Kia warms up the Cerato
Price range: $31,990 to $41,990
Powertrains: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol with 112kW/192Nm, 6-speed automatic, FWD. Combined economy 7.4L/100km (LX, EX, GT-Line). 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol with 150kW/265Nm, 7-speed DCT, FWD. Combined fuel economy 6.8L/100km (GT).
Body style: Four door sedan (LX, EX) and five door hatch (LX, EX, GT-Line, GT).
On sale: Now.
Is a small hatch and sedan the right thing to be launching in an SUV-dominated market? Kia New Zealand thinks so, because while demand may be shrinking, it is still there. But the choices in the segment are shrinking too, and that is where Kia sees its opportunity.
Make me an instant expert: what do I need to know?
Kia will launch the Cerato here in both sedan and hatch forms, and while we have already driven the sedan, it was our first chance to experience the hatch, particularly the new GT and GT-Line models.
The hatch is particularly interesting because, while the sedan sticks with tradition, Kia has eschewed the standard two box small hatch look for a sleeker, almost wagon-esque/shooting brake design.
While this makes the Cerato hatch look at least more interesting than the herd, it also has another effect - it gives the it what Kia is claiming to be the largest boot in its segment, with an impressive 428 litres with the rear seats up, while dropping them down and loading the hatch to the ceiling yields an cavernous 1,335 litres.
The hatch is available in LX, EX, GT-Line and GT forms, while the sedan is LX and EX only.
LX, EX and GT-Line cars are powered by Kia's 112kW/192Nm 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder engine, with a six -speed automatic transmission, while the GT hatch is alone in getting the more powerful 150kW/265Nm 1.6-litre petrol turbo four-cylinder engine hooked up to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission.
The other big difference between the GT and the standard range is the fact that it alone gets multi-link rear suspension, while the rest make do with a torsion beam set up.
As you would expect from a Korean manufacturer these days, the Cerato is well equipped in all its forms, with all models getting autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, driver attention alert, lane keep assist, tyre pressure monitoring, keyless entry, rear view camera with front and rear parking sensors, alloy wheels, a speed limiter, an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a six-speaker DAB digital radio with Bluetooth connectivity.
The LX kicks off the range at $31,990 in either sedan or hatch form, while the EX lands at $35,990 for both.
The GT-Line lands at $39,990 in hatch form only, while the GT finishes things off at $41,990.
Where did you drive it?
A run from Kia's Highbrook HQ in Auckland saw us head out towards the eastern coast through Maraetai, before heading back inland via Clevedon, down through the Hunua Ranges and then back up to Auckland again.
This is what you would call "familiar territory" for an Auckland-based motoring journalist, but it is also an area that offers up a lot of uniquely New Zealand road surfaces.
The hatch mirrors the sedan's ride and handling that we praised in our early preview of the sedan last year, offing up a refined and comfortable ride, while still remaining pleasingly capable through the corners.
The new GT, however, takes things up a notch in the handling stakes with its multi-link rear set up, and is a sharper, more satisfying thing to throw into a corner.
The GT also gets larger front brake discs (305mm versus 280mm) and sits lower (although only by 5mm) than the standard Cerato, as well as getting a firmer suspension set up all round.
This, and the more powerful turbo engine, makes the GT a noticeably faster and more dynamically satisfying car than its siblings, but also brings a downside - the ride is rather firm and, as a result quite busy over your average kiwi back road. Although the argument could be made that if you are buying the GT for its sporty prowess, the ride is perfectly acceptable. If, however, you are buying it because it is the top of the range and you want a better car than your neighbour, you may not be quite so forgiving.
What's the pick of the range?
Despite its busy ride, the GT is still the pick of the bunch though, with its athletic engine and sharper handling being highlights.
If, however, you don't care about such things and just like the slicker looks that the GT also brings, then the GT-Line is the car for you.
Getting a lot of the GT's visual upgrades, but running the same suspension, engine and transmission as the LX and EX models, the GT-Line is pleasingly attractive and well-equipped for the money asked.
Why would I buy it?
The Cerato offers a compelling argument in all its forms, with a high level of standard equipment, high quality and good looks across the board.
The GT is particularly compelling, mainly because there are relatively few decent "warm" hatches around these days, particularly at the Cerato GT's affordable $41,990 price point.
Why wouldn't I buy it?
The newly elongated styling of the hatch doesn't do it for you, or neither do the consciously contrived Stinger design cues slathered over both the hatch and wagon.
Or you have fallen victim to the unnecessary SUV-isation of the local car market...