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First drive: Suave Cerato struts in

Looking good: Kia's new Cerato is a big leap forward for the Korean brand.

Kia reinvents its small-car contender to head-turning effect


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26 Jan 2009

“OUR new Cerato is better in every way than the car that it replaces. Equally important, it is ready to go head-to-head with the best vehicles in its class, in terms of power, fuel economy, interior space, safety and features.”

Kia’s words were not minced as the second-generation TD-series Cerato was launched in Melbourne last week, with sales starting in the first week of February.

It shares virtually nothing with the outgoing model except for its name, and even that was a close call as Kia toyed with using the Cerato’s Korean-market moniker Forte until memories of Ford’s unloved AU Falcon surfaced.

The Hyundai-owned subsidiary’s latest small car is seeking to seduce both hatchback and sedan buyers with a single three-box four-door bodystyle (for now) that emphasises European design, courtesy of former Volkswagen Group stylist Peter Schreyer, whose other credits include the 1999 Audi TT.

As a result, Kia hopes to emulate the success of the BK-series Mazda3 sedan – a model the Cerato out-rated, as it did with the current Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic sedans, in a Kia-commissioned US consumer styling clinic – albeit in the lower end of the ‘C’ segment, as the $18,990 price of the base Cerato S manual illustrates.

Equipped to eclipse all rivals, the entire Cerato range includes dual front, front-side and curtain airbags, four-wheel disc brakes, ABS brakes (with EBD and brake assist), active front head restraints, powered and heated door mirrors, power windows for all four doors, air-conditioning, MP3-compatible CD/radio audio (with a USB and iPod connectors), tilt- and reach-adjustable steering, remote central locking, a quintet of lap-sash seatbelts and a full-size spare wheel.

Electronic stability control is part of a $1000 option pack on the ‘S’ that also brings with it traction control and remote audio controls mounted on the steering wheel, as well as the previously standard-issue cruise control.

The top-line $22,990 Cerato SLi includes the option pack plus 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, climate-control air-con, different instrumentation, rear parking sensors, auto-on headlights, a trip computer, an external temperature display and more salubrious trimmings inside and out.

Automatic transmission adds another $2000 to both models, while metallic paint ups the ask to the tune of $300.

Kia claims hatchback buyers will be served by the forthcoming smaller B-segment Soul five-door (due in April), while the last quarter of 2009 will see the Cerato range extended with a two-door coupe that will probably be called the Koup.

These, along with the new sedan, effectively blocks any chance of the current-generation European-built Cee’d hatch models coming to Australia, as the local subsidiary has elected to stick with Kia’s Eastern Europe, Asian and US market small-car model line-up for the time being. However, a TD Cerato five-door hatch may eventuate.

Clean, proportioned styling is backed up by highly competitive aerodynamic qualities (including a 0.29Cd drag coefficient), in a vehicle that is 30mm longer at 4530mm, 40mm wider at 1775mm (exceeding the class norm) and 10mm lower at 1460mm than the previous LD Cerato sedan.

Kia has also stretched the wheelbase by 40mm to 2650mm, while the front and rear track – at 1557mm and 1564mm respectively – are wider for improved stance and roadholding.

The front-wheel drive platform is an amalgam of the Cee’d model’s MacPherson strut suspension system up front and an evolution of the Hyundai-Kia MC architecture in the rear, complete with new torsion beam rear suspension specifically designed for the TD Cerato.

Kia extols the space and weight-saving virtues, as well as improved rear-impact crashworthiness, of the latter, calling it a tried-and-true design also used by the Corolla, (current) Opel/Holden Astra and Nissan Tiida, among other small-car rivals.

Interestingly, the previous Cerato used a semi-independent multi-link rear suspension that was based on the 2000-2005 Hyundai XD Elantra’s.

Class-leading boot space is the upshot of being suspended by a torsion beam, with the 415-litre capacity outshining the LD Cerato, Civic, Corolla and Mazda3 sedans’ volume by 61, 75, 30 and 89 litres respectively.

Kia says front legroom and overall shoulder room are best in class, rear legroom matches many medium sedan contenders, and that wide-opening doors aid entry and egress.

Moving forward, the engine is a revamped version of Kia’s ‘Theta’ four-cylinder petrol engine.

Dubbed Theta II and touted as providing the performance of a 200cc larger powerplant, this 1975cc 2.0-litre twin-cam 16-valve Euro IV-compliant unit includes continuously variable valve timing to help produce 115kW of power at 6200rpm and 194Nm of torque at 4300rpm. This contrasts to the LD Cerato’s 105kW and 186Nm outputs.

The five-speed manual version can sprint to 100km/h from standstill in 9.3 seconds (1.2 seconds ahead of the new, lighter four-speed automatic gearbox, which comes complete with a sequential shift function Kia calls Sportsmatic), on the way to a 200km/h top speed (auto: 190km/h).

Fuel consumption is a mixed bag, with the manual rated at 7.8L/100km (auto: 7.9L/100km) in the combined average run on standard 91 RON unleaded, when the old car did it in 7.6L and 8.2L/100km for the manual and auto respectively.

The TD Cerato’s CO2 rating is 186g/km (auto: 187g/km), elevating the series to an Australian Government’s Green Vehicle Guide figure of 4.5 stars out of five.

No diesel engine is slated for TD for now, but Kia says it would love to offer a CRDi version take on the successful Hyundai i30 CRDi.

Other mechanical news includes larger disc brakes than previously, measuring 280mm up front and 262mm out back, hydraulic rack and pinion steering with 2.89 turns lock to lock for a 10.32m turning circle in the 15-inch wheeled Cerato S and 2.77 turns for a 10.78m turning circle in the 17-inch alloy wheeled SLi.

Kia also claims its engineers aimed at matching the class leaders in the area of NVH (noise, vibration and harshness). Aiding this has been the strategic use of thicker gauge steel.

No crash test result is available as yet, but Kia says internal results indicate “at least a four-star rating”.

Kia calls the TD its ‘transformation’ vehicle, and so expects considerably more buyers than the 1729 that purchased the LD last year. A target of 3000 is the official figure for 2009, but “challenging” the top three sellers (Corolla, Mazda3 and Mitsubishi Lancer) is the longer-term goal, meaning that a 10-fold sales increase is needed to catch the third-placed Lancer’s 2008 total of 19,699 units.

The model mix is split about 70/30 in the base model’s favour, although Kia says it would not be surprised if the SLi pushed the figure to 60/40, helped along by the Cerato’s European styling, high specification and five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty.

“The Cerato heralds a brand-new era for Kia,” a company spokesman said.

Since its Korean launch in the middle of last year as the Forte, the TD Cerato has exceeded all expectations. Australia is only the second country to receive the car, with the all-important North American market having to wait until mid-year before it goes on sale as the Spectra.

Speaking of which, the previous Cerato served as the 2004 replacement for the 2001 FB Spectra, which was itself a facelift of the 1998 Shuma – also known as the second-generation Mentor (or Sephia in some countries), which succeeded the 1994 original that spearheaded the introduction of Korea’s oldest car brand (since 1944) to Australia in 1996.

Barring the Cerato, these were all pre-Hyundai ownership models that were based on ancient Mazda 323 mechanicals, as a result of a tie-up with the Ford Motor Company that also saw the Kia-built Festiva sold in Australia until 2000.

2009 Kia Cerato pricing:
Cerato S (a) $20,990
Cerato S $18,990
Cerato S (Option Pack) (a) $21,990
Cerato S (Option Pack) $19,990
Cerato SLi (a) $24,990
Cerato SLi $22,990

Read more:

Kia eyes Cerato, Soul and Sorento

Sydney show: Cerato makes it debut

First look: Kia reveals Cerato's successor

GoAuto can help you buy a new Cerato

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