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On paper the Kia Cerato is one of the best value-for-money small cars on the market, yet it remains – for the most part – out of the consideration set for most buyers in the segment.
But should it be on your shopping list? Well, we spent a solid two months with a Kia Cerato S Premium hatchback (priced from $24,990 plus on-road costs) to find out what the small car with the best warranty in the business has to offer.
From the outside the Kia Cerato is an attractive offering though remains somewhat conservative for what we’ve come to expect from Kia. Nonetheless, it’s a continuation of Kia’s current styling philosophy penned by former Audi designer, Peter Schreyer.
There’s clear European inspiration to the design and that carries through to the interior too, which is very much Germanic with its dark themes throughout, separated by shades of grey.
Yet despite its relatively bland colour palette, the cockpit is a comfortable place to be. The front seats are firm without being too hard, and the rear has enough space to carry our two large ISOFIX child seats and an adult in the middle (just).
With our family consisting of a four-month-old, a three-year-old, my wife and I (plus our German au pair), the Cerato proved to be just a little on the small side for long trips. Of course for most families of four or fewer, there’s more than enough room to accommodate the storage needs of the kids.
The 385-litre boot takes our double pram without much complaint and there’s still enough room to fit the week’s shopping and even my eldest son’s push-scooter.
What we found most impressive is the quietness of the cabin, which is a godsend when the little ones are having a nap.
Also impressive is the ride comfort of the Cerato, casually eating up Brisbane’s relatively poor roads without bouncing around like some of its competitors.
This is largely due to the Korean company’s insistence on localized tuning, which sees cars sold in our market specifically-tuned both in terms of suspension setup and steering weight, for our roads and taste respectively.
In that regard, the Cerato can actually change its steering weight by about 30 per cent going through three modes (Comfort, Sport and Normal), but it’s largely a useless gimmick designed to please the media that once complained about the company’s lacklustre steering. We found the steering response to be more than suitable in Comfort, and seldom changed it.
Our S Premium-spec Cerato is powered by a 1.8-litre engine with 110kW of power and 178Nm of torque. It’s coupled to a six-speed automatic gearbox as standard.
From a performance perspective, the use of an actual six-speed automatic gearbox rather than a continuously variable transmission (such as that found in the popular Toyota Corolla) makes a world of difference in power delivery feel and the ability to quickly drop down a few gears when a hill presents itself.
It’s not the liveliest car in its class – and Kia does offer a 2.0-litre engine in the top-spec models – but even with three adults and two kids on board it does the job and hardly feels lacking in performance for the needs of a small family-orientated car.
Our car spent the majority of its life doing runs to kindy and the shops, hardly breaking the 80km/h speed barrier, returning an average fuel economy figure of around 9.0L/100km with less than 5,000km on the odometer.
A few times we drove it out to Warwick or the Sunshine coast and founds it highway mileage to be slightly better, though not by a substantial margin.
The mid-spec Si can be seen as the sweet spot in the range at first, gaining smart key entry and start, leather trim seats, chrome highlights, rear air vents, better wipers and a few other less notable features over the S Premium, but doesn’t justify its $4000 price hike.
The S Premium gains most of the mid-spec’s useful features, offering alloy wheels and a decent infotainment screen with satellite navigation.
Though here exists our biggest complaint with the Cerato, as with other Kia and Hyundai (sister-company) cars using the same LG-sourced screen: there’s too much glare in the Queensland summer, making the screen all but useless in direct sunlight and frustrating at times.
It’s a case of the display screen sitting too far below the actual glass, and a lack of anti-glare material to compensate for the positioning of the unit. As for the Microsoft Windows platform which the system runs on, it’s mostly simple to use and easy to understand, though it tends to have the occasional glitch or sudden freeze.
This is most evident when the car has just turned on and been put straight in reverse as the feed from the standard reverse-view camera can lag on startup, signifying a data bandwidth or processing issue. Thankfully the (also standard) front and rear parking sensors, which, strangely, are not colour-matched to the car, suffer no such problem in backup.
The best selling point of the Kia Cerato hatch is its seven-year fully transferrable unlimited kilometre warranty and its five-star ANCAP safety rating (six airbags and all the electronic traction controls you’d expect).
What the long warranty tells you is that Kia believes in its product, for no company is mad enough to offer such a lengthy warranty if it was even remotely anticipating component failure.
Apart from the obviously long period of time the car is covered for faults by Kia Australia, this also has the benefit of bringing better resale value for those that choose to sell their car before the warranty expires.
When you consider that after four years of ownership the Cerato still has the same warranty as a brand-new Toyota Corolla (which comes with three years/100,000km coverage from the showroom), it makes for an attractive purchase for a second owner over its competitors.
The Cerato’s seven-year capped-price servicing program averages out at $346 per year, with maintenance due every 12 months or 15,000km. Add to that Kia’s seven-year coverage for roadside assistance covering (so long as you service your car at one of the brand’s dealerships), and the proposition is hard to beat.
The main problem Kia has with making the Cerato more appealing is its branding. The almost mechanically identical Hyundai i30 is the third-best selling small car in Australia (after the Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla), going against the odds to establish itself as a true competitor to the Japanese.
You can indeed pick the i30 over the Cerato, for they are both equally good cars, but the additional two years of warranty coverage and Kia’s consistently good retail deals makes the choice a difficult one.
Stay tuned for our second update on the Kia Cerato Si, where we get out of town and see how it stacks up in terms of its driving manners.