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Car reviews - Kia - Cerato - Si

Our Opinion

We like
Value, packaging, performance, huge cabin, excellent multimedia system, long warranty, 12-month service intervals
Room for improvement
Engine coarse when extended, thick pillars, no AEB availability

Gallery

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Kia logo22 Sep 2016

Price and equipment

KIA is on the rise in Australia, and is especially strong in the SUV sphere, with both the Sorento and now Sportage sitting near the top of their respective classes. And it’s not just because of low prices and long warranties.

The Cerato, though, is from a slightly older set of vehicles, with the YD series first surfacing over three years ago and counting. Good but not great, that third-generation car was at least a leap forward over any previous Kia small car.

Back in May a substantial facelift arrived, ushering in a squared-off nose, restyled tail-lights, revisions to the powertrains, suspension, cabin materials, multimedia systems and – on the higher-end Si – advanced driver-assist safety inclusions like blind-spot detection (BSD) with lane-change and rear cross-traffic alerts (RCTA), with the $32,490 SLi flagship also gaining lane-departure and forward collision warnings.

So while we’ve long held the view that the base S was always the best value, especially at $19,990 driveaway for the auto, would the latest improvements and upgrades elevate the Cerato beyond the ordinary?To find out, we’re driving the Si auto at $28,990 plus on-road costs, and it already starts from behind the eight ball, because the smart-looking facelift has also seen a rationalisation of engine choices, meaning that the same 2.0-litre engine powers every version.

Additionally, the Cerato’s pricing and spec structure isn’t compelling enough for buyers to spend more. Consider that while the entry-level S includes six airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, foglights, front and rear parking sensors, electronic stability and traction control, hill-start assist.

reach/rake adjustable steering, driver’s seat height adjustment, heated/electric mirrors, cruise control, trip computer, power windows, two 12-volt sockets, USB inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, air-conditioning, and full-sized spare, it’s only a $500 step up to the S ‘AV’ version’s audio/visual upgrade that adds a 7.0-inch touchscreen with rearview camera, Android Auto smartphone simulation, and auto on/off headlights.

If you fancy allow wheels, sat-nav, and slightly more appealing interior trim, there’s the S Premium for a hefty $4500 more, while our Si’s leather upholstery, rear-seat air vents, keyless entry/start, power-folding mirrors, illuminated sunvisor mirrors, BSD, and RCTA ramp pricing up by another $4K.

However that still doesn’t include items you might expect in a $29K small car, such as 17-inch alloys, paddle shifters, dual-zone climate control, and LED daytime running lights, requiring a jump up to the SLi, which also throws in a sunroof, power-adjustable driver’s seat (with heating and ventilation), seat heating for the front passenger, HID High Intensity Discharge headlights, auto-dipping rearview mirror, lane departure warning and forward collision warning.

As with all Kia passenger vehicles, the warranty is an industry-leading seven-years with unlimited kilometres and road-side assist.

Note that AEB Autonomous Emergency Braking is not available on any model.

Interior

First seen in late 2012 internationally, the current Cerato’s interior remains modern, spacious, and airy, with more room than in most rival small cars, a fine driving position, plenty of ventilation, ample storage options and an attention to build quality that’s up there with the better brands.

Except for vision-inhibiting fat windscreen pillars, it is a paragon of user-friendliness.

Everything that Kia changed for the makeover is for the better too, with a near-flawless touchscreen multimedia system being among the world’s best for clarity and operation, backed up by crystal-clear instrument markings (with a digital speedo at last), and a much more attractive steering wheel with easy-to-decipher controls.

But this is the $29K model, remember, and it soon becomes clear that the Si’s up-market pretensions are just that. There’s no hiding the dreary monochromatic dash covering, cheap plastic trim, unsightly front passenger airbag cover, the leather feels like vinyl, and flat-feeling seat cushions. That’s when the $8500 premium over the S ‘AV’ pack seems steep.

That said, rear-seat occupants at least enjoy a nicely raked backrest, face-level air vents, map pockets, armrest with cupholders, windows that power all the way down, overhead grab handles and reading lights. And, as with the S sedan we tested back in August 2013, a couple of riders thought the Cerato as a Camry rival (even if the rear-centre spot might be misery for taller folk).

Further back, a 421-litre boot brings length and girth but not really as much depth as the big caboose’s silhouette promises, sadly, though the low loading height and large aperture do allow easy access, aided by a 60/40 backrests.

So the Cerato can certainly cut the mustard as a compact family sedan.

Engine and transmission

Powered by a 112kW/192Nm 2.0-litre twin-cam four-cylinder petrol powerplant, the Si’s sole transmission choice is a six-speed automatic transmission.

Endowed with more than sufficient off-the-line acceleration and overtaking oomph, this is a reasonably quiet unit as long as you are not revving it too hard. At 100km/h in top gear, it is barely turning over 2000rpm. But accessing all that power and torque does bring penalties – namely somewhat raucous mechanical and exhaust responses (things get a bit gruff past about 4000rpm all the way to the 6000rpm red line), as well as mildly disappointing fuel economy – we struggled to better 9.0 litres per 100km in a combination of urban and highway driving. The official combined average is 7.1L/100km.

Testing the newfound Drive Mode doesn’t liven things up in Sport in any way that we could ascertain, with the auto feeling just as lazy in its reactions to throttle inputs there as in Eco and Normal. At least it’s smooth and quiet.

Ride and handling

Kia says the Australian-market suspension tune brings stiffer springs for a better ride and handling compromise, as well as improved shock absorber compliance.

On the steering side of things, weight and feel are also said to have undergone beneficial changes, chiefly due to an upgraded motor, more powerful electronic brainpower, and increased stiffness to the column shaft, bushings, and steering gear.

Compared to the last car, there is certainly greater weight and response for the driver to sink their teeth into, with an easy and progressive attitude through corners, underwritten by planted and secure roadholding. Plus, we applaud the abolition of the weirdly too-light/too-heavy Flex Steer system, which, with its Comfort, Normal, and Sport modes, ought to have been renamed Coma, Numb, and Workout. Good riddance.

But despite a palpably better connection between the car and driver, the steering still feels artificial and remote, though the cheapo Nexen tyres might have something to do with that too.

And we’re not convinced that the ride is all it could be either. The newly refettled suspension at low speed feels isolating and supple, and that’s great for around the ‘burbs that this car will mostly inhabit, but above, say, 40km/h, there seems to be too much firmness, as if there is a deficit in spring/damper rebound. All that round-town cushiness is lost. Pity.

Lastly, and further eroding its lofty price positioning argument, the Si isn’t that quiet in terms of road or tyre noise suppression, and again the standard rubber might be the reason why. Not very satisfactory in a car that competes against the comparatively serene (yet substantially more appealing dynamically) Volkswagen Golf, Peugeot 308, Ford Focus and Honda Civic.

Safety and servicing

The latest Cerato achieves a five-star ANCAP crash-test safety rating.

Along with the aforementioned seven-year’s worth of unlimited kilometre warranty complete with roadside assistance, it also offers a 12-month/15,000km service interval schedule, as well as published servicing prices.

Verdict

Roomy, capable, safe, and easy, as well as enticing to own thanks to excellent aftersales care, the latest Cerato is finding favour among small-car buyers seeking value and peace of mind, and we can certainly understand why.

However, with fierce and unrelenting rivals like the Golf, 308, and Mazda3 to contend with, the South Korean small car remains an adequate rather than a superior proposition. In areas of refinement, comfort, dynamics and efficiency, the Kia is showing its age.

Indeed, the Cerato only works most convincingly at the bottom end of the range, so we recommend the S (but spring an extra $500 for the ‘AV’ touchscreen with reversing camera pack), and pocket the savings.

But on the strength of Kia’s SUVs, the next-gen version ought to be a cracker.

Rivals

Honda Civic VTi-L Sedan from $27,790 plus on-roads
New from the ground-up, the 10th-gen Civic is a top choice thanks to effortless (if rowdy) 1.5-turbo performance, fine steering, a dynamic and sorted chassis, and superb ride. But AEB isn’t offered in cheaper models. Still, roomy, agile, and refined, Civic is back.

Mazda3 Touring Sedan from $27,390 plus on-roads
Excellent value and lacking for nothing in terms of power, dynamics, and equipment availability (including standard AEB), the recently facelifted Mazda3 in Touring guise is a great all-rounder – though it can get noisy and requires six-monthly service intervals.

Ford Focus Trend Sedan from $24,390 plus on-roads
Except for no AEB, the Trend offers virtually everything the others do for less, with more power, superb handling, and exceptional ride suppleness to boot. Strong, stirring, and great value, this is one of Australia’s most underrated small cars. One for the enthusiast.

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