Is the Kia Cerato Si good enough to cut it with the leaders of the small sedan segment?
The Kia Cerato is the Korean company's equivalent of Rob Kardashian. It's never quite had the same following or success of its more famous sibling.
If you didn't already know, the Cerato has a lot in common with the hugely popular (and soon-to-be-replaced) Hyundai i30, which has been going toe-to-toe with the Toyota Corolla this year for top spot on the Australian sales podium this year.
However, this isn't because the Cerato is an inferior product. Like the Skoda Octavia – the Volkswagen Golf's 'lesser' Czech cousin – the Kia is one of the best-kept secrets in the small car segment. Let's find out why.
The model on test is the Si sedan, which will set you back $28,990 plus on-road costs. However, Kia is constantly doing deals and is currently advertising this exact model for $28,990 drive-away.
For all those coins you get features like a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation, rear-view camera, leather trim, manual air-conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift lever, automatic headlights, push-button start, folding electric mirrors, chrome exterior highlights, 16-inch alloy wheels, and the list goes on.
Safety-wise, all Cerato models have six airbags, front and rear parking sensors, ABS, stability control, hill start assist, vehicle stability management and an emergency stop signal, while the Si variant also picks up driver assistance systems like blind spot monitoring, lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert – however, you need to fork out extra for the top-shelf SLi grade if you want LED daytime-running lights, lane departure warning and forward collision warning.
Despite its strong equipment list, the Cerato still misses out on numerous features offered by competitors, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (though the entry-level S can be optioned with an Android Auto-capable media unit), automatic climate control (SLi only), idle stop/start, along with autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
Measuring 4560mm long, 1780mm wide, 1435mm tall, with a 2700mm wheelbase, the Cerato is 10mm shorter, 20mm slimmer and 5mm lower than the related Hyundai Elantra – though their wheelbases are identical – while the Volkswagen Jetta is 99mm longer, and 2mm thinner, but the German's wheelbase is 49mm shorter.
The Cerato was facelifted earlier this year, swapping the almost cartoonish front-end styling for a cleaner and more conservative look. Out back, the tail-lights have been revised with darker lenses, while new alloy wheels fill the arches. It's handsome, if a little boring.
Smaller changes have been made inside, with the main differences different trims and more soft-touch plastics throughout the cabin.
Getting into the driver's seat, it's really soft yet supportive – ideal for longer journeys – and the leather trim feels like it will stand the test of time. The steering wheel is finished in a really nice smooth leather and the gloss-black finishes give it a relatively upmarket feel.
It's shame, though, the Cerato hasn't been given as good an interior treatment as some newer Kia models, with a mix of hard and soft plastics scattered around the cabin, along with the fake carbon-fibre weave that just looks cheap. Despite this, it's still a noticeable improvement over the pre-facelift model.
A small TFT display between the tacho and speedo dials can be customised to display a digital speed readout, trip computer or or adjust the settings for numerous vehicle functions including safety systems.
The central infotainment display with satellite navigation is very familiar – it's the same easy-to-use interface as numerous other Kia and Hyundai models – and the fact it's slightly angled towards the driver's seat means you don't have to cast your eyes too far off the road to get a clear view of the screen.
Out back there is plenty of room for two adults, three at a squeeze for a short trip, with plenty of head and legroom. The Cerato also features rear air vents, something numerous manufacturers still omit across various segments.
Under the bootlid is a 482L luggage area, which is a full 100L more than the hatch (382L) and more accomodating than the Elantra (458L), but behind European rivals like the Jetta (510L) and the capacious Octavia (568L). Under the boot floor is a full-size spare wheel.
Powering all 2016 Cerato models is a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine, producing 112kW of power at 6200rpm and 192Nm of torque at 4000rpm.
While it may not have as much punch as the direct-injected 129kW/209Nm 2.0-litre unit from the pre-update model, the new engine does the job for the most part, and is far more suitable in this application than in the larger Sportage we tested recently.
Around town the Cerato gets up to speed without much fuss, though it will get a little vocal if you try to get anywhere quickly.
Meanwhile the six-speed automatic transmission is smooth and does a good job of picking the right gear when you need a quick burst of acceleration.
Highways are a little more challenging, with the 2.0-litre engine feeling a little down on power when trying to accelerate to higher speeds and when overtaking – if only Kia fitted the Cerato hatch and sedan with the 150kW/165Nm 1.6-litre turbo from the Hyundai Elantra SR Turbo like they do in the US.
Tyre and wind noise are kept to a minimum, even on the highway, which helps to give the Korean sedan a solid and somewhat upmarket ambience on the move. Engine noise is also very well suppressed, to the point where it's hard to tell if the engine is even on when it's idling.
The selectable driving modes – Eco, Normal and Sport – make little changes here and there, though don't expect Eco to give you fuel consumption like a Prius, nor Sport (plus the absence of paddle shifters) to make you feel like a racing driver. Normal is best for 99 per cent of the time.
Despite the lack of grunt and gimmicky driving modes, the Cerato's ride is fantastic in all conditions.
Thanks to its locally-tuned suspension, the Cerato deals with in-town imperfections like potholes and tram tracks wonderfully, while on the highway the small sedan feels very balanced and isn't upset by the lumps and bumps of Melbourne's freeways.
In the bends, there is very little body roll and the steering is light yet direct, though it could use a touch more feel. You can almost call it 'sporty'.
However, a significant issue we found with the Cerato is the cruise control, which at times can't figure out which speed to stick to.
Despite setting it at an indicated 102km/h, for example, the speed would climb to 107km/h going up hills and then dropping to below 100km/h once the road levelled out again.
In a country where the authorities are constantly monitoring speed, climbing to almost 10km/h above the limit with no driver input is a cause for concern.
Like all Kias, the Cerato is backed by the company's seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, with a seven-year capped-price servicing program and roadside assistance.
Over that seven-year period, the Cerato will set you back $2579 in servicing costs, which works out to an average of $368 a year. Maintenance is required every 12 months or 15,000km, with each visit costing between $289 and $487.
The Kia Cerato is an impressive proposition, it offers great value for money, a European-inspired design, along with a smooth and quiet drive.
However, when the price is creeping towards the $30,000 mark, it lags behind rivals with more powerful engines, more advanced safety technologies and more desirable badges.
It's not a bad choice in any sense, though the $24,990 S Premium variant is perhaps better value if you can live without the leather, blind spot monitoring and keyless entry/start.