The manual transmission might be falling out of favour, but it still has a place. At launch, only the cheapest Kia Cerato, the entry-level Cerato S, was available with a six-speed manual, but for the 2020 model year it has added a three-pedal option for the mid-spec Sport model.
The higher-still Sport Plus and sporty-skewed GT models are still auto only, reflecting the broader preferences of the market. More choice is never a bad thing, though, and a manual is something purists and penny-pinchers alike can get on board with.
The irony here, of course, is that neither the Sport nor Sport Plus is any more sporty than the base-model Cerato S. You get the same basic styling and handling package, and the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder non-turbo petrol engine pushing out an earnest 112kW and 192Nm.
The engine sends power to the front wheels, and to help it get there you’ll do the shifting yourself with a six-speed manual that’s light, easy and inoffensive to use. The clutch is also super light, making it easy to manage in crawling traffic, yet in combination with the very quiet and smooth engine at idle, hard to correctly judge at times with no distinct take-up point.
Be that as it may, the 2020 Kia Cerato Sport manual is an easy to use and inoffensive package with plenty of appeal. Set up to work in an urban environment, this new addition to the range means you don’t have to opt for the auto to make life easy on yourself.
Transmission aside, the rest of the Cerato is, by now, familiar and provides plenty to like.
Price is the first pleasant surprise, with the Cerato Sport manual available from $22,490 drive-away, placing the mid-grade model in line with base versions of some competitors (while the Cerato S manual starts from $20,290).
For that you’ll get included equipment like power windows front and rear with auto up/down for the driver, remote central locking, cloth seat trim, manual air-conditioning, cruise control, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility as common amongst all Cerato variants.
The Sport trim level adds a few other nice-to-have features like integrated satellite navigation, leather-look wrap for the steering wheel and gear knob, illuminated interior vanity mirrors, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) capable of vehicle detection and lane-keeping assist, hill start assist, front and rear park sensors, a rear-view camera with active guidelines, cruise control with speed limiter, auto headlights, and six airbags are standard. But for $1000 extra, it’s possible to add a safety pack option that includes pedestrian- and cyclist-sensing AEB, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.
It’s all wrapped in a rather handsome package. Not groundbreaking, but stylistically together, and on machined alloy wheels with enough gloss-black highlights on the bumpers (in place of the usual matt plastics you might expect) it looks more upmarket than its price suggests.
Inside, you don’t get swathes of soft-touch plastics or metalised trim pieces, but there are some to be found. Above all, the design is cohesive, cleanly laid out, and controls are easy to find and operate on the go.
The interior, despite its black-on-black tones, feels airy for a small car. There’s decent room in the front seats, and still enough space for two adults in the rear, or three at a pinch for short trips – just don’t expect to find details like face-level air vents or USB ports.
The boot provides a generous 502L of space, providing not only a strong showing against small-car competitors, but also rubbing shoulders with some larger mid-size sedans. The rear seats can be folded to carry larger items, too.
On the road, the Cerato Sport is no real dynamic star, but everything it does is accomplished with a kind of quiet competence.
The engine isn’t the most powerful or torquey in its class, but the outputs are solidly middle ground. It’ll run with traffic in town, but can be shy if you ask for a burst of sudden acceleration.
You’ll need to work the engine higher into its rev range, and run up and down through the gears to make the Cerato feel lively. Side note: the car we drove was almost box fresh and would have benefitted from a little extra running in.
For the most part, the engine is smooth and quiet. There’s not too much intrusion during regular running, and things like wind and road noise are well managed. On rural roads, you’ll pick up more surface rumble and rear-seat passengers tend to catch the worst of it, but on groomed urban tarmac things aren’t so bad.
Ride and handling are developed in line with Australian conditions and driver preferences. There’s a composed and stable ride at highway speeds, and enough compliance to deal with any of the dips and bumps found in most suburban settings.
Yes, there is ‘sport’ in the title, but no, this version isn’t particularly sporty. It’s just a slightly better-dressed version of the base model, and that’s okay. A more eager Cerato GT is also available if you’re looking for cheap thrills.
In line with Kia’s seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, a capped-price servicing program for the first seven annual (or 15,000km, whichever comes first) visits runs to $275, $469, $339, $623, $309, $596 and $328 for each successive service, or $2939 all up, which includes all scheduled fluids, air and pollen filters as part of the program.
Fuel consumption is officially rated at 7.4 litres per 100km, but your usage will have a huge impact. The Cerato is as thrifty as it claims on the open road, but in town fuel use started to get towards the high nines – a figure that would no doubt improve with a few more kilometres on the clock.
There’s every chance the Kia Cerato Sport manual may not be for you. Market preferences are turning towards automatics, but Kia’s strong value and power of choice proposition are worthy of attention nonetheless.
In the Australian market, budget options are becoming rarer. A base-model Mazda 3 or Corolla sedan are both priced at more before on-road costs than a Cerato Sport is in drive-away form. Not to mention, the Sport isn’t the most basic Cerato, but one rung up.
Even with a trim price tag, the Cerato Sport doesn’t feel basic or budget. It is well stocked with safety and convenience features, looks and feels substantial, and drives as well as its mainstream peers.