Hyundai once had the warm-sedan segment to itself. Now, there's some competition from within its own home country.
Kia is muscling in on Hyundai's turf with the Cerato GT. Priced from a razor-sharp $31,990 drive-away, and backed by bold claims of dynamic capability beyond that of the i30 N-Line or Elantra Sport, expectations are high for the GT.
First impressions are good. I don't consider myself a sedan guy, but the new Cerato is a seriously handsome take on the three-box formula. Penned by Peter Schreyer, it's quite elegant in profile, with just the right amount of aggression in its stance to justify the GT badge.
Compared to the regular Cerato, it gets a smattering of red highlights on the dashboard, wheels and rear diffuser, for a finished product that looks decidedly European in the metal. Parked behind our long-term Audi A3, you'd be hard-pressed to label the Cerato any less attractive.
The refined, faint European vibe carries over to the interior. The driver is faced with simple, easy-to-read dials, and the flat-bottomed steering wheel is just a delight to hold (and behold, thanks to plenty of red stitching).
While we're talking stitching, the seats are leather-trimmed, red-stitched, and immensely comfortable, even if you're awkwardly proportioned and gangly like me. The driving position is excellent, too, with enough adjustment to get the seats down low and the steering wheel right into your chest.
There's just enough bolstering to keep you in place on winding roads, falling somewhere between a regular car and, say, an i30 N on the sportiness scale.
Most of the materials are soft-touch, and there are plenty of quality touches – alloy pedals, for example – scattered around to elevate the ambience. The only real downer is the climate-control unit, which looks and feels cheap with its red LCD display. It's all functional, but the design just doesn't feel up to the same standard as the rest of the cabin.
Infotainment comes courtesy of a 7.0-inch touchscreen atop the dashboard, complete with factory navigation, DAB+ radio, and smartphone mirroring. Although there's wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto still necessitate a wired connection, rendering the large charge pad under the centre console redundant for Google Maps apologists like myself.
Rear seat accommodation is perfectly acceptable for adults, provided they're not forced to sit on the raised and rather unforgiving centre seat. The boot is properly capacious, with 502L of space, expanding to... Actually, Kia doesn't quote a figure for space with the rear seats folded, but suffice to say there's more than enough room for skis, bikes and flat-pack furniture.
Although it has a lower claimed boot capacity, the hatchback is still a better bet for anyone with a penchant for antiquing.
There's an immediate sense of purpose about the Cerato GT when you hit the road. Power comes from a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine making 150kW and 265Nm, put to the front wheels through a seven-speed, dual (dry) clutch transmission. There's no manual option here, although Hyundai will let you row your own in the Elantra.
In keeping with its not-too-hot price and looks, the engine falls somewhere between shopping cart and outright firecracker. With peak torque on tap from below 2000rpm, it pulls hard off the line and spins happily enough out to redline, backed by a raspy induction noise.
Except it's not induction noise, it's all completely fake, and played through the car's speakers. It's bearable in normal mode, but quickly becomes annoying in sport. Alright, it's terrible.
Given the engine sounds fine in the Hyundai Elantra Sport, we could really live without the system. Life would be better without it, actually.
Anyway, enough griping. The suspension set-up itself is more sophisticated than offered in the regular Cerato, with a multi-link system at the rear and unique sports tuning all around – along with some work by Kia's local suspension tuning team – and it delivers on the sporting promise of the GT badge.
In the corners, it perfectly fulfils its role as 'warm sedan', with sharp front end and brilliant balance. Standard-fit Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres certainly play a role, but they're ably backed by a willing chassis, sharp steering, and solid body control borne of a sporting suspension.
It's really good fun to punt along a twisty road, without ever feeling edgy or nervous. As a daily driver for the casual enthusiast, the handling is near-perfect.
Even the brakes are up to the task, having grown from 280mm to 305mm in diameter at the front. They stoutly refused to fade on a serious back-road blast in hot weather, which is impressive.
It also feels at home on the highway, where road and engine noise are well suppressed, and the sporty suspension translates to a confidence-inspiring, planted feel. The problems start when you get into the city – aka, the place most GT owners will spend their time.
The suspension thumps its way over potholes, thwacks when confronted with expansion joints, and just generally struggles to quell the lumps, bumps and edges that are a part of any urban environment. It's just a bit too... Brittle.
That's a shame, because the Hyundai i30 N-Line and Elantra Sport prove sharp handling needn't come at the cost of refinement.
The dual-clutch transmission is also more at home on the open road than in the urban jungle. It's a big improvement on older Hyundai and Kia attempts, don't get me wrong, but it's prone to confusion on light throttle inputs at low speeds. The grey area between first and second gear is generally where issues appear.
Sometimes it manifests with an awkward flare of revs, others it slams awkwardly into gear. Whatever the case, it's frustrating behaviour that could have been avoided with a conventional torque converter. Or a manual.
Kia quotes 6.8L/100km on the combined cycle, while we saw 8.7L/100km during a week heavily skewed towards urban driving. A highway run, interspersed with some spirited driving on the fun parts, returned 7.0L/100km. Read into that what you will.
Although much of the mainstream is pushing to five years of warranty coverage, Kia still leads the pack with its seven-year coverage period. Capped-price servicing means your first seven years of maintenance will cost $3295, including filters and fluids, which is more than you'll pay for a regular Cerato but still reasonable for a more performance-oriented offering. In other words, the value equation extends beyond the sticker price.
Oh, and the only specified option on our test car was $575 metallic paint. Everything else, from adaptive cruise to autonomous emergency braking, heated/cooled seats, leather trim, a reversing camera, DAB+ radio, smartphone mirroring, and an excellent JBL audio system, is standard.
If you can look past the terse ride, the Cerato GT is an attractive proposition. It's good looking, practical, affordable and fun to drive, and has the reassurance of a seven-year warranty to boot. I'd argue the suspension set-up makes the car feel purposeful and sporty, but others mightn't be so forgiving.
The good news for them? The warm-sedan incumbent, the Hyundai Elantra Sport, has just been facelifted.
Whichever you prefer, choice is never a bad thing.