2017 Kia Cerato Review

The already-impressive Kia Cerato has been upgraded and has launched locally with a refreshed exterior, new interior design and added safety features.

We’ve universally praised the Kia Cerato in the CarAdvice office and now the refreshed 2017 Kia Cerato lands in Australia with extra safety additions, an updated exterior and refreshed interior, and the same sharp pricing of the previous model. It looks like Kia has made a good thing even better then and the company wants this car to become a major consideration for Australian small car buyers.

Read our 2017 Kia Cerato pricing and specification story for more information.

In our two most recent reviews, we’ve scored the Kia Cerato an 8 and a 7.5 overall respectively - evidence of just how highly we rate Kia’s small car. This new model has a fairly hefty reputation to uphold then, both in regards to recent Kia product and in regard to an extremely competitive segment in Australia. Pricing has remained unchanged for the volume-selling models within the range too, building on what Kia hopes is a compelling value proposition. That means you can get into an automatic Kia Cerato for $19,990 drive-away.

Cerato will be available locally in two body styles - four-door sedan and five-door hatch - and four model grades - S, S Premium, Si and SLi. There’s one 2.0-litre engine and both automatic and manual transmissions available within the 2016 Kia Cerato range.

The most obvious changes are the slight exterior styling tweaks, which have been added to deliver a more dynamic look, following on from recent Kia styling cues across the South Korean manufacturer’s fleet. There’s a more prominent grille, which is basically more upright and therefore the Cerato looks a little tougher from the front end. It’s a minor change, but you’ll notice it if you see the old and new vehicles side by side.

Despite the tougher front end, the headlights are more slender and they wrap around the front corners of the Cerato further into the front quarters. The lower air intake has been redesigned and features integrated fog lights. At the rear, there are revised and restyled tail light internals, which help give the tail a more upmarket, Euro look. Depending on model grade, there are 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps, 16-inch alloy wheels and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Kia has retained the Euro-inspired dark theme inside the cabin and there are also new materials across the dash, hood lining, door trims and console. The changes inside have been added to deliver a higher-quality look and feel. Kia says the seat structure is the same as the old model but the cloth trim has been updated to a new, hard-wearing design for models where leather isn’t standard. The base Cerato doesn’t get a reverse-view camera but does get front and rear parking sensors.

While the entry Cerato grade gets a basic audio system there is still USB input and iPod connectivity plus Bluetooth, as well as steering wheel mounted controls. Buyers who opt for an S Auto model, though, can upgrade to a 7.0-inch touchscreen system with Android Auto. Apple CarPlay is coming as well and the upgrade can be added later free of charge at Kia dealers. All other grades get this 7.0-inch screen with satellite navigation as standard equipment.

Under the bonnet, there’s only one engine across the Cerato range - a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, with dual variable-valve timing. The willing four-cylinder generates 112kW at 6200 and 192Nm at 4000rpm, using only 7.1L/100km on the combined ADR cycle.

There’s a six-speed manual (available on S grades only) or a six-speed automatic (available across all variants). Automatic Ceratos get Kia’s Drive Mode Select system, which comprises ‘Normal’, ‘Eco’ and ‘Sport’ modes. The Cerato SLi also gets steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters. We tested the shifters briefly at launch, and they are snappy enough, but we can’t imagine too many Cerato owners using them extensively.

Part of the Cerato’s compelling value story comes from the included safety kit across various models. All Ceratos get six airbags and a five-star ANCAP rating for starters. Si grade gets Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, while SLi grade adds Lane Departure Warning System and Forward Collision Warning System. The LDWS can be disabled via a dash-mounted switch. Hill Start Assist and Electronic Stability Control is standard for all Ceratos.

We liked the cabin ergonomics and design, and there’s a comfortable air of quality throughout the cabin, too, which makes longer drives pleasurable. The seating position is excellent and there’s still plenty of room in the second row, even behind longer-legged front-seat passengers. The pillars aren’t ridiculously thick, but the A-pillar did get in the way for some of the tighter corners we had to navigate. The major controls, including the screen on vehicles so equipped are perfectly positioned.

While the exterior styling and cabin upgrades definitely add cache to the look of the Cerato, the real changes we want to sample are the changes to the local suspension tuning, a procedure Kia has become synonymous with. The good news is that the Kia engineers have been busy making plenty of those changes.

The column-mounted power steering system has been extensively tuned and benefits from a new 32-bit processor, replacing the old 16-bit system. Kia has tested the suspension across a variety of roads and conditions as it has done for all local models of late, and the ride quality is noticeable on the bumpy B-roads we drove at launch. What’s most impressive, even in the base model, is how well-balanced the Cerato is at speed, while still managing to absorb even larger bumps and mid-corner ruts. It’s a solid all-round set-up, even in the base Cerato.

In fact, the slightly softer ride offered up by the 16-inch wheels and tyres was our pick over the higher grades with lower-profile rubber. We tend to think the base model or one step up the ladder might be the way to go. The high-spec model we tested with the 17-inch wheels was still comfortable but didn’t ride with the same supple composure of the model shod with the 16s.

There are firmer springs up front, which Kia claims delivers sharper turn-in and response. There’s nothing wrong with the front-end poise either, although the standard Nexen rubber runs out of ability well before the chassis does. Sadly, Kia’s supply agreement with Nexen means there are no Continental tyres standard on new Cerato. The Cerato’s retuned front springs offer better balance, and slightly harder bushes are also added. Kia’s suspension expert Graham Gambould told us that the secondary ride and insulation is vastly better compared to the standard car.

There are also new dampers all round with more accomplished tuning of both compression and rebound. Impact harshness has been improved without handling being sacrificed for that comfort improvement. That’s something we definitely felt on road where the Cerato settles quickly after a harsh bump, but there’s never any loss of composure inside the cabin, and the comfort levels aren’t what you might expect from a vehicle with sharp handling ability.

The 2.0-litre engine is a willing performer that doesn’t hesitate to wind its way right up to redline. It sounds a little harsh at the very outer reaches of the rev range as some small-capacity engines can, but progress is always smooth and there’s no vibrations or nastiness entering the cabin. The transmission options are both smooth, with the auto shifting seamlessly and the manual a pleasure to use. Not so long ago, you’d never have recommended a buyer opt for an auto in this segment, but this Kia six-speed is a great transmission.

There’s also the Kia warranty, and roadside assistance story to take into account, which makes the brand hard to resist at this end of the market where every dollar really does count. Seven-year warranties and included roadside assistance is hard to ignore for both initial purchase safety and even resale value a few years down the track if you want to move on.

We’ll have to take a closer look at all the variants across the new Kia Cerato range before we can confidently pick the sweet spot in the range, although after our launch drive, one thing is patently clear: the entry-level model with sub-20k pricing (drive-away) is extremely hard to ignore. It’s comfortable, practical, an engaging drive and feels a lot more expensive than it actually is. The Kia Cerato continues to impress.