After just five minutes behind the wheel of the Kia Cerato SLi hatchback, I’m already feeling the love.
Model tested: 2011 Kia Cerato SLi 5-door Hatchback 2.0-litre four-cylinder six-speed manual - $24,040 (Manufacturer’s List Price)
After just five minutes behind the wheel of the Kia Cerato SLi hatchback, I’m already feeling the love. It’s a combination of factors: the way this thing accelerates, the free spinning hot hatch style engine and exhaust note, and the short throw six-speed shifter – it’s a complete surprise.
Just a few years ago, Kia wasn’t exactly known for building the kind of cars you would call aspirational. In fact, it was very much considered the budget choice to sister brand Hyundai, who was riding the crest of a wave with its i30 hatch, which had all but re-set the small car benchmark.
Three years down the track, and it’s a whole different ball game. Kia now competes head-to-head with a raft of quality competitors including Hyundai, in a number of key market segments including the small car and compact SUV segments. Moreover there are more than a few folks among the motoring press who reckon Kia has the better vehicle in both the current Sportage, and the all-new Kia Optima.
There’s also a lot to like about the latest addition to the Cerato family. Look closely as the smooth skin and subtle lines on this hatchback and something tells me that former Audi design guru Peter Schreyer may well have waved his magic wand over this car.
Some might even say that the Cerato hatch has been blessed with several styling cues from the Audi A3 Sportback. While that might be a bit of a stretch, back-to-back, there are certain visual similarities in the side panels and shape of the wrap-around taillight assembly that simply cannot be dismissed.
While it might be an entirely practical five-door hatch, there’s a definite skew with the Cerato towards a performance look. The rear diffuser with semi integrated exhaust tip, along with its mesh grille and front skirt, highlight that.
There are few if any sharp edges around the car either, and even the wing mirrors have been rounded off for a more aerodynamic look. It doesn’t stop there either, with a set of 17-inch ‘double five-spoke’ alloys rounding off the sporty look of the Cerato hatch.
This is a truly significant car for Kia, as it marks the point where Schreyer’s design influence was initially realised, and when the brand became a more attractive proposition from a styling perspective, rather than just on price and kit alone.
You’re right, 115kW and 194Nm might seem downright coma inducing to any aspiring young motoring enthusiast, but take it from me: the Cerato hatch is a lot better than what those figures might suggest.
Even with the air-conditioning at full tilt (it was close to 40 degrees outside when I collected this press car) the Cerato’s in-gear acceleration was more hot hatch class style, than any five-door shopping trolley has any right to be.
It’s not just this 2.0-litre engine’s willingness to spin up the rev range so effortlessly that surprises. It’s as much about the spring loaded short throw shifter, which allows you to zip up and down through all six forward gear ratios that makes this unlikely hatch such a hoot to drive.
Despite the fact that the manual Cerato is fitted with ‘high’ top gear ratios as an ‘overdrive’ function for better fuel efficiency, there’s no shortage of mid-range torque in those gears. In fact, there’s plenty of punch in fifth and even sixth from 3000 rpm for high speed overtakes on the freeway.
It’s not all roses though; there are one or two niggling issues I found during week we had the test car. The clutch is light and has a high take up point, so you’ll get used to that before gear changes become smooth and seamless. The problem is that unless you maintain between 2700-3000rpm up to the shift point, there is somewhat of a power/torque gap if you jump back on the throttle with any degree of vengeance. It seems the best way to avoid this characteristic is to feed in the power gently.
For suburban duties I found the gear ratios well spaced, and it’s only on rare occasions that you’ll need to engage fifth or sixth, as fourth is a particularly versatile gear with a sufficiently wide power band.
It’s not just the performance of the Cerato SLi that excites the heart; it’s the hot hatch style exhaust growl that you’ll want to listen to, time and time again.
Kia has gained a bit of reputation lately for getting the chassis tune down pat for Australian conditions. The new Kia Sportage and Optima are prime examples of that, but it all started with the current Cerato.
It’s a very rewarding experience as you thread together a series of s-bends from behind the wheel of the Cerato – it just feels so utterly planted, and hot hatch-like that it’s hard not to think of it as such. This is one of those small cars you feel compelled to push a little harder. There’s precious little ‘tip’ or body roll on turn in through the bends too; Kia engineers have well and truly sorted the suspension out on this car.
The Cerato responds quickly to steering inputs, but that’s also a product of a high level of torsional rigidity that’s been built into the body of this car. You can feel that stiffness through those same s-bends - it’s very well behaved for a car that isn’t supposed to be anything more than reasonably priced five-door hatch.
There’s a lot of grip from these 215/45 series Kumho tyres, and the 17-inch alloys are a good fit for the Cerato.
With such a skew towards sports performance, particularly in the handling department, you might be forgiven for thinking that ride comfort has been compromised. Not so. It’s not quite as supple as Hyundai’s i30, a little firmer perhaps, but there’s still a level of compliance that successfully irons out the patchwork roads in Sydney.
I’m not usually a big fan of electric power steering, as they generally require considerable effort and skill to correctly calibrate for that natural steering feel you get from hydraulic power assistance, but this one is just right. There’s good weight from dead centre when travelling at a reasonable pace, but the load lightens up nicely for tight parking manoeuvres.
Whoever designed the interior of the Cerato most surely is an enthusiast of sorts as the pedal set up is near enough to perfect for heel and toe shifting.
Inside, it’s the same quality story, with comfortable seats, although more bolster would be a welcome improvement. That said, there’s a proper leather bound sports steering wheel with remote buttons for cruise control, audio and Bluetooth phone, but the centrepiece is the oversize sports style speedometer.
As the top spec manual Cerato, the SLi has enough metal look accents throughout the console and trim to feel that little bit special, and all the switchgear is laid out in an uncluttered pattern and functions are easily accessed while driving. The only negative I can spot inside the cabin, is the fact that there’s no soft touch material on the dashboard, as you would find in the Hyundai i30.
Like most hatches these days, the Cerato has a tonne of practical load space, with all the convenience of split fold second row seats, and a particularly cavernous boot space with extra depth.
There’s a reasonable inventory of kit on board too, but none more important than a decent sound system with iPod connectivity, although you’ll need to purchase the proprietary cable from Kia so that you can change tracks and play lists via the steering wheel buttons. Bluetooth handsfree is also a standard fit item on Cerato models.
Cerato Hatch gets the full suite of active and passive safety gear including ABS brakes with EBD and BA, ESP with TCS, rear parking sensors and six airbags with active front headrests.
This is no ordinary hatch. The Cerato SLi is a very enjoyable car in so many ways, and it’s all-round performance will surprise you.
RRP list (5-Door Hatchback) Si Manual $20,240 Si Automatic $22,240
SLi Manual $24,040 SLi Automatic $26,240
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS 2011 Kia Cerato 5-door Hatchback
Body & Chassis Five-door, five-seater hatchback with all-steel unitary construction bodyshell. Fitted with a transversely-mounted gasoline engine driving the front wheels via a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.
Petrol Engine 2.0-litre / 114.7kW Name Theta II (4-inline) Type DOHC, four-cylinder, with CVVT Capacity 2.0-litres, 1998cc Max power 115kW @ 6200rpm Max torque 194Nm @ 4300rpm
Transmissions 2.0 MT 2.0 AT Type 6-sp 6-sp
Suspension & Damping Front Fully independent by MacPherson struts, with coil springs and gas-filled shock absorbers. Anti-roll stabiliser bar. Rear Coupled torsion beam rear axle, with coil springs and gas-filled shock absorbers.
Steering Standard Type Electric (motor driven) power-assisted rack and pinion Gearing 2.80 turns lock-to-lock / 2.68 (with 17-inch wheels) Turning circle 10.32 metres / 10.78 metres (with 17-inch wheels)
Brakes Front 280 x 26 mm ventilated discs Rear 262 x 10 mm solid discs ABS 4-Channel anti-lock system with EBD ESC Electronic Stability Control with TCS
Wheels & Tyres Standard Steel 15 in x 6.5J 195/65 R15 tyres SLi model Alloy 17 in x 7.0J 215/45 R17 tyres
DIMENSIONS (mm) Exterior Overall length 4340 Overall width 1775 (excl. door mirrors) Overall height 1460 Wheelbase 2650 Front overhang 895 Rear overhang 795 Front track 1557 Rear track 1564
Interior Front Rear Headroom 1015 975 Legroom 1100 890 Shoulder room 1415 1390 Hip room 1345 1355
Capacities 2.0 MT 2.0 AT Fuel tank (litres) 52.0 52.0 Luggage (VDA) 385 litres (all seats upright)
Weights (kg) Curb weight (min.)1302 1328 Gross weight 1760 1780
Performance Top speed / kph 190 190 0-to-100 kph / sec 9.1 9.8
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km)* Overall 7.5/7.7 CO2 g/km 179/183
*Combined ADR81/02, figures based on 15-inch tyre equipped vehicles.