Car reviews - Kia - Cerato - Sport sedan
Spacious, comfortable, cabin quality, great multimedia system, value, long warranty
Room for improvement
Coarse engine, frustrating transmission, poor rear cabin storage, awful cruise control, four-star ANCAP rating
The Kia Cerato Sport is a worthy, good-value small sedan but needs a better engine
1 Jul 2019
THE Kia Cerato is one of those quiet achievers gnawing its way into the consciousness of Australian small-car buyers.
And deservedly so. Even toward the end of its lifecycle, the previous-generation Cerato remained an attractive buy across almost every measure, and, apart from being a little off the pace in terms of active safety tech, it still represented a lot of car for the money.
The new-generation model tested here seemed to come along so quickly that we couldn’t help but wonder if Kia was risking a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. It’s certainly not the first time we’ve had this thought with a Kia, the Sportage mid-size SUV being a case in point.
After a week driving the new Cerato Sport sedan, we did experience a bit of disappointment déjà vu, but the sheer value for money on offer here snapped us quickly back to reality.
Price and equipment
Kia has seemingly achieved the impossible giving the fourth-generation Cerato a starting price of $20,990 plus on-road costs, especially considering that even the base S variant features a lovely 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity plus DAB+ digital radio and a heap of safety gear such as forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning with lane-keep assist, front and rear parking sensors, driver attention detection, tyre pressure monitoring, a reversing camera and hill-start assist.
For $25,790, the Sport variant tested here comes with a six-speed automatic transmission as standard and adds satellite navigation with SUNA live traffic updates and 10 years’ free map updates, a heated leather-trimmed steering wheel (hide is used on the gear selector knob, too), more soft-touch cabin trim, quieter wipers, higher-grade cloth upholstery and 17-inch alloys to replace the entry-level’s 16-inch steelies.
Other standard equipment includes Bluetooth connectivity, voice control, a six-speaker sound system, a 3.5-inch monochrome multi-function display, two USB ports and one 12V power outlet, dusk-sensing halogen headlights, halogen daytime running lights, rear fog lights, manual air-conditioning, heated power-adjustable door mirrors and power windows all round.
The only downgrade we can see on the spec sheet is the fact a space-saver wheel has replaced the previous model’s full-size spare.
Options comprise $520 metallic paint and a $1000 safety pack that upgrades the AEB to include pedestrian and cyclist detection while adding adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and folding door mirrors.
Kia has markedly improved the Cerato cabin for this latest generation, our Sport variant featuring a clear, clutter-free and logical dashboard layout with plenty of stitched-look soft-touch finishes, pleasantly textured hard plastics and decent-feeling contrast-stitched upholstery.
It’s all solidly put together and we especially enjoyed the satisfying twist-click action of the circular outer air-conditioning vents that are clearly influenced by the flagship Stinger sports sedan. The steering wheel is arguably nicer in here than the much more expensive Stinger, too.
Tombstone-style touchscreens protruding from dashboards seem as though they are here to stay and we reckon the Cerato has one of the best-executed examples so far. Kia has placed neat row of shortcut buttons and a pair of control knobs below a great-looking display unit, rather than messily cascading buttons down both sides as per the Hyundai i30 and Toyota Corolla.
The latest Ford Focus has an eerily similar touchscreen setup to the Cerato, but we’ll give Kia credit for revealing theirs first. The Cerato’s multimedia unit is as typically slick and easy to use as we’ve come to expect from Kia, with a good depth of functionality and the welcome inclusion of smartphone mirroring for Apple or Android devices.
As usual for Kia, there’s a simple and clear instrument panel with plenty of trip-computer functions and a digital speed readout plus consistently tactile switchgear that is logically grouped and clearly labelled throughout.
We found the seats comfortable for long journeys and a great driving position easy to achieve. The glove box is large and the two-tiered tray in the centre stack is great as it can hold two big smartphones while both are being charged using the conveniently located pair of USB sockets. Another USB point is found in a handy but quite small bin beneath the central armrest.
The door bins are too small to hold bottles of more than 500ml in capacity, but the cupholders are wide enough to do so and have sprung clasps to grip smaller vessels such as takeaway coffees. A useful sunglasses holder is provided in the ceiling. We were disappointed by the lack of map pockets in the Cerato, leaving rear passengers short-changed on storage with small door bins that are unable to hold bottles, along with a pair of cupholders located in the fold-down centre armrest.
Legroom for a quartet of six-footers is ample in the Cerato sedan, although if those in the back sit upright rather than slouch, their heads will brush the ceiling. It’s not unfeasible for another adult to sit in the rear-central position, either, due to the relatively comfy flat seat base.
We struggled all week with opening the boot of our Cerato, thinking it was only possible via remote release on the key fob or a toggle deep in the driver’s footwell. Apparently, there is a release switch integrated with the reversing camera on the boot lid. For people who don’t study the user manual – as in almost everybody – that’s a design fail.
The boot itself is big, though, providing a generous 502 litres of space – 20L more than the previous Cerato sedan.
For a long time, adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist tended to be bundled together. In lower-grade Cerato variants such as the Sport, these technologies have been decoupled and it was at first strange to feel the car steering itself along the motorway but the cruise control not responding to the changes in speed of other traffic.
Our Cerato’s cruise control was also poor at keeping to the set speed, running away with itself down even hills and lagging then surging up hills. It was so bad, even on relatively level motorways, that we stopped using it altogether. In fact, we found it easier to use the speed limiter!
Lane-keep assist and lane departure warning work well, though, with the latter alerting the driver through vibrations in the steering wheel.
Road and wind noise are impressively subdued, and we only really suffered from the boomy, coarse engine note. A bit of rumble was caused by coarse-chip country roads but thankfully the Cerato Sport’s sound system was more than acceptable, and the cabin never got noisy enough for us to endure the muddy audio quality generated at higher volume settings.
Engine and transmission
The drivetrain felt like the weakest link in our Cerato Sport. It’s a carryover unit from the third-generation model, being 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol producing 112kW of power at 6200rpm and 192Nm of torque at 4000rpm.
So, it’s thrashy and noisy, which we’ve come to expect from Kia’s four-cylinder engines but had hoped for more refinement in this new model. It also has 19kg more weight to pull along than before.
Even worse, in urban and suburban driving, the six-speed automatic transmission was nowhere near the brand’s usually incredibly high standards of slickness and intuitive calibration. We found it to be hesitant and indecisive, randomly selecting a lower gear and making that unpleasantly coarse-sounding engine rev unnecessarily.
Unfortunately, the engine regularly needs revs to keep up with traffic, especially on hills. It’s far from an effortless experience. This lack of responsiveness conspired to make the Cerato Sport a disappointing drive in town, especially given the fact it is endowed by a keen turn-in and lively steering that should make it feel nippier and more fun.
News got a lot better beyond the city limits, where we could select Sport mode on the transmission and explore some twisty roads. It was much, much improved in this setting and environment and we rarely felt the need to take matters into our own hands by using the manual tip-shift.
But as with accelerating from standstill or tackling urban climbs, flogging the Cerato Sport along country lanes was to the accompaniment of that awful engine note.
Miraculously enough, our average fuel consumption during a week with the Cerato Sport was 7.2 litres per 100km, compared with an official combined-cycle rating of 7.6L/100km. This was achieved across mostly suburban errand-running, along with an 80km motorway trip and our dynamic twisty road test.
Ride and handling
We found the Cerato Sport’s ride quality to be immaculate and a credit to the Australian team that tuned the suspension set-up for local conditions and tastes. They’ve achieved something approaching big-car suppleness, isolation and maturity in this small sedan.
Similarly, the steering is beautifully faithful and intuitive, with a grin-inducingly keen turn-in that is so sharp it sometimes trips the stability control. Kia has also fitted some excellent brakes to this car, but despite these promising ingredients, the Cerato tackled the twisty country roads of our dynamic test in an unexciting manner.
The tyres were not great performers in the damp conditions of our dynamic test, and although we struggled with grip and traction, we never felt the Cerato was ever behaving in a wayward or unpredictable manner. It also dealt admirably with mid-corner ridges and bumps, recovering quickly and never being thrown off our intended line – although a series of sharp bends with a terrible patchwork surface did have the stability-control light flashing.
Kia has fitted four driving modes to the fourth-gen Cerato. It’s a bit quirky; selecting the Sport driving mode is only possible via selecting the S position on the gear selector gate, while Comfort, Eco and Smart are all available in D.
Comfort and Eco modes feel doughy and turgid, with Smart mode being much the same. Overall, we enjoyed driving in Sport mode the most, apart from its higher-revving nature causing more unpleasant engine noise intrusion.
Safety and servicing
Entry-level S and Sport variants of the Cerato have a four-star ANCAP rating because their camera-based autonomous can’t detect pedestrians and cyclists, but the Sport+ and GT have a more advanced system that can do those things, so both earn the full five stars.
As a result, the Cerato S and Sport scored 55 per cent in the vulnerable road user protection category and 71 per cent for safety assist, while the pricier Sport+ and GT respectively got 72 per cent and 73 per cent.
Kia offers a $1000 safety upgrade option pack that brings AEB performance of the S and Sport up to the level of the Sport+ and GT.
Our Sport variant had the less-capable forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking systems along with lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, cruise control, a speed limiter, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera and hill-start assist.
Other standard safety equipment comprises six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, plus electronic traction and stability control.
Kia supplies a seven year/unlimited-kilometre factory warranty for private buyers with a year of roadside assistance that can be upgraded to eight years if all scheduled servicing is done at a Kia dealership.
Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Capped-price servicing is available for up to seven years or 105,000km, with visits costing between $266 and $613 and averaging just under $410.
We found a lot to like in Kia’s box-ticking Cerato Sport sedan and it’s hard to make a logical case against one, apart from the four-star ANCAP safety rating.
It’s another great-looking Kia and cabin presentation now matches the stylish exterior, but the driving experience unfortunately doesn’t live up to its visual promise.
Perhaps the transmission in our car was a dud, or its logic had been scrambled by a previous tester’s weird driving style, because it really was odd. But for us, the biggest fly in the ointment remained that rough 2.0-litre petrol engine. At least it didn’t use heaps of fuel.
Still, considering the amount of equipment for the price and that excellent Kia aftercare package, you can forgive a few failings, such as the terrible cruise control that’s more hard work than just using your right foot.
We just felt as though there were a couple of missed opportunities here, given the fact this is a new model. And that’s how we felt when the current-generation Sportage first came out.
The good news is Kia has since improved that model, so there’s plenty of hope for the Cerato, too. If you can wait until the facelift. Déjà vu?
Subaru Impreza 2.0i sedan (from $22,880 plus on-road costs)
Even without considering the advantageous standard fitment of all-wheel drive, the Impreza is solid value for money, not to mention super spacious, well-built and enjoyable to drive.
Honda Civic VTi (from $22,390 plus on-road costs)
We like the way the latest Civic drives and the amount of cabin space and overall feel of robustness.
Hyundai Elantra Go automatic (from $23,790 plus on-road costs)
We’ve not driven the frankly funny-looking Elantra facelift, which has a smaller touchscreen, no DAB+ digital radio and steel wheels at a similar price point to the alloy-wearing Cerato Sport tested here.
Model release date: 1 June 2018
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