QUAL­ITY YOU CAN AF­FORD

Sheer com­pe­tence meets bar­gain pric­ing in the Cer­ato with sport­ing pre­ten­sions

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - BILL McKIN­NON

The pace of im­prove­ment in new cars can some­times be dif­fi­cult to judge. When it comes to the cheap seats, progress is more ob­vi­ous be­cause the bar is set so low. Once, your typ­i­cal small, cheap hatch­back or sedan was, if not com­plete rub­bish to drive, at least half a bin full. A $19,990 drive-away price bought you some­thing that could get you from A to B just fine. It did so with the bare min­i­mum in­vest­ment re­quired to, first, not kill you in a crash and, sec­ond, hang to­gether un­til the war­ranty ran out. Quite a few couldn’t.

Tougher safety and emis­sions reg­u­la­tions, more cost-ef­fec­tive de­sign, engi­neer­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing and ever-in­creas­ing com­pet­i­tive pres­sures have obliged the lead­ers among to­day’s small, cheap cars to lift their game to be­come so­phis­ti­cated, re­fined and, yes, en­joy­able drives. A prime ex­am­ple is Kia’s new Cer­ato sedan, which starts at $19,990 drive­away for the six-speed man­ual S; with a sixspeed auto, it’s $21,490 drive-away.

VALUE

We’re test­ing Cer­ato Sport, priced at $23,690 drive-away with the auto. All vari­ants run the same 112kW 2.0-litre nat­u­rally as­pi­rated four, car­ried over from the pre­vi­ous model.

The Cer­ato sedan (a hatch will fol­low) is one of the larger small cars and among the best look­ing, too, with a sleek fast­back sil­hou­ette and mus­cu­lar sheet metal in­spired by the brand’s Stinger per­for­mance hero.

More than 50 per cent of the bodyshell uses high-strength steel for safety and rigid­ity, sup­ple­mented by stiff sub­frames and lo­cally tuned sus­pen­sion. On the road you can feel this engi­neer­ing in­vest­ment in the car’s ex­cep­tional tight­ness, com­po­sure and so­lid­ity at speed, which com­pares favourably with a pre­mi­umpriced Euro­pean.

Base S spec­i­fi­ca­tion runs to 16-inch steel wheels, eight-inch touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment with Ap­ple CarPlay/An­droid Auto and dig­i­tal ra­dio. Sport grade adds 17-inch al­loy wheels, nav­i­ga­tion with live traf­fic up­dates and map up­grades for 10 years, leather-wrapped wheel and shift lever knob and richer cloth up­hol­stery.

Other mak­ers such as Ford, Holden, Honda and Mazda have re­cently in­creased their war­ranty cov­er­age from three to five years. No one has yet matched Kia’s seven.

COM­FORT

The only no­table whinge I have about this car is its overly harsh ride. Kia’s lo­cal sus­pen­sion tun­ing pri­ori­tises taut han­dling at speed on our rough country roads.

The Cer­ato Sport cer­tainly meets this brief but it’s a com­pro­mise de­signed to please mo­tor­ing writ­ers rather than cus­tomers, most of whom will drive around town at 40-80km/h and have to put up with con­stant jar­ring and dis­com­fort, ex­ac­er­bated on the Sport by larger wheels and low-pro­file rub­ber.

Com­pli­ance im­proves at high­way speeds but here the 225/45 Nexen tyres are noisy on coarse bi­tu­men, where they also trans­mit a lot of that coarse­ness up through the steer­ing.

In other re­spects, the Cer­ato pro­vides big car com­fort, with sup­port­ive seats, plenty of driv­ing po­si­tion ad­just­ment, gen­er­ous rear legroom and a sim­ple, el­e­gant new dash with a high-mounted touch­screen. Am­ple stor­age is close at hand.

Voice con­trol op­er­ates only via the rel­e­vant app on your smart­phone, con­nected via one of three USBs. The test car also came stan­dard with an an­noy­ing buzz from within the dash that would have had it back at the dealer for a fix.

SAFETY

Au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing, ef­fec­tive lane keep­ing, park­ing sen­sors, tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing and cam­era with mov­ing guide­lines are stan­dard. A $1000 pack adds pedes­trian/ cy­clist de­tec­tion to AEB, adap­tive cruise, blind spot mon­i­tor­ing and rear cross traf­fic alert. Then you have a car with com­pre­hen­sive driver as­sist safety spec for less than $25,000 drive-away.

DRIV­ING

The Cer­ato’s port-in­jected 2.0-litre is hon­est rather than in­spir­ing. Hooked up to the sixspeed auto, it does the job well enough, an­swer­ing with de­cent per­for­mance if you ex­er­cise your right foot and smooth, quiet cruis­ing once you’re up to speed.

It lacks the low-down oomph and fuel ef­fi­ciency of a smaller ca­pac­ity turbo; the up­side is proven re­li­a­bil­ity and use of reg­u­lar un­leaded. Driv­ing modes are Eco, Nor­mal and Smart (adap­tive) but it lacks auto stop-start and pad­dle-shifters.

There’s no Sport mode, ei­ther, which is a bit strange given than this vari­ant is the … Sport.

As men­tioned ear­lier, it’s one of the bet­ter han­dlers in the class. Body move­ment is tightly con­trolled, four 225/40 tyres are a lot of rub­ber on the road for a small car at this price, brak­ing is ad­e­quate and elec­tric power steer­ing is sharp and rea­son­ably tac­tile.

HEART SAYS

I want a cheap small car that looks like an ex­pen­sive small car. When I jumped in, it felt like some­thing I couldn’t af­ford.

HEAD SAYS

This is all the car I need and Kia is the mar­ket stan­dard set­ter among af­ford­able cars for value, qual­ity and war­ranty cov­er­age. It drives bet­ter than its price sug­gests, too.

AL­TER­NA­TIVES HOLDEN ASTRA LS PLUS FROM $22,750

Hon­est, spa­cious and com­fort­able, with 110kW/240Nm 1.4-litre turbo/six-speed au­to­matic that re­turns great fuel econ­omy on reg­u­lar un­leaded. No AEB.

SUBARU IM­PREZA 2.0I-L FROM $24,490

Prob­a­bly the pick of the small sedans at this price. Its 115kW/196Nm 2.0-litre/CVT/all­wheel drive is fru­gal but a bit slug­gish. The most com­fort­able ride in the class and A-grade safety.

ROAD TEST

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