The Kia Cerato doesn't put the 'Sport' in 'Sport+' nor does it really challenge the best in the segment.
The word 'sport' gets thrown around quite a lot in the automotive world, referring to anything from cosmetic upgrades to smaller versions of larger models (looking at you, Land Rover).
So having the word slapped on the boot or tailgate doesn't necessarily translate to a more engaging drive or more performance - it can just be more about the look.
Enter the 2018 Kia Cerato Sport+, a version of the company's ageing rival to the Hyundai i30, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Golf... the list goes on.
There are no power upgrades, nor is there a firmer suspension tune, and there aren't any aerodynamics-enhancing components either. Just a visual upgrade and more equipment.
This list includes leather-appointed seats, electric driver's lumbar support, steering-mounted paddle shifters, a cooled glovebox, keyless entry with push-button start, along with an auto-dimming electrochromic rear-view mirror.
This comes on top of the 7.0-inch touchscreen navigation system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 17-inch alloy wheels with full-size spare, 'premium' steering wheel and shift knob, automatic headlights, and rear spoiler offered in the base 'Sport' grade (from $24,790).
On the downside, you still cannot even option the driver-assistance technologies that are reserved for the Si and SLi grades, meaning if you want to get features such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist, you're going to have to shell out a few grand more than the Sport+'s $27,290 plus ORCs asking price.
Considering it's available on higher grades, it surely doesn't make sense that Kia doesn't offer a 'Safety Pack' for mid- and low-spec models. Or better, standardise it.
Regardless of the specification shortcomings, this variant is still reasonable value if you look past the gaps in active safety.
In terms of design, the Cerato sedan is still a good-looking thing. The 'Planet Blue' premium paint on our tester ($520) is very attractive, and makes the Cerato appear more expensive than it is.
Meanwhile, the 17-inch polished alloy wheels look smart, and since they're the same ones used on the top-shelf SLi, it will look like you have the 'expensive' one – until one spots the 'Sport+' badge on the boot.
The sloping roofline and dark-tinted tail-lights give the Cerato an athletic look, while the large oval-shaped chrome tailpipe finisher doesn't look too overdone.
Inside, it's less inspiring. The Cerato features a number of different trims and finishes, from the squishy plastics on the passenger's side of the dashboard and upper front door trims, to the fake carbon-fibre elements around the air vents.
It's too disjointed and mismatched for this reviewer, and it makes the Cerato feel quite dated when you compare it to something like the i30 or Golf.
The large central infotainment system lifts the ambience a bit, though, and the fact it features native navigation in addition to smartphone mirroring technologies means it's up there with the best in the segment. It still isn't as pretty or as quick as the newer system used in the i30, however.
Storage is pretty good up front thanks to a large storage bin underneath the centre stack, along with a decent cubby under the centre armrest and door pockets that can fit loose items and the odd bottle.
Rear passengers get good amounts of leg room, while head room can be compromised for taller passengers thanks to that sloping roofline. However, if you slouch a little, it's fine. There are rear air vents – something that numerous newer cars like the Honda Civic and Holden Astra sedan still don't have.
Under the bootlid is a 482-litre luggage area, which betters the Astra sedan (445L) but falls short of the Civic sedan (519L). It's a wide and usable area, though the opening to the cabin when the seats are folded is narrow. So, you might want the hatch if you often carry larger items, even though seats-up capacity drops to 385L.
What's it like to drive? Don't hold your breath expecting the Cerato to feel like a baby Kia Stinger, because frankly it's not.
The 2.0-litre 'MPI' naturally aspirated petrol engine is the same unit used across the range, meaning that it's not exactly peppy. Developing 112kW of power at 6200rpm and 192Nm of torque at 4000rpm, the Cerato lacks the urge of similarly priced turbocharged rivals, while the engine itself can get a little thrashy under load.
The standard six-speed automatic, meanwhile, can feel slushy and indecisive occasionally, though does a reasonable job at getting the most out of the engine's outputs.
Off the line, the Cerato gets going at an adequate pace, so if you spend most of your time around town this car will serve you just fine, but at higher speeds it can feel short of breath.
Switching to 'Sport' mode sharpens the throttle response a little, though it still doesn't address the fact that this 1301kg sedan could use a little more juice.
While it can't deliver as a sports sedan, the Cerato isn't bad as a tourer. Once cruising at 100km/h, the Kia settles into a quiet hum, though as mentioned before, attempting an overtake at higher speeds requires a little more thought.
It's not particularly efficient either, during some 350km of mixed driving favouring urban conditions the Cerato's trip computer was reading mid- to high-9.0L/100km. We also noticed that more time in town pushed that figure to beyond 10.
While Kia claims 7.2L/100km combined, you'll struggle to match that unless you're driving solely on flat highways. Keeping that in mind, you can expect around 500km per fill from the Cerato's 50-litre fuel tank.
In terms of ride and handling, the Sport+'s 17-inch alloy wheels and 215/45 rubber mean it's a little firmer than the similarly priced Si that rides on 16s. Despite the Australian suspension tune, our tester was noticeably busy on rougher surfaces.
At speed there's a little bit of tyre roar entering the cabin too, but it's still more refined at cruising speeds compared to something like the Civic. Wind noise, however, is kept to a minimum.
The Cerato's steering, on the other hand, is a bit of an oddball, with inconsistent feel at lower speeds – bordering on heavy – while at higher speeds it almost lightens up too much.
It feels quite planted through the bends, though, but the lack of oomph from the engine again negates the sporting label. The Hyundai i30 SR is a far more engaging drive when the road gets twisty, as are the Civic and Ford Focus.
However, the Cerato leads the way when it comes to ownership. Kia's seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty is unmatched – though Holden came close with its promotional seven year, 175,000km program.
Kia's coverage includes seven years of roadside assistance, along with seven years of capped-price servicing, which is also transferable.
At the time of writing, the first three visits will set you back $259, $365 and $299 respectively, with scheduled maintenance required every 12 months or 15,000km.
The fourth and fifth intervals come in at $487 and $291 each, bringing the total cost over five years/75,000km to $1701. As a reference, the DSG-equipped Volkswagen Golf 110TSI will set you back $1942 in service costs for the first four years/60,000km alone.
In conclusion, the Cerato Sport+ is probably not the first small car we'd recommend.
For $1700 more, you can have the Si ($28,990) that adds active safety kit like blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The Si's 16-inch wheels also make for a better ride, though it shares most of the same cabin elements and the lacklustre 2.0-litre engine.
The Cerato is really best served as a $19,990 base model, where its average engine and lack of safety technologies can be overlooked thanks to its sharp pricing and unbeatable ownership credentials. Otherwise, if you really want a Kia Cerato Sport+, save some cash and get the regular Sport ($24,790).