KIA Insider

Kia Cerato brings the sting

Base price: TBA
Powertrain and performance: 2.0-litre petrol inline four, 112kW/192Nm, 6-speed automatic, FWD, Combined economy 7.4 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 4640mm long, 1440mm high, 2700mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 502 litres.
We like: Ride quality, high levels of equipment, just remarkably pleasant.
We don't like: Abrupt lane assist, flat seats, very dark cabin.

The new 3rd generation Kia Cerato isn't officially here until the first quarter of next year, but we snagged ourselves some seat time in a sedan for a week, just to see if it has picked up any tricks from its impressive cousin, the Hyundai i30.

So, it's a small sedan. Should I care about that?

Well, yeah okay, no one really cares about small sedans in New Zealand, but that's not really the point - the Cerato will come in hatch form, but it's just a few sedans that have landed here early. So don't think of this as a look at a small car that almost no-one will be interested in - think of it as a test of a small car that quite a few people will be interested in when the proper body shape arrives. After all, the mechanicals are identical.

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And it is those mechanicals that have brought about the biggest change to the Cerato - despite the outside bits looking quite different as well - just not the engine though, that remains carried over from the previous model and is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol that produces 112kW of power and 192Nm of torque, hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission in our car's case.

In the US market the Cerato is available with a new, more efficient second generation version of the direct injection engine in overseas markets, but only hooked up to a CVT. Apparently it is a very good CVT, but it is still a CVT, so we are probably happier Kia passed on that...

And that engine? Well, it's perfectly good in away that we have come to expect from small Kias - it does the trick, pulls nicely in the mid-range and never, ever threatens to get exciting.

Hang on, let's get back to those differences - what are they?

Well, it sits on the newer Hyundai-Kia J6 platform for a start, which is a rather good thing, and Kia says the company's Australian engineers have tuned the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension for local conditions.

And while this sort of thing is generally marketing toss that should be taken with a massive grain of salt, the Cerato certainly does feel pleasantly at home on our roads.

It has a slightly firmer ride than you might expect from a small sedan, but it brings a nicely tied down and responsive nature to its handling, without actually compromising ride comfort. The steering isn't exactly the most communicative, but it is nicely crisp and accurate.

Around town the ride is a pleasant surprise, particularly given its tied-down nature on the open road, and while it is neither a razor-focussed corner carver, nor the last word in cosseting luxury, it is possibly one of the better compromises between the two in the small car segment today, particularly from the Asian manufacturers.

Any word on price or equipment yet?

No, not yet, but if our test car is anything to go by equipment levels look set to be impressively high.

Our red Cerato packed radar cruise control, lane keep assist, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), forward collision warning, front/rear parking sensors and a reversing camera, as well as the new larger 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system.

And to be completely honest, I spent the week wondering why what was a mid-to-upper spec car would be running around on such small alloy wheels. Until I found out it was actually the entry level LX I was in - if Kia NZ can keep thier prices close to the existing Cerato, then it should represent rather good value for money indeed.

They're not really going to try and say it has Stinger styling cues, are they?

Well, yes, they are, but that really just means a few black gloss vents and fake intakes here and there.

Peter Schreyer did design both, but let's be fair here - the Cerato owes more to the Optima than the Stinger, simply by virtue of the fact that its proportions are distinctly "USA FWD", which means that slightly cab-forward look that our American friends favour in their small front-driven sedans.

It is a handsome enough thing though - one that will almost certainly improve in hatch form (weirdly cab-forward small sedans always do) - and remains inoffensive enough that it could easily drift vaguely into anonymity if it weren't for the Kia grille and those aforementioned (and unfairly mildly derided) Stinger hints that have been scattered across it that bring it a welcome hint of character.

Any other cars I should consider?

Hard to say definitively until pricing is announced closer to its actual launch early next year, but the obvious one would be the Hyundai i30 hatch and Elantra sedan.

To our eyes, the Cerato sedan is a sharper looking thing than the Elantra, while it is also distinctly dynamically sharper, so if the hatch keeps that up (and there is no reason it shouldn't) the hatch should give the i30 a serious run for its money. Depending, of course, on actual money.

There's the obvious stuff too (Golf, Astra, etc), but there is a lot that is new (or coming soon) in this segment, with a new Ford Focus, the just revealed (and incredibly) sexy Mazda3, the upcoming Skoda Scala and, of course, the new - and remarkably good - Toyota Corolla.

But then most people will probably just go and buy a small SUV anyway. Which is their loss.