The Kia Cerato GT is a first for the brand – at the same time as being nothing new.
It’s a first by virtue of being Kia’s first warm hatch that meets the demands of market trends, thanks to a five-door body and automatic transmission.
For this version, Kia has matched its carryover 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic driving the front wheels, and cloaked the whole package in a practical five-door hatchback body.
Unsurprisingly, there are shades of familiarity to the package, with the Hyundai i30 N Line (previously the i30 SR) using the same mechanical bits, albeit with different bodywork.
In this instance, the Cerato GT warm hatch crowns the Cerato range (with no plans for a hotter version at this stage) in both sedan and hatch body styles. Consider it Kia’s low-cost answer to cars like the Renault Megane GT and Mazda 3 SP25.
Pricing is key, as it so often is with Kia’s value skew, so the Cerato GT starts from a wallet-friendly $32,990 plus on-road costs. But, Kia being Kia, there’s an open-ended offer that sees $31,990 drive-away pricing applied. Don’t expect to see the offer end any time soon, either.
Under the bonnet, the 1.6-litre engine produces 150kW at 6000rpm and 265Nm from 1500 to 4500rpm. The same outputs as when the engine first appeared in 2013 in the Cerato Koup Turbo, and though the segment doesn’t push much further in the so-classed warm class, it wouldn’t be out of the question to expect maybe a few more herbs and spices by now.
Backing the engine up is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Keen enthusiasts won’t find the option of a manual transmission, but Kia knows that mass-market appeal lies in the availability of an automatic, and is unlikely to lose sleep over the handful of sales that might be missed without a three-pedal option.
Rear suspension moves from a torsion beam set-up to a more sophisticated multi-link independent system with a specific sports tune all-round, while front brake discs grow in size from 280mm to 305mm. All part of the GT's sportier intent.
In some ways, the choice of mechanical specs makes perfect sense. The Cerato wears GT badges, so therefore should behave like a GT car. No, a sub-$35K hatch isn’t quite the grandest of grand touring automobiles, but some of the criteria are met.
For instance, the regular Cerato’s 2.0-litre non-turbo engine is up to the task of trundling about just fine, but has no extra oomph should you demand it. With noticeably more torque (an extra 73Nm) available much earlier in the rev range, the Cerato GT is a more willing performer.
It’s still not quite a pseudo hot hatch, though. Initial acceleration is hesitant as the dual-clutch auto gathers its thoughts, dulling the engine’s extra poke initially. Once rolling, the pace picks up and the extra urge makes itself known.
As an open-roader, the Cerato GT makes great sense. If you can find an opportunity to squeeze the throttle anywhere from 25 per cent to around 75 per cent, the engine feels willing and the transmission changes gears with eager fluidity.
Ask for less, though, and the Cerato GT can quickly become confused about what it’s trying to do. You’ll notice it most in inner-city suburbs with high repetitions of on-off throttle between roundabouts, pedestrian crossings, speed humps and traffic lights. String a series of urban obstacles together and the transmission can misinterpret your wishes, either clunking through gears or holding low gears uncomfortably long.
A few times from a standstill, the car would ride its own clutch in first and second gear, and it would also (less frequently) pause between shifts without selecting a gear and letting revs rise for a second or two – which feels an awfully long time in a car that’s not gaining speed as requested – before sorting itself out.
As all of this is going on, the firm suspension bucks and quakes over the imperfections that make up older streets, thumping over tarmac joins, jolting over rail crossings, and stubbornly refusing to soothe driveways and paved strips as they occur.
Damning of a car that will likely spend the majority of its time commuting from suburbs to city on a daily basis for a lot of owners, but again the GT badges seem to be more than just badges in this instance, with the Cerato behaving like a real downsized GT.
Get it out of town and pick up the pace a little – not a lot, without the need to drive aggressively – and the Cerato GT comes into its element. Give it a clear road ahead to accelerate into and the turbocharged engine feels robust while the transmission becomes far more fluent.
At speeds in the 70–100km/h range, the ride does what any good GT car should, with firm but stable control and a delightfully pointed front end that hits a sweet balance of accuracy and effort. Unlike the warm Kias that came before it, and their willingness to axle-tramp from a standing start, the Cerato GT is far more cooperative.
There’s an important contrast to note here too, for while the Cerato GT and i30 N-Line share key mechanical components, differences in the suspension tune and the behaviour of the automatic transmission result in two very distinct outcomes.
Kia lists an official fuel consumption figure of 6.8L/100km, and with a skew towards country touring on test, the consumption settled at 7.8L/100km. The GT does only ask to be fuelled with regular unleaded, however, with no need for more pricey premium unleaded.
On the inside, the Cerato keeps the touring theme going with an interior that’s surprisingly spacious in both front and rear rows. That’s not unique to the GT model, of course. The rest of the Cerato hatch range is equally generous.
The interior design isn’t in any way daring. The dash shares almost all of its design flourishes with cheaper Cerato models. It’s contemporary without being cutting edge. You get the expected soft-touch surfaces (that you’ll probably only touch the first week you own it before forgetting about them) on the dash and front doors.
There’s red stitching on the seats and steering wheel, and a unique sports profile for the font seats without the overt aggression and over-the-top bolstering of genuinely sporty hot hatches for an entirely livable compromise.
Practicality follows the example set by the regular Cerato hatch with 428L of boot space (which is actually 74L smaller than the Cerato sedan) and the ability to fold the rear seats with a 60:40 split.
Without options (aside from metallic paint), the Cerato GT is simply an all-inclusive specification. That means features like keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, rear air vents, leather trim, powered driver’s seat, front and rear park sensors, rear camera, six airbags, autonomous braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and speed limiter are all part of the package, much the same as you’d find in the non-turbo Cerato Sport Plus.
To make the GT unique, alongside the engine and transmission, you’ll also get dual exhaust tips in a restyled low rear bumper, deeper side sills, LED headlights and tail-lights, gloss-black door mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels, seat memory and front seat ventilation and heating, sports pedals, wireless mobile charging and a smattering of GT logos, both inside and out.
Infotainment similarly mirrors the lesser Cerato range (which is no bad thing) with an 8.0-inch touchscreen packed with integrated satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, digital radio, and Bluetooth connectivity. The audio is upgraded to an eight-speaker JBL sound system including a not-officially-a-subwoofer “boot speaker”.
The system itself is about as good as it gets in terms of interface ease, with large clear controls, customisable menus and favourites, and easy to navigate submenus. Sound quality from the JBL system is very decent too.
Ahead of the driver, a 4.2-inch colour display gives another point of difference to mainstream models, and is flanked by a regular analogue speedo and tacho.
Despite a recent push from competitors scrambling to join the five-year warranty club, with many upgrading from three-year terms, Kia still humbly leads the pack with a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty for private buyers.
Capped-price servicing also extends for a seven-year term. Service intervals are spaced out to every 12 months or 10,000km, and the program will tally $3295 after seven dealer visits and includes all filters and fluids as per the car’s service schedule.
For comparison's sake, that’s $356 more than you’d pay for the non-turbo Cerato (which averages out to around $51 extra per year), though regular petrol models enjoy longer 15,000km intervals between service visits.
Value is fairly strong then, not just looking at the $32K price tag and the slew of standard equipment it includes, but also the longer-term upkeep requirements.
Kia is also somewhat serious about the performance aspirations of the Cerato GT. You’ll feel it in the chassis balance and suspension work – if not the outright acceleration – and with no higher-performance hero model to protect, why not?
Even the road rubber, a set of Michelin’s well-regarded Pilot Sport 4 tyres, is well above the grade of the Kumho Ecsta tyres fitted to non-turbo models. All up, the Cerato GT mounts some convincing arguments.
Not everything’s rosy. Ride quality at a suburban level won’t thrill all buyers, and the augmented exhaust/engine/induction sound piped through the speakers sounds like – how do I put this delicately? – absolute garbage and can’t be deactivated.
Kia’s long-held value and volume brand goals hold firm with the Cerato GT. Sharp pricing, a long list of standard equipment, and a strong possibility that you’ll see a lot of these on Aussie streets ensure the brand adheres to, and builds, its mass-market appeal.
Now finally free from excuses like ‘wrong body style’ or ‘wrong transmission’, the Cerato GT hatch represents Kia’s best and highest-volume tilt at capturing buyers who display enthusiasm for driving beyond simply commuting.