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