2009 Kia Cerato Review

$5,180 $6,160 Dealer
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Kia has a bit of a penchant for spelling words with a ‘K’ , for possibly obvious reasons, so I’m going to make a suggestion to it here, consider adding ‘Konservative’ to the lexicon – at least where it relates to the estimate that it will sell just 3000 of the all-new Cerato small sedan in Australia this year.

While on the one hand the company has been talking up the new Cerato as a contender against the major players in the small car segment here, that’s Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Mitsubishi Lancer and Mazda3, the Korean car-maker has also played down the numbers its reckons it can sell.

Let me tell you, the new Cerato isn’t the greatest car in the world, but after a day of driving it on a varied selection of roads around Melbourne, including quite a few kilometres of gravel, it will seriously frighten the opposition and should be right at the top of every buyer’s shopping list.

Forget the old Cerato that was an under-done attempt, firmly stuck in the ‘cheap-and-cheerful’ basket, and a major reason Kia Motors Australia executives are being so conservative about the numbers they believe they can sell of the new car.

To be frank they just don’t seem to believe they can get enough buyers into showrooms to sell this car in its true numbers.

What Australian’s need to realise is that companies such as Kia are marching forward and the vehicles they are now building are up there with the best in class from Japan and Europe.

The Cerato is a case in point; it’s been designed under the supervision of Kia design guru Peter Schreyer, the man who brought us various Volkswagen Golfs and a whole range of Audis, right up to the A5.

His stamp is becoming increasingly evident at Kia and with the imminent roll out of cars like the Soul it will become even more evident.

Kia will bring a range of new and revamped models to the Australian market this year, cars it says will be well-endowed with features, stunning looks and impressive value for money, as Kia claims, in essence, cars that deliver on their promise.

As Kia tells it the first to arrive is the handsome new Kia Cerato, a compact sporty sedan that it says will meet the needs of many Australian car buyers.

The new Cerato is the first Kia released in Australia to feature the new 'Schreyer line', a family corporate grille design from the pen of Kia's global chief designer, Peter Schreyer, who joined the company in 2006 from the Volkswagen Group.

According to Mr Schreyer, it's no surprise that design is the number one purchase influence but, he says, it is essential that new designs match both the Kia brand value and the vision of the Kia brand.

As head of design, Mr Schreyer has worked to develop a new, more contemporary look for all Kia vehicles.

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The new Cerato is the first mass production Kia that embodies his thinking, and introduces a look that is sporty with an element of aggression.

We’ve already told you something about the specifications and pricing of the new Cerato but now we have driven it and while it wasn’t the full week long test to which we will shortly subject both models, the S and the SLi, it was a chance to get an idea of just how this car had moved on from the previous Cerato.

The expression “light years” springs to mind, but that’s not to say that this car doesn’t have its detractions, it’s just that its attractions are much stronger.

A strong, punchy, 2.0-litre engine is one, along with a smooth shifting five-speed manual and a four-speed auto that manages to keep up pretty well given the lack of ratios, a handling and suspension package that sits flat and feels positive and steering that lets you point the car just where you want it to go are all on the list.

Kia Product Manger, Nick Reid, was quick to point out to CarAdvice that the new Cerato has the most powerful naturally aspirated engine in its class, Kia's new Theta II engine, the first application of this engine in the small car segment in Australia.

The new twin-cam, four-cylinder 2.0-litre, Theta II petrol engine, with Continuously Variable Valve Timing (CVVT), revs smoothly to produce 115kW of power at 6200rpm and 194Nm of torque at 4300rpm to take the mantle of class-leader in the power stakes.

The Euro IV-compliant Theta II engine is mated to a smooth-shifting, short-throw five-speed manual as standard, providing excellent driver control.

As an option, for an extra $2000, there’s Kia's gated, four-speed automatic gearbox, which has a smooth shift action but does struggle at times to keep up with the action, despite the excellent torque of the Theta engine. The auto gearbox also offers the choice of Sportsmatic manual-shift capability.

The Cerato's 2.0-litre engine is a lightweight 16-valve unit that seems quite powerful, quiet and economical.

We didn’t see fuel consumption figures that matched the combined ADR efficiency of 7.8 litres per 100 kilometres for the manual or 7.9L/100km for the auto, but we did come close with both manual and auto showing figures of around 8.4L/100km during several hundred kilometres of vigorous driving.

Kia says that mated to the four-speed automatic gearbox, the 2.0-litre Theta II engine can power the Cerato from 0-100 km/h in 10.5 seconds and on to 190km/h, while 0-100 km/h in 9.3 seconds and a 200km/h top speed can be achieved with manual gearbox.

The four-speed Sportsmatic automatic uses a new lightweight flat-type torque converter that is smaller than a conventional unit, with less friction and, according to Kia, is therefore better fuel efficiency.

For a four-speed unit its not too bad on the road, helped by ratios that seem to be well matched to the power and torque of the engine, and only struggled mildly with substantial hills, before having to grab a lower gear.

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We did hear from Mr Reid that an all-new six-speed automatic is about to be deployed across some Kia models overseas and he expects that this unit will ultimately be rolled out across the range, so we would guess an update model down the track will feature this new gearbox.

Keen to build on pluses with the Cerato Kia says its rating in the Australian Government's Green Vehicle Guide of 4.5 stars makes it one of the class-leaders in the small car segment.

The Cerato emits just 186 grams per kilometre of CO2 with the manual gearbox and 187g/km for the four-speed automatic, despite being the most powerful vehicle in its class.

The new Cerato is larger than its predecessor in both length and width and can rival all its segment competitors in overall size. According to Kia the Cerato's 4530mm length, allied with its 2650mm wheelbase and 1775mm width, gives the new car an athletic stance that is matched by its sporty road feel.

The chassis has been tuned to deliver the European feel favoured by many Australians, with the aim being excellent steering response, roadholding, ride comfort and braking.

After a day behind the wheel there’s every reason to agree that the combined result is precise steering and sure-footed roadholding, matched with a composed and supple ride, which offers driving enjoyment without compromising passenger comfort.

There’s nothing of the old Cerato left in the underpinnings of the new Cerato. Designed around an all-new platform, the new Cerato uses high-tensile steel to improve rigidity and benefit of dynamic behaviour and crash safety. The platform's rigidity is enhanced by a hoop structure around the central pillar area designed to offer better occupant protection, especially in rollover accidents.

At the front, the new Cerato uses a McPherson strut layout with coil springs and gas shock absorbers, employing sub-frames constructed using hydro-forming techniques to reduce weight. The solid-mounted sub-frames and increased castor angle enhance handling performance, while L-shaped lower arms enhance collision performance and high-speed driving stability.

At the rear, a coupled torsion beam axle is used in conjunction with gas shock absorbers, mirroring a number of European and Japanese competitors. The lightweight rear suspension system enables the new Cerato to have a larger boot than its competitors and delivers improvements in rear crash performance.

The Cerato S rides on 15-inch steel rims with wheel covers and 195/65R15 tyres, while the Cerato SLi rides on 10-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels shod with 215/45R17 tyres. Both models are equipped with a full-size spare wheel, including an alloy for the SLi.

Cerato also has good stopping power with larger diameter front and rear disc brakes than its predecessor, 280mm front and 262mm rear.

The hydraulic rack and pinion steering system, with both reach and rake adjustment on the steering wheel, has 2.89 turns lock to lock in the Cerato S (15-inch rims) for a 10.32 metre diameter turning circle. Using 17-inch rims, the Cerato SLi has 2.77 turns lock to lock and a 10.78m turning circle.

Our drive of the Cerato started in the inner city and took in a wide range of freeway, country roads and the aforementioned gravel roads, which left us very impressed with the both the manoeuvrability, as well as the quick and precise response and good feedback on country roads without feeling overly-sensitive for freeway driving.

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The ride and handling is impressive for both a Kia and for a car in this segment, the car rides flat, doesn’t get out of shape easily, although it will ultimately understeer when you push it just too far, and rides with a level of comfort and quietness that wasn’t really expected.

When we deliberately dropped a couple of wheels off the broken edge of a country road the Cerato soaked up the bumps and stayed right on track.

At the same time on gravel it was reassuring to turn into corners knowing that the car was going to head precisely where it was pointed.

If there’s one downside to the new Cerato it’s Kia’s decision to make Electronic Stability Program (ESP), something we consider should be mandatory, and Traction Control an option, it’s part of a $1000 Option Pack, on the base model.
That said we drove a non-ESP Cerato S over some challenging gravel roads and it was more than reassuring, we just think that every driver should have the added assurance of ESP.

Kia National Marketing Manager, Steve Watt, argues the decision purely on the basis that the segment is price sensitive and that the Option Pack is already seeing widespread dealer take-up.

The Cerato range is equipped as standard with dual SRS front airbags; side front SRS airbags and full-length curtain SRS airbags; active headrests and seatbelt pre-tensioners for front seats; and 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS (Anti-lock Braking System), EBD (Electronic Brake force Distribution) and Brake Assist.

The range-topping Cerato SLi comes standard with ESP (Electronic Stability Program) and TCS (Traction Control System), which is also available as an option for the Cerato S.

From the outside the Cerato is definitely a much bolder, more aggressive look for Kia with a wedge-like side profile.
The 'Schreyer line' corporate face with its sweep of headlamps and distinctive radiator grille is accentuated by a strong front bumper and bonnet line that gives the car a very athletic stance.

The rear end is just as dynamic with a lip spoiler effect that creates a very aerodynamic feel and the low drag co-efficient of 0.29 and low lift coefficient of 0.16 is in part due to measures that channel air cleanly around the Cerato's body.

All Cerato models feature body coloured bumpers and door mirrors. Cerato S has body coloured door handles, while the SLi has chrome door handles, chrome radiator grille and rear garnish.

Both models also feature electric heated outside door mirrors, convex door mirrors and side repeater lamps on door mirrors, while the SLI is also fitted with front fog lights.

Inside the cabin, the driver sits in front of a new two-tier dashboard with distinctive details such as a three-cylinder 'Super Vision' cluster in Cerato SLi which includes the in-dash display four ultrasonic rear parking sensors and a six-function trip computer.

Both Cerato S and SLi have a distinctive three-spoke steering wheel, with the latter model fitted with cruise control and remote audio controls (both optional on Cerato S).

Cerato SLi also features alloy pedals, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob for an even sportier touch.
The centre fascia contains audio, heating and ventilation controls in a simple, easy-to-read layout. There’s also auxiliary and USB plugs available, which accommodate full iPod compatibility.

Both models are fitted with speed sensing door locks that automatically lock once the vehicle has reached a speed of 40km/h.

They also feature a driver's seat height adjuster, 60:40 fold flat rear seat, tilt and telescope adjustable steering column and rear centre armrest.

As we said at the beginning this car isn’t the greatest car every built, but it signals yet another major player in the Australian car market moving up the ladder to offer vastly improved products that challenge the established leaders.

All-round the new Cerato deserves to be on small car buyers shopping lists and at the price it is extremely competitive.

Cerato S Manual $18,990
Cerato S Automatic $20,990
Option Pack $1000
Cerato SLi Manual $ 22,990
Cerato SLi Automatic $ 24,990
Premium paint (Mica/Metallic) is available at $300 extra cost.