TD ticks all the passive safety boxes too, with its suite of airbags, and then goes a long way further by making the essential ESC stability and traction control items accessible at $1000 above the base S’s $19K price.

Topping all these off are class-leading power output, green-vehicle emissions ratings and Kia’s long five-year warranty.

Yes, in the all-important area of showroom appeal, the Cerato is likely to stand out as emphatically as its wallflower predecessor faded into obscurity.

So how does this promising Kia drive?

Well, it is a far cry from the rough and rowdy LD Cerato, which reminded you mile after depressing mile that being miserly can be a misery.

The five-speed manual shift quality is adequate while the four-speed automatic seems to function as well as any equally ratio-ed rival’s gearbox.

And the brakes, engine smoothness and overall noise suppression qualities also back up Kia’s statement of a highly class-competitive package.

But ... somehow the 2.0-litre engine’s performance does not seem to equate to the 118kW and 194Nm on offer, although this is only really noticeable when hauling yourself up hilly terrain.

We found that plenty of accelerator pedal pressure needed to be applied before all those sleepy killer wasps could be roused, to borrow a Toyota-ism.

Steering-wise, the Cerato is too lightly set-up for keener drivers to enjoy, and it lacks the linearity of the better small car set-ups, even though the handling and roadholding qualities are more than sufficiently capable.

And comfort suffers due to the busy ride on rougher or uneven surfaces, especially on the (albeit attractively styled) 17-inch wheels.

While this is probably in line with most sub-$20,000 small-car rivals, the Cerato is soundly beaten in this department by the likes of the Ford Fiesta, Mitsubishi Lancer, Ford Focus and Mazda3 – and the last three boast the more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension system that can soak up the rough stuff while maintaining an exemplary cornering line in tighter turns.

Yet none of these observations should be deal-breakers if affordable transportation is required, and the TD Cerato is a significantly more capable proposition dynamically than its Hyundai Elantra cousin, as well as the Holden Viva.

Kia’s competitive pricing also ensures that buyers of light-car based sedans such as the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Tiida, Proton Persona, Holden Barina and probably the Honda City would be doing themselves a huge disservice by not at least test-driving the TD Cerato.

So, by all objective accounts, the latest Cerato is far-and-away the best car that the company has ever offered in Australia, and certainly one of the most appealing at its price point.

But the big difference here – and perhaps compared to any Korean car that has ever preceded it in this country – is that the Cerato’s good looks helps it mount a compelling subjective case too. We understand if you want to buy this car on looks alone.

So, on balance, unless driving pleasure is a priority, this Kia is shaping up to be one of the most pleasant surprises of 2009.

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