There’s a new Kia Cerato specification level known as S Premium, and it could be the pick of the bunch for the South Korean brand’s small car line-up.
The new Cerato S Premium was added to the Kia small car range in June in sedan and hatchback form, bringing with it some gap-bridging equipment that helps it sit in a sweet spot in terms of both price and goodies.
Available with an automatic transmission as standard, the S Premium is priced at $24,590, sitting just a few grand above the entry-level $22,290 Cerato S auto and the previous mid-spec $28,490 Cerato Si auto.
Our car’s as-tested price is $25,110 plus on-road costs, with the only option being its Abyss Blue metallic paint.
That sort of pricing positions the car in a good space against key rivals like the Mazda 3 Maxx auto ($24,990) Ford Focus Trend auto ($24,490), Holden Cruze SRi auto ($24,690), Hyundai i30 Elite auto ($26,590) and Toyota Corolla Levin SX auto ($25,990). CarAdvice's top-rated small hatch, the Volkswagen Golf, is a little dearer in equivalent spec (90TSI Comfortline) at $27,740.
Over the base model, the S Premium adds a couple of big ticket items – satellite navigation and a reverse-view camera, both of which were previously unavailable unless buyers went for the top-end model and then paid another $1000.
The new gear is added to the already competitive equipment list of the S, which already consisted of front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, a six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, but lacks voice control. The S Premium also gains 16-inch alloy wheels (S models have 16-inch steel rims), auto headlights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearknob and chrome-look door handles.
The new 7.0-inch touchscreen is a big improvement over the S model’s old-school stereo. It offers quick response to touch inputs, clever menu layouts, simple buttons beneath, and decent – if not the highest-quality – graphics. The Bluetooth phone and audio streaming connects quickly, and during my time in the car the clarity was excellent. It also has DVD playback.
The result is a far more premium feeling cabin than in the entry-level car. The front seats offer good support and comfort, not to mention adequate adjustment for humans of varied sizes and shapes.
The rear, too, offers acceptable room – even for bigger units – including good knee and toe room, and enough head room for six-footers to feel comfortable. Buyers with younger, smaller regular passengers may wish to note that the windowline in the rear is quite high, so outward visibility could be difficult for littlies. If kids are a factor, there are three child-seat anchor points and two outboard ISOFIX attachment points.
There are still some harder plastics on the front and rear doors, plus a large portion of the dashboard, that do detract from the ambience somewhat, but they can be overlooked when other more important elements such as storage are accounted for. There are decent door pockets up front and in the rear, as well as two cup-holders between the outboard seats (the rears are part of a flip-down arm-rest).
The boot is big, too, with Kia claiming 385 litres of cargo capacity for the hatchback and 482L for the sedan. No matter the model, there’s a full-size spare under the floor of the boot (steel for the S, alloy for all other models).
Buyers who may otherwise consider the Si model should note that in equipment terms, the S Premium only misses smart-key and push-button start, leather seat trim, electric folding side mirrors, puddle-lamps in the doors, a sliding centre armrest up front, auto-up and auto-down windows for all four doors, carbon fibre-look trim inserts and rear air-vents (which is a bit low, Kia).
The more expensive Si model also features a bigger 2.0-litre engine with direct injection, while the S Premium makes do with the same 1.8-litre multi-point injection four-cylinder petrol engine as is fitted to the base model.
The engine produces 110kW at 6500rpm and 178Nm at 4700rpm, with fuel consumption claimed at 6.6 litres per 100 kilometres for the manual (S only) and 7.1L/100km for the automatic. In comparison, the 2.0-litre of the upper-spec models produces 129kW/209Nm, and uses a claimed 7.4L/100km.
The engine isn’t as perky as its direct-injection siblings, but for daily duties it proved quite amenable. The power delivery is smooth when you plant your foot, though the throttle response is a little doughy and hard to modulate in slow-moving traffic.
The standard six-speed automatic shifts quickly and cleanly, and knows when it needs to drop back a gear up steeper hills rather than attempting to rely on the engine’s torque (of which there isn’t heaps).
The Cerato S Premium rides on 16s clad in Contintental tyres, and there’s plenty of cornering grip to be had. The car has been tuned for local tastes by Kia Australia, and as such the suspension is suited to some spirited driving, with good body control and road manners during hard cornering.
What dulls the drive experience is the electric steering system, which has three settings – Normal, Sport and Comfort – none of which offer the responsiveness or ease of use that can be found in the VW Golf, Ford Focus or Mazda 3. In normal mode the weighting is too heavy and muted, making parking a bit of a guessing game. Comfort mode just means you need to turn the wheel more, while the porridge-like Sport mode is unnecessarily weighty.
The ride quality of the Cerato also falls short of the benchmark models. The front suspension can jar over sharp bumps at low speeds, while the rear feels less settled at higher speeds and over smaller inconsistencies. When it comes to big undulations in the road and speed-bumps, though, it proves quite comfortable.
Kia has a strong reputation for its ownership credentials, and that remains the case with the new Cerato S. It is covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and includes capped price servicing for five years or 75,000km, too. Services are due every 12 months or 15,000km, with the annual average cost set at roughly $337.
All in all, the Cerato S Premium could be the best value model in the small car range. It can’t match some of its rivals in terms of dynamics, but with lots of equipment and a strong long-term ownership approach, it would prove a worthy option for shoppers after an alternative small car.