As a brand, Kia has matured to a point where it no longer needs to lead the way with bargain-basement pricing, yet for the new Cerato, sharp pricing remains key.
That’s an important distinction in a market where cars like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic have pushed past the $22K mark for their point of entry. Meanwhile, the 2019 Kia Cerato hangs onto its $19,990 drive-away pricepoint as a significant lure to small-car shoppers.
While you might think low price means low equipment, the Cerato S quotes a reasonable list of standard inclusions. There are power windows front and rear with auto up/down for the driver, remote central locking, cloth seat trim, manual air-conditioning, 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps and cruise control.
Some of those are fairly typical of the small-car class, but factor in an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, alongside important safety tech like autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane-keeping assist, and the cheapest Cerato holds its own against some more expensive rivals.
At that price, though, you’ll have to change your own gears. A six-speed manual comes standard, but a six-speed auto can be optioned for $1500 extra.
Under the bonnet lives a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine carried over from the previous-generation Cerato. Peak power is listed as 112kW at 6200rpm and maximum torque as 192Nm at 4000rpm.
The Cerato also manages to cut a fairly striking form in its standard guise. All the elements are there: gloss-black finishes on the front and rear bumpers, chrome grille, chrome exhaust tip and boot-spanning tail-lights – all that’s missing is a set of alloy wheels.
Inside, the premiumness is a little less obvious, with a urethane steering wheel and hard plastics on the inner door trims; however, that’s about where the cost-cutting ends. Everything else looks well presented.
There’s a nice robustness and pleasing tactility to most surfaces, a few dressy details like metallic-look and gloss-black trims on the dash and steering wheel, and no real shortage of space inside.
Following the latest school of ergonomic thought, the screen is the highest point on the dash, making it an easy reach from the steering wheel and minimising eyes-off-the-road time for the driver.
Kia does a decent job of utility with a deep storage bin ahead of the gear lever tiered in two sections, and divided by the charging ports that form a shelf to rest your phone on. There's enough space for keys, wallets, lollies, and any other odds and ends you might want to drop off as you enter and leave the car.
There’s also a lidded console, a pair of cupholders beside a traditional mechanical handbrake, and deep door bins with bottle holders, ensuring no shortage of handy storage.
At the rear, the boot holds 502 litres' worth of gear – knocking on the door of cars from the next segment up – with a temporary spare living under the floor and seats that can be folded from the boot to carry longer items.
The new generation grows compared to its predecessor in length and width, although the wheelbase remains the same. Interior space does get a slight bump up, though, thanks to improved packaging. A higher roof results in a touch more head room, and rear passengers score some extra shoulder width.
Overall, the interior feels big and comfy enough. Four adults will fit with relative ease, five at a pinch. The front seats offer plenty of adjustability, although lumbar support for the driver is missing. In the rear, taller occupants still won’t love the sloped roof, but should find the new Cerato easier to get in and out of.
As is often the case in the small-car class, there are no face-level air vents for the centre console (you can decide if that’s a make-or-break issue). Crucially, though, the fresh interior design rockets the Cerato into the modern era. Whereas its predecessor felt a little daggy and out of date, with a melange of lower-quality materials and panel shut lines, the new one looks and feels much more contemporary.
On-trend gimbal air vents at the outer corners of the dash, a big bright touchscreen with good resolution and up-to-date connectivity, and revamped fit and finish should keep even the fussiest shoppers happy.
Out on the road, the Cerato feels competent but doesn’t break any new ground. The 2.0-litre engine tries to feel willing, but is no powerhouse by any means. There’s not a lot of torque to give that push-in-the-back feeling of a turbo engine, and pushing it harder tends to result in more noise than performance.
Out on the highway, the Cerato will cruise quietly but does need a big helping of revs to kick along for overtaking. As there's no huge reserve of power, you’ll need to change down a couple of gears and tip in plenty of throttle.
The good news, then, is a nice, clean gearshift that makes no chore of having to flick through the shift gate. On the other hand, the clutch, which is super light so as not to be too fatiguing in heavy traffic, is incredibly vague and novice drivers might take some time to find the hard-to-pick friction point.
That’s a shame really, because once rolling the new Cerato is rather nice to drive. It’s no driver’s car (and doesn’t pretend to be, either), but delivers clear feedback about conditions without feeling entirely isolated or numb.
Australian-tuned suspension and steering help in that regard, with a local regime that leads to Aussie-delivered cars riding in a more assured way over our rough roads than might otherwise be the case with the Cerato’s Korean domestic set-up.
Bumpy surfaces pose little problem to overall composure. Urban annoyances like spoon drains and train lines barely ruffle occupants, but the Cerato can still string a succession of bends together fairly easily.
Wind and engine noise are all well suppressed. Work the engine hard and it can become vocal, but no worse than other cars in its class. Tyre noise spoils the ambience on most road surfaces, and rear passengers will tend to notice that the most.
As a runabout, though, the Cerato does a great job of being unobtrusive. Easy to park, safe, with a nice, solid feel from behind the wheel, it ticks all the boxes as a user-friendly first car for your drivers or a budget-conscious second car for families.
Alongside AEB and lane-keeping assist, the Cerato S also comes with traction and stability control, hill-start assist, rear-view camera, front seatbelt pretensioners, six airbags, dusk-sensing headlights, three child seat top-tether mounts and two ISOFIX points.
For an extra $1000, the Cerato S can be optioned to include upgraded AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, auto-folding mirrors and leather steering wheel. Auto models get distance-keeping cruise control too, though the manual sticks with ‘regular’ cruise control.
Kia’s long standing seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty comes standard, and capped-price servicing adds up to $2869 over seven years (at 12-month or 15,000km intervals), which includes items some manufacturers charge extra for like brake fluid and cabin filters.
When it comes to presentation, the Cerato surges to a point that edges out its competitive set (off a fairly low base), picking up obvious lessons from the larger and more expensive Stinger, and learning one or two tricks from the European Ceed range.
The driving experience doesn’t advance as dramatically, well-mannered though it may be. There’s no new-found sparkle in the Cerato’s drivetrain. You can’t have it all, though, so a budget price means a less-inspiring engine in this instance.
As competitors drift away from the world of $19,990 drive-away deals, the Cerato can be easily forgiven for its lack of outright grunt – it doesn’t drive badly, after all – with up-to-scratch standard safety and infotainment sure to be a hit, particularly with younger private buyers or anyone with a keen eye for value.