The third-generation Kia Cerato is aiming to signal the end of the road for dowdy four-door compact sedans.
With its tight proportions and swooping lines, the Cerato is the latest strong design from Peter Schreyer and draws heavily on the company’s mid-sized Optima, showcasing the same clean lines and plenty of newfound panache.
The Kia Cerato is offered in three in three trims, from the entry-level 1.8L Cerato S that’s a fleet favourite at $19,990, to the $27,990 range-topping 2.0L SLi.
All three variants are generously equipped. Kia has loaded up the Cerato with standards such as front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, foglights, Bluetooth phone and music streaming, electric front and rear windows, remote central locking and a six-speaker audio.
The mid-spec 2.0-litre Kia Cerato Si we’re testing here is priced from $23,990 and adds a 4.3-inch touchscreen LCD display with rear-view camera, auto headlights, push-button start, and electric outside door mirrors with automatic folding function, along with 16-inch alloy wheels.
As the range-topper, the SLi gains 17-inch alloys with larger 215/45 series tyres, leather trim, heated front seats, electrically adjustable driver’s seat with memory and ventilation, LED daytime running lights, Xenon headlamps, dual-zone climate control, sunroof and auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
There’s also a satellite navigation pack available with the SLi model only, which adds $1000 to the price tag and includes a 7-inch touchscreen, DVD player and satellite navigation multimedia system with SUNA live traffic updates.
With the new-generation Kia Cerato currently only offered as a sedan, its market rivals range from the (closely related) Hyundai Elantra to the Ford Focus, Holden Cruze, Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Nissan Pulsar, Subaru Impreza and Toyota Corolla.
However, the launch of a hatch version shortly and a coupe to follow before the end of the year, the Cerato is poised to occupy all corners of the small car segment.
Like the majority of vehicles in the segment, the Kia Cerato’s interior feels more of a medium-size experience than that of a compact sedan, able to effectively ferry around five adults in relative comfort.
But while there’s ample stretch-out space, it’s worth mentioning it’s nowhere near the space offered in the extraordinarily generous Nissan Pulsar.
Regardless, the cloth seats are suitably well bolstered and particularly comfortable even after long stints behind the wheel.
Boot space is also on the large side, with 421 litres available and expandable with the 60:40 split-fold rear seats.
We also like the ergonomics of the Kia Cerato, particularly the driver-focused dash with the centre stack and heating controls gently angled towards the driver.
The steering wheel is nice and tactile, and adjustable for both tilt and reach. There’s plenty of adjustability in the driver’s seat, too, though it’s manual in the Si trim (electric in the SLi only).
Materials-wise the latest Cerato is a big improvement on the old. Soft-touch plastics cover most of the surfaces regularly touched by passengers, though we’re not so sure about the faux-carbonfibre accents on the dash which look a bit out of place, if not pretentious.
On the tech front, the 4.3-inch screen seems a tad small by today’s standards, but it is functional and fast, with the Cerato’s Bluetooth pairing system particularly easy to use for streaming audio.
Two petrol engine variants are presented: the base S model gets the older 1.8-litre four-cylinder, good for 110kW/178Nm, both the Si and SLi models are equipped with the latest direct-injection 2.0-litre engine that make 129kW of power and 209Nm of torque.
Performance is better than you might expect for a compact sedan, especially with the smooth shift action of the standard six-speed manual transmission. Choosing the automatic adds another $2000 to the price.
It’s a free-revving engine that provides decent acceleration off the line, but sings its best tune above 3000rpm where the Cerato gets along with a certain degree of spirit and is genuinely fun to drive.
Fuel consumption isn’t bad, either, with our manual Cerato test car managing marginally less than the official 7.4L/100km over the week.
There’s also a certain refinement about the Cerato, with engine noise inside the cabin kept to a minimum even at high revs.
Apart from noise insulation, the Kia Cerato also benefits from the localised steering and suspension tuning that Kia Australia undertook during the car’s development.
The electric steering has a good feel to it – quick, with a decent level of feedback and variably weighted via Kia’s ‘Flexsteer’ system, which allows the driver to choose between three modes; comfort, normal and sport.
It’s likewise good news with the Cerato’s ride quality. The suspension tune strikes a nice balance between comfort and performance, with sufficient compliance to iron out large bumps yet relatively capable in the bends.
Body roll is well contained even at pace, though not quite as composed as the Ford Focus or Mazda 3, which both benefit from the more sophisticated multi-link set-up over the Cerato’s cheaper torsion beam rear suspension.
Active safety technologies across the entire Kia Cerato range include six airbags (front, side and curtain), electronic stability control with vehicle stability management and hill-start assist.
There’s also anti-locking brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist and front seatbelt pre-tensioners with load limiters.
Kia has produced a serious contender in the new Cerato. Designed to exude class from its exterior to its well proportioned cabin, it represents a new breed of compact sedan – sexy enough to compete with the all-popular hatches, but roomy enough to take on larger sedans.
When you take into account the balanced chassis, swag of standard kit and its five-year unlimited warranty with capped price servicing, the Kia Cerato merits strong consideration.
And it’s shown in its best light in the mid-spec Kia Cerato Si we tested here in terms of balancing good pricing and features.