You know Kia has come a ridiculously long way when you jump into something with a GT badge on the back and go ‘yeah, that makes sense’.
In this instance, Kia tells us it went a little further than the i30 N-line – mainly because, unlike Hyundai, it doesn’t have an all out i30 N equivalent. So, when it comes to dynamics, it had to bring the Cerato GT above the N-line and closer to the full-blown N, though without having the use of active dampers.
If you want to look at it on a hierarchical level across the two brands, it goes: i30 N-line, Cerato GT and then i30 N. But don’t tell that to Hyundai. Besides, where the i30 N-line with the same powertrain starts at $26,490 (plus on roads) for the manual, the only way you can have a Cerato GT is with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission from $31,990 drive away.
To be fair, the Hyundai version – with the same automatic gearbox – starts at $29,490 (plus on-roads) and it’s not nearly as well-equipped. You’ll have to spend $34,990 (plus on-roads) for the N-line Premium to get a comparable level of goodies (not identical spec), which makes the Cerato GT hatch and sedan a very attractive price offering.
Walk around the Cerato and there’s definitely elements of Germanic design. You can blame that on the company’s German designer, Peter Schreyer (formally from Audi), but from the rear there is a lot of BMW X4 in the taillights and it's very easy to mistake the Cerato GT for a far more expensive car. It’s a clean yet aggressive stance. It’s not overstyled, but it’s also not simple.
Perhaps that’s the point, but it’s certainly not a derivative design. It stands on its own and in many ways, perhaps even outshines its siblings from Hyundai and even some European manufacturers. Needless to say, it’s a pretty good-looking thing.
Jump inside and it's a similar story. The interior is very much emboldened by the red stitching across the now ‘leather’ seats and steering wheel. The front seats are eight-way power adjustable, with two memory slots, while the steering wheel is a flat-bottomed, sporty feeling unit.
Other highlights of the interior include alloy sports pedals, silver door handles, soft-touch door trims and the best implementation of wireless phone charging we’ve yet come across, with an exceptionally well-placed cradle that can even handle the size of an iPhone XS Max with a chunky Pelican case.
There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well, but annoyingly you must still plug your phone in for that to work, partly defeating the point of having wireless phone charging. It will be nice when other manufacturers follow the Germans with Wireless smartphone mirroring.
The infotainment system is pretty decent, though not as polished as you may hope for and it does occasionally misbehave. Thankfully, you can rely on your smartphone to drive the screen and that always remains the best option.
We found the air conditioning controls to look and feel a little underdone, with that red LCD display looking an awful lot like something you’d find in a BMW, from a decade ago. Otherwise, though, the buttons in general are nice to touch and press. The tactile sensation is further enhanced by the soft plastics you’ll find at all the right points throughout the cabin.
Those coming from an existing Cerato will find the rear seats to be a little less accommodating in terms of legroom, with Kia admitting that it has given more room to the front occupants who, it claims, are more often the only people in the Cerato.
In saying that, you can easily fit two adults in the rear without any frowns. Add a fifth, though, and things may be a tad different. At least luggage space has increased to 428 litres (VDA), which means it can take a decent-sized pram and some shopping on the side. You can of course fold the rear seats down (60:40) if you need more room.
Behind the wheel, the Cerato GT is definitely an aggressive little thing. At its heart, the 1.6-litre turbocharged unit delivers a healthy 150kW of power and 265Nm of torque.
To put that into perspective, its only 2kW down on power from the much-loved ‘true driver’s car’, the similar-priced and recently updated Toyota 86, but pumps out a massive 60Nm more torque. Plus it has a seven-speed dual clutch transmission, so it should give the only slightly lighter Toyota a good run for its money off the lights.
Kia Australia says it has done thousands of kilometres of testing on local roads for the Cerato GT’s tuning. It has gone for a rather stiff suspension setup that sits somewhere between the ‘comfort’ and ‘sport’ modes of the hot hatches from Europe. Kia says it used the Peugeot 308 GTI as its benchmark for performance, and whilst it couldn’t perfectly match the French car’s ride and dynamic ability, it claims to have come close.
Has it? It’s hard to tell on a singular drive, but it's certainly a very competent car around the bends. We found it presenting moments of torque-steer at times, but generally it behaved itself rather well and the cornering ability was impressive.
We pushed it pretty hard into bends and it sat flat and felt in total control. The Michelin PIlot Sport 4 tyres are pretty reasonable, wrapped around the 18-inch wheels. It’s a shame they are not the 4S variants as that would’ve taken the car to yet another level. We also found the brakes to be very receptive to abuse, almost sadistic in their enjoyment of repeated punishment.
In regards to dynamics, you should think of the Cerato GT as much more than just a ‘warm hatch’. It handles more like a ‘slightly-hotter-than-warm’ hatch, but not quite on fire like the i30 N. It’s a great choice if you want something that can go for a flat-chat drive through some mountain roads and ‘almost keep up’ with your mate’s Golf GTi – but won’t cost you 45k on road.
Unfortunately, though, in most cars that have amazing cornering ability out on country roads without adaptive suspension, it’s generally matched with a slightly firmer-than-you-would-want ride in suburbia.
It’s not what you would call uncomfortable, or a grind to drive in traffic, but find a road with a few potholes or poor surfacing (aka, every main street in any major CBD) and it can be a little jarring. Could you live with it? Absolutely. Should you? Yes, because the fun factor definitely outweighs the slight discomfort around town.
On a side note, we were also very much by the great eight-speaker JBL system (same audio brand that Ferrari uses, and I can assure you, the sound system here is better sounding than any I’ve yet heard in a Ferrari). However, I was less impressed by the fake engine noise that you get when you shift the gear stick right and engage ‘sport’ mode. It’s simply unnecessary to have fake induction noise being pumped through the speakers. For me, it takes something away from the engine itself, which – lets be honest – is no screamer, but it’s not terrible either.
Overall, I was left pleasantly surprised by the Kia Cerato GT. I liked it in both hatch and sedan form, so that remains a personal choice. I love the way it looks inside and out and also how it made me feel behind the wheel. It’s a lovely car to drive both at speed and when cruising. It has a host of active safety features that also means it gets its five-star ANCAP rating without issue (although not all Cerato models do).
If your budget is around the $30k mark and you’re looking for a lively and enthusiastic sedan or hatch, it’s hard not to give the Cerato GT a red hot go. It also happens to have the best warranty in the business at seven years and unlimited kilometres, so you can’t really go wrong.