When a car company decides to make its first performance car, it’s a bit of a big deal. The Kia Cerato Koup Turbo marks the South Korean manufacturer's first foray into this territory and with it comes a lot of expectations.
The Kia Cerato Koup Turbo is not a hot hatch nor is it a full-blown performance coupe; it’s somewhere in the middle. Powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, the Koup delivers 150kW of power and 265Nm of torque, allowing it to hit 0-100km/h in 7.4 seconds when coupled to a six-speed automatic gearbox.
If you don’t tick the $2200 option for the automatic gearbox, the six-speed manual turbocharged coupe starts from $27,990, which makes it the most powerful car in Australia under $30,000. This is a somewhat interesting way to look at the Kia and one that resonates with the company’s value-for-money proposition.
Nonetheless, there are elements of the price that are worth drilling in to, such as the lack of standard satellite navigation or sunroof. But let's not lose sight of the fact that this is Kia’s first proper sports car.
From the outside the Cerato Koup shares very little with its sedan and hatch siblings, except the front face and interior design. It’s a sleek, modern interpretation of Kia’s design philosophy and takes the original Koup’s design another step forward.
The rear is perhaps the biggest highlight, with its dual exhaust system and rear diffuser adding a sense of sophistication not seen in a Kia previously.
Sit inside and the cabin ambience disappoints a little. It’s pretty much exactly the same as the sedan and hatch with minor differences and fake carbon fibre inserts. It’s great if this was a hatch or sedan, but as a performance model we were hoping to see some more intriguing features that showcase its turbocharged heart.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive while there's actually a reasonable amount of room for two adults in the back, which makes the Koup more practical than expected (as with the previous model).
Push the start button, engage Drive and plant the right pedal and you’ll be surprised at the lack of torque steer. The folks at Kia Australia have taken the standard Koup from factory and heavily modified its suspension and steering set-up to work better with our roads, pushing the factory parts to the limit.
The result is by and large the best-handling Korean car this writer has ever driven. It’s firmer than the Cerato sedan and hatch but it’s well balanced, composed and doesn’t complain when pushed hard into a bend. Kia used the Toyota 86, Volkswagen Golf GTi and Ford Focus ST for comparison testing, and although the Koup is in a different category to these cars, its cornering ability stands up well.
The only downside is the sub-par Nexen tyres that do their best to audibly ruin the driving experience. Buyers would do well to replace the tyres as a matter of priority.
The steering is quick and direct, though there’s not an awful lot of feedback. Through Victoria’s twisty country terrain we were pleasantly surprised by just how well the Koup tackled the curves. There was a sense of confidence that it could do more and the 1.6-litre engine performed well, with more than enough power for a spirited drive.
The only real complaint was the gearbox, which spent a lot of time in the wrong gear as we tried to accelerate hard out of a corner. It seems to prioritise efficiency over performance, and given there’s no sports mode (though you can push the gear stick into manual mode and it will do its best to keep the gears), it’s a little problematic.
Thankfully the Cerato Koup Turbo comes standard with steering wheel mounted paddle-shifters that are very responsive when needed and can be forced to hold gears (unless you hit redline).
Kia says it has tuned the dual-exhaust system to give a nice note, but the sound, like the Hyundai Veloster Turbo (which shares the same engine and gearbox) is a little tinny and adds to an already noisy cabin – which suffers from wind noise especially from the wing mirrors.
All of that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a well-balanced and competent quasi-performance coupe. Speaking to the engineers, they are confident the 1.6-litre engine can develop more power with a few aftermarket ECU modifications (which would void your warranty) and the automatic gearbox could easily handle more torque.
But the real caveat here is the naturally aspirated Kia Cerato Koup, which starts at just $23,990 for the manual and is a cracker of a thing for the money. Using a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with the same gearbox choices, you get 129kW of power and 209Nm of torque. It's a decent package and seriously more than enough grunt for an everyday stylish coupe.
You get all the suspension and handling benefits of the turbocharged model, so while it might be a second and a bit slower from standstill to 100km/h and doesn’t give you that turbo rush, it’s an excellent choice for those that spend a lot of time inner-city but want the Koup’s good looks.
Satellite navigation is part of a $2200 Touring pack that also includes full leather seats and dual-zone climate control. Though the standard 4.3-inch screen is good enough for the audio control, the availability of the same seven-inch sat-nav on a mid-spec Hyundai i30 sets the bar pretty high.
Overall though, the Kia Cerato Koup Turbo and naturally aspirated models are a big achievement for Kia and a fine buy for the money. And affordable performance from Kia doesn't stop there, as next year it will introduce the Pro_cee’d GT hot-hatch.