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First drive: Kia Cerato hits highs and lows

Priced to sell: new small Kia sells from an introductory, bargain-basement $18,990 driveaway - with air-conditioning!

Kia replaces Spectra with its all-new Cerato sedan in the cut-throat small car class

2 Jul 2004

WHILE the history of Korean brand Kia has been increasingly successful here over the last few years, it has only had brief moments in time where its small car attack has made sense, let alone been a triumph.

There’s been Mentor, Shuma and Spectra all sold by Kia in the Aussie market over the last eight years and some times more than one nameplate at the same time.

But diversity didn’t spell domination for Kia.

While Carnival has become the key player in the people-mover segment and Rio a worthy contender in the budget end of the market, Kia’s various small sedans and hatches have been mere bit players against the likes of the Toyota Corolla, Holden Astra and Nissan Pulsar.

Even the Elantra sold by parent Hyundai has eclipsed Kia’s fading entrants ever-more comfortably.

Now that may change courtesy of the Cerato sedan, which offers Kia a whole new opportunity in the small car battlefield.

Now Kia isn’t expecting instant miracles from Cerato, for a start the lack of a hatch will limit it, that variant not starting production in right-hand drive form until the end of the year and therefore not even possible for Australia until 2005.

Even then Kia is talking about it being a performance version only with a variable valve timing (CCVT) version of the Cerato’s 2.0-litre engine.

So it’s no surprise Kia put a conservative monthly 300 sales target on Cerato - just 10 per cent of Corolla monthly sales - although there are a couple of reasons to suspect it will surpass that. In fact, that forecast has since been uprated to 400 sales per month.

For a start there’s nothing avantegarde or experimental here. Cerato has straight-forward, no-frills styling, and ditto for the technology. It shares its front-wheel drive platform and 2.0-litre engine with the aforementioned Hyundai.

Secondly, and just as importantly, it offers exceptional value for money in the typical Kia tradition.

That particularly applies for an as yet undefined period after this month’s launch, with the five-speed manual Cerato pitched into the fight at $18,990 drive-away with air-conditioning.

The four-speed automatic adds another $2000.

If you miss out on the opening deal you can expect the pricing to stay the same, but with the addition of on-road costs.

There is only one grade and standard equipment list is impressive for the price - whichever price you end up with. Cruise control, front and rear electric windows, remote central locking, CD player with six speakers, heated power mirrors, twin front airbags and lap-sash belts all-round are standard.

17 center imageThat lot adds up pretty well against the class heavyweights, where a combination of sub-$20,000 drive-away pricing and air-conditioning is up to you to try and haggle out of your dealer rather than accept as part of the price list these days.

Outstanding price to one side, the Cerato is very much conservative and recognizable fare. The Hyundai-Kia family "Beta" double overhead camshaft 16-valve engine produces 101kW at 6000rpm and 182Nm at 4000rpm, both figures just a touch off the Elantra.

It’s still good enough for Kia to claim a 0-100km/h dash time in 10.5 seconds and a top speed of 205km/h where the law permits.

While Kia claims the automatic is just as quick as the manual to 100km/h and only marginally behind over the quarter-mile because it uses fuzzy logic control to adapt to drivers’ throttle behaviour, the self-shifter is still not smart enough to match the manual on fuel consumption.

For the record, the manual delivers 8.9L/100km on the ADR 82/l test, while the auto clocks in at 9.3L/100km. Broadly indicative only of course, but in these times of expensive fuel attractive enough.

Suspension is via MacPherson struts up-front and by multi-links at the rear, steering is via engine-speed sensitive rack and pinion while stopping power is provided by disc brakes all-round, but ABS is one unfortunate omission from the standard equipment list.

ABS is a special request option which would take three months to deliver. Australian Kia importer Ateco Automotive could not quote a price.

In terms of the numbers, the Cerato is ahead of its predecessor on all vital measurements - longer overall and in wheelbase, wider and heavier. It is, unfortunately - but unsurprisingly - heavier also, weighing in either side of 1300kg depending on transmission choice.

Cerato is the first all-new model Kia to be rolled out in Australia this year, we’ve already seen an update of the Rio and the return of the Optima mid-size sedan and next up will be the second generation Sportage compact off-roader, which arrives around Sydney motor show time in October.

All that makes Kia’s ambition to grow from 17,235 sales in 2003 to 25,000 in 2004 eminently achievable.

GoAuto can help you buy a new Cerato

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