KIA CER­ATO

Kia’s ver­sion of the pop­u­lar Hyundai stands out from the small-car throng

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Cover Story - PAUL POT­TINGER CARS­GUIDE ED­I­TOR paul.pot­tinger@cars­guide.com.au

The $26K Si vari­ant is just right for value and per­for­mance — it’s near the top of the hard-fought small-car class

HYUNDAI re­leases a car and, within 12 months, Kia does it that bit bet­ter. This is as im­mutable as Earth’s or­bit and the tim­ing of the tides.

So it has come to pass with the new Cer­ato, Kia’s take on Hyundai’s Cars­guide Car of the Year run­ner-up i30.

The i30, or Elantra as it’s known in sedan guise, should be to­ward the top of any small car shop­ping list.

Log­i­cally, there­fore, the Cer­ato ought to be at or near the top. Yet even the up­per­most ech­e­lons of the small-car class are too crowded for com­fort­able de­ci­sions, so it’s no slight ac­com­plish­ment that the Kia makes it­self no­ticed amid the throng.

VALUE

Well, some of them do. The range kicks off at the in­evitable $19,990 for the sym­bolic en­try level man­ual (plus $2K for the auto ev­ery­one will buy) but the steel-wheeled Cer­ato S is very much the fleet favourite. Doubt­less a nice price will be done for the mass buy­ers be­cause from $500 less Holden’s Cruze Equipe pro­vides a lot more for those shed­ding their own cash.

The mid-level Si is where we’d put our dough. From $23,990 for the rather sweet six-speed man­ual, it gets the full-cream en­gine and kit in­clud­ing 16-inch al­loys, rear view cam­era, Blue­tooth, ar­ti­fi­cial (but pleas­ing) leather wrapped dash, au­to­matic head­lights, small touch­screen and six airbags.

The SLi adds yet more fruit but no more sub­stance. The very top model chucks in sat­nav but moves the sticker price north of 30 grand. Yes, Kia has moved on and then some since the drive-away-then-chuck­away days of only last decade (there are wait­ing lists for some models). But are you quite ready to drop the price of a de­cently equipped Volk­swa­gen Golf on a Cer­ato? No, didn’t think so. And there’s no real need.

The Si is the sweet spot and a tasty package for the price.

It’s all sedans un­til July, when the hatch comes on­line. The Koup (yes, they’re stay­ing with that name) lobs by year’s end.

TECH­NOL­OGY

Let’s be­gin with the three­mode steer­ing set­ting that moves the feel through the wheel from ul­tra-light to vaguely sub­stan­tial. Then let’s move on, be­cause we in­stantly for­got it.

The real story is not knobs and but­tons, with which Ger­man car mak­ers feel com­pelled to fes­toon their cars, but that which you’ll never see and will feel daily. An acro­nym that goes un­ex­plained in car­head pub­li­ca­tions is NVH. It stands for ‘‘ noise, vi­bra­tion and harsh­ness’’ and its ab­sence in the Cer­ato rel­a­tive to the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of small cars (we’re talk­ing last decade again) is re­mark­able.

Much labour has gone into dead­en­ing the roar of Aus­tralia’s rough­house roads in the cabin. The Cer­ato Si has the re­fine­ment cus­tom­ar­ily ex­pected of some­thing larger and lusher. Even the wind­screen pil­lars are fit­ted with an acous­tic dead­en­ing foam. This and sundry other mea­sures work so well you’d never know they were there.

There’s an unin­spir­ing 1.8-litre petrol four in the base S but the Si and those above get the al­to­gether bet­ter di­rect­in­jec­tion 2.0-litre four. Good for a solid 129kW/209Nm, it re­turns an ac­cept­able 7.4L/100km and a rea­son­able ac­cel­er­a­tion time of 9.3 sec­onds from 0-100km/h as an auto. This alone is worth the ask over the rather wheezy base model.

Kia claims the 50-litre tank will fur­nish some 650km for the ‘‘ av­er­age’’ driver be­tween re­fills.

Some Ja­panese man­u­fac­tur­ers, at least those that went to ground dur­ing the GFC, still push out five-speed trans­mis­sions. How­ever, it’s six cogs and noth­ing less for Kia in man­ual or auto form. The lat­ter is said to be the ‘‘ world’s most com­pact six-speed

trans­mis­sion’’. Which is nice. Laid out in a straight P-R-N-D ar­range­ment, it can be man­u­ally shifted by mov­ing the lever to­wards the driver when in drive. We didn’t bother.

Kia’s lo­cal prod­uct team has made the ride and han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics as be­spoke as par­ent com­pany Hyundai will al­low. You may not know or care that there are are gas-filled dampers front and rear but you’ll ap­pre­ci­ate the ride com­fort and sta­bil­ity they de­liver.

DE­SIGN

The sedan will sell on looks alone. Kia make much of the fu­tur­is­tic styling but really it’s a case of meld­ing a mul­ti­tude of con­tem­po­rary de­signs into a sin­gu­lar whole. There are, if you care to look hard enough, bits of Fo­cus, Mazda3 and Elantra to say noth­ing of Audi tail-lights. Some­how the Cer­ato suc­ceeds in be­ing its own thing, clearly a smaller sib­ling of the head-turn­ing Op­tima sedan.

It’s tight in back of there, though, where 185cm me has to hun­ker down to save scrap­ing his scone. Nor could I com­fort­ably sit be­hind my driv­ing po­si­tion.

In­mates won’t com­plain of the qual­ity. The Si is al­ready at the front the class, a Neil Arm­strong stride from the pre­vi­ous model and a good deal more pleas­ant than the $50K BMW1 Se­ries we handed back this week.

SAFETY

Yet to be crash-tested, the new­bie has been en­gi­neered to meet the newly tight­ened stan­dards of both the Euro­pean and Aus­tralian crash test au­thor­i­ties. Five stars are con­fi­dently an­tic­i­pated.

DRIV­ING

It’s painful, even for the neu­tral par­ties, that in the week that poor sales of Holden’s Cruze cost 500 Aus­tralian jobs an­other base model car ar­rives that does not match it.

By no means is the Cer­ato S much in the wake of the Cruze Equipe but its value deficit is ex­ac­er­bated on the road. Rid­ing on 16-inch Nexen

rub­ber, it can’t ad­here with the same tenac­ity as the Holden with its 17-inch Bridge­stones, nor does the six-speed auto re­deem it in the same way as its fel­low Korean-sourced but Aus­tralian-built ri­val.

Kia’s lo­cal­i­sa­tion work is more ev­i­dent in the mid-spec Si. This is the point at which the Cer­ato be­comes more than yet an­other small­ish car and be­gins to stake a pace at the A-list ta­ble.

Its bet­ter (al­loy) wheels and rub­ber are abet­ted by a big­ger and bet­ter en­gine, one that doesn’t trou­ble the Cruze SRi’s turbo four for out­right per­for­mance yet is very much in keep­ing with the un­flus­tered gait of the very sim­i­lar job in Ford’s Fo­cus. Dy­nam­i­cally the Kia treads more gen­tly than ei­ther, sit­ting flat and hand­some through cor­ners but con­vey­ing more in­for­ma­tion in its body move­ment. We’d war­rant this will please more of the peo­ple most of the time.

VER­DICT

Spend the right amount— nei­ther too much or too lit­tle. The Si is to­ward the top of a hard fought class.

Tasty: The Cer­ato Si is the stand-out package for value and kit. Hatch vari­ants ar­rive in July

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