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Car reviews - Kia - Cerato - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Classy exterior and interior even on entry-level model, willing 1.8-litre engine with smooth automatic, drives better than previous generation
Room for improvement
Electrically assisted steering adds weight but not feel, ride comfort on mid-specification Si loses composure at speed, sat-nav only available on top-spec model.

Kia logo9 Apr 2013

By BARRY PARK

IF YOU’RE going to try to tell apart the different variants in Kia’s new Cerato small sedan range on the road, you’re going to have to be quick.

Despite having three separate spec levels of the small sedan on the road, it’s the comparatively minor physical differences between them – with the exception of the wheels – that means from a distance, they all look alike.

Each level of the Cerato - the base-model S, mid-specification Si and range-topping SLi - gets the same classy makeover, running from the “tiger nose” grille that is slowly defining the Korean brand to the headlights that wrap around into it, along strong coupe-like styling to a rear end that, well, is quite pretty to look at.

Sure, the base model gets steel wheels hidden behind cheap-looking plastic hubcaps, but from afar they look just like the alloys fitted to the mid-range model.

The differences between the range-topper and the bottom rung on the ladder come down to the 17-inch black and silver alloy wheels, a bit of chrome trim along the bottom of the side windows, and the LED globes that form the distinct eyebrow of light above the xenon headlight.

Oh, and the front parking sensors are body-coloured, not black, on the two higher models.

The good looks on the outside continue when you open the driver’s door.

There’s a lot of matte black plastic, but it is patched together very well and contains a few chrome highlights that give the dullness a bit of a lift.

The entry-level S gets a soft-touch dash and even a bit of leather-look trim on the door’s armrest and over the centre console bin’s lid. Higher-specification cars also get a coating of the stuff over the instrument binnacle.

The default cloth seats in the Cerato are quite comfortable with good lateral and under-thigh support, and combined with good reach and rake adjustment and a long sliding track underneath, it is easy to get a comfortable position behind the wheel.

The cabin now has a driver focus, with the instrument panel featuring a speedometer and tacho tucked in behind the steering wheel and fringed in chromed highlights.

Even the centre console has a slight, Audi-esque bias to the driver - not surprising that the car’s chief architect previously worked there.

There’s acres of dash from a windscreen that feels almost Honda Civic-like in terms of how far forward it has moved.

The dash buttons have a nice tactile feel, and the buttons are fringed in grippy rubber. The steering wheel - plastic in the S, and leather-wrapped in the Si snd SLi - is thick-rimmed and easy to grip.

It looks a little fussy with audio and Bluetooth phone controls on one side, and cruise control on the other, but the buttons are all easy to reach and use.

Small-item storage is generous. There’s a traditional handbrake that eats into the centre console, but forward of it is a big, lidded bucket that holds a pair of 12-volt sockets and the USB and auxiliary inputs for the stereo.

There’s two good-sized drink holders stacked fore and aft of each other, while down the back, a lidded box provides extra storage options. The glovebox is a good size, too.

Door pockets are there, but aside from holding a drink bottle, they have a narrow opening and are really up to holding only paperwork.

The Cerato’s rear seats are good, too. The door opening is generous and headroom is adequate even for taller passengers despite the coupe-like profile.

A centre armrest hides a pair of cupholders, and the split-fold seatbacks flip forward to open up the boot into useable extra luggage space.

The boot is typical small-car fare, with a wide, shallow opening and a tall lip. You need to open it via a lever beside the driver or the key fob on the entry-level S, but higher models also get a soft-touch boot release on the tailgate.

Goosewing hinges intrude into the space, so pack it carefully. For convenience, there’s a pair of levers mounted under the parcel shelf to unlock the seatbacks.

Kia chose a drive from Sydney to the Hunter Valley in New South Wales as the venue for the Cerato’s launch, with rough back roads challenging the Korean-made sedan.

We thought the 1.8-litre version paired with the six-speed automatic (it costs an extra $2000 over the default six-speed manual) made for a good combination.

The smaller engine in the base-model S is a faithful companion. The entry-level four-cylinder that replaces the old 2.0-litre powerplant may fall slightly in performance, but on the upside it helps with fuel economy, which on our drive dipped below 7.0L/100km.

It’s a good match with the car. While not stellar in performance, it generates enough power to keep up with city traffic, revving hard but smooth and willingly.

Perhaps it’s a direct result of the strict weight-loss program that Kia placed Cerato on despite its larger dimensions, but it feels like a bigger engine under the bonnet.

Owners will know it’s the cheaper car, though. The boot doesn’t have a soft-touch open button, so you’ll have to either use the folding key, or use the floor-mounted lever on the right side of the driver’s footwell.

The interior of the more upmarket Si is still as sharp-looking as the cheaper S, and improves on it with a leather-look instrument binnacle cover, a sliding centre armrest and the better-looking radio head unit.

The larger 2.0-litre engine available on the Si and SLi gains direct injection over its predecessor, and the result is a lot more power without a big hit on fuel economy, posting a figure around 7.8L/100km for the auto during our time behind the wheel.

The engine delivers, giving a good spread of torque once a few revs are on board, and builds speed quickly, although with a bit of a buzz in the higher reaches of the tacho.

The auto works well and is our pick of transmissions, with the six-speed manual feeling a bit sloppy across the gates and having a vague take-up point for the clutch.

Road-holding is good for what is an urban runabout, with the Cerato swallowing corners in its stride, even with a bit of spirited driving. Body roll is well contained, and the brakes have a light but progressive feel.

Generally speaking, the Cerato’s cabin is quite pleasant.

However, the roar from the Continental ContiSportContact tyres over coarse bitumen surfaces in both our mid-specification test cars was at times deafening, even drowning out the radio on the worst bits.

At higher revs, too, the 2.0-litre mill became a bit coarse, sending vibrations through the steering wheel as you asked it to dig a bit deeper into the power reserve.

Through the streets of Sydney our test car was fine, producing a firm yet reasonably compliant ride.

However, at highway speeds the ride became choppy, with the rear suspension juddering slightly as it recovered from the sharper hits on the road surface.

According to Kia, the Cerato Si was set up to give a much better urban ride with enhanced steering feel, although at the cost of some high-speed comfort.

As the S and Si share the same suspension set-up, the difference is down to the Continental and Nexen tyres.

The Continental tyres were also quite noisy over what was admittedly some of the worst coarse-chip road surfaces we’ve experienced. At urban speeds and over smoother surfaces, the noise is not an issue.

The Nexen tyres appeared to be quieter, although we’ll have to see how they perform on GoAuto’s test roads when the Cerato comes through the garage.

The variable steering worked well, with three levels of weight available via a steering wheel-mounted button. Flicking between them on a twisty bit of road, it’s easy to feel the wheel offering more resistance as you move from comfort to normal, to sport.

We didn’t get to drive the top-specification SLi - also fitted with Nexen rubber, although not the same low-rolling resistance composition as the entry-level S’s hoops - to gauge how it handled the lumps and bumps of country and city commuting, although we did get to sit in the front and rear seats to see how they stacked up.

The leather-clad pews are just as comfortable and supportive as their cloth versions, with plenty of adjustment from the electronics’ eight-way system.

The only grumble is the sunroof, which eats into front-seat headroom slightly.

The top-ranking Cerato also gets a couple of memory functions for the seat, mounted high on the door skin. It gets the same radio head unit as the mid-range car, although for $1000 Kia will soon be able to swap it for a seven-inch sat-nav system.

Cerato is a big generational change from the previous model, and now has much more consumer appeal than before.

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