A new Kia Cer­ato five-door hatch has ar­rived in New Zealand, mean­ing the South Korean mar­que now boasts the fullest se­lec­tion of ve­hi­cles in the all-im­por­tant small-medium seg­ment of the new car mar­ket. re­ports.

Rob Maet­zig

Kapi-Mana News - - MOTORING -

The Kia New Zealand man­age­ment looked so pleased with them­selves at a re­cent me­dia con­fer­ence, it wouldn’t have sur­prised me if they had sud­denly be­gun danc­ing a lit­tle jig of de­light.

They would have had good rea­son, too: they have just ended two years of frus­tra­tion over not hav­ing a small-medium hatch­back to sell.

Granted, they have had the Cer­ato sedan and the Cer­ato-based two-door Koupe since last year, and those two mod­els have done well – the sedan ac­count­ing for 5.9 per cent of to­tal Kia sales and the Koupe, 3.4 per cent.

But what the Kia peo­ple have been missing is a hatch­back, some­thing that could al­low them to com­pete head-on with such prod­uct as the Toy­ota Corolla, Mazda3, Hyundai i30 and the Volk­swa­gen Golf.

There hasn’t been a hatch since the com­pany stopped sell­ing the pre­vi­ous­gen­er­a­tion Cer­ato two years ago.

It had in­tended to re­place it with the Slo­vakia-built C’eed, but that plan stalled when the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis se­verely af­fected the value of the New Zealand dol­lar.

This meant Kia New Zealand found it­self forced to sit and wait un­til a hatch ver­sion of the lat­est Cer­ato be­came avail­able for sale.

It must have been a frus­trat­ing time, be­cause small-medium five-door hatch­backs are ex­traor­di­nar­ily pop­u­lar. World­wide sales of such ve­hi­cles are fore­cast to grow from 920,000 last year to 1.22 mil­lion by 2012. Even now, in New Zealand, hatch­backs make up 64 per cent of sales in the small-medium seg­ment, which ac­counts for 29 per cent of the to­tal new ve­hi­cle mar­ket.

So it was lit­tle won­der the Kia New Zealand team were look­ing pleased with them­selves on Tues­day when they in­tro­duced the mo­tor­ing press to the new Cer­ato hatch – a nice-look­ing, roomy and well-spec­i­fied con­tender in that mar­ket seg­ment dom­i­nated by the world’s most pop­u­lar car, the Corolla.

Kia New Zealand gen­eral man­ager Todd McDon­ald said his com­pany is tar­get­ing an­nual sales of at least 450. Al­though nowhere near the 1800 sales achieved by Corolla, 450 sales would still make it the third most pop­u­lar Kia in New Zealand be­hind the smaller Rio hatch and the Sportage SUV.

‘‘What it will do is help make the Cer­ato model line the most pop­u­lar in the Kia sta­ble,’’ Mr McDon­ald said.

At the front the Cer­ato hatch is iden­ti­cal to the sedan, and it has the same doors, width, height and wheel­base. But the rest of the body is new, and the very fact it is a hatch means the rear over­hang is re­duced by 190 mil­lime­tres, mak­ing it shorter over­all. It all looks rather nice. The rear fea­tures tail-lamps with etch­ing­pro­cessed lenses, and they are split across the tail­gate’s shut lines. The tail­gate opens up to re­veal a cargo area 385 litres in ca­pac­ity – less than the sedan’s 495 litres, but more than the hatch­back op­po­si­tion.

On Tues­day, the Kia New Zealand team kept com­par­ing the Cer­ato hatch against the Corolla, Mazda3 and Golf, which they see as the main op­po­si­tion.

They pointed out that not only does the Cer­ato have the most boot space, but it also has more front and rear leg-room, and eas­ily the most head and shoul­der room.

Pow­er­ing this new hatch is Kia’s Theta II in-line four-cylin­der petrol en­gine with con­tin­u­ously vari­able valve tim­ing, a unit that de­vel­ops 115 kilo­watts of power and 194 newton me­tres of torque.

What is dif­fer­ent is that the en­gine is mated to a new six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion that has also now been in­stalled into the Cer­ato sedan and Koupe.

Com­pared to the four-speeder that used to be in those two mod­els, this trans­mis­sion has 62 fewer parts, and is 41mm shorter and 12 kilo­grams lighter – mak­ing it the most com­pact six-speed auto on the mar­ket.

In the Cer­ato LX this au­to­matic can be op­er­ated tiptronic-style us­ing the hatch’s floor-mounted shift lever, while the more up­mar­ket SX has pad­dles on the steer­ing wheel. It is an im­pres­sive trans­mis­sion.

A short drive pro­gramme out into the coun­try­side north-west of Auck­land showed the auto was a fast-act­ing unit that works well with the en­gine.Also rather good is the hatch­back’s ride and han­dling.

Spec­i­fi­ca­tion lev­els are good for what im­me­di­ately ap­peals as a very good new hatch­back. I think it’s go­ing to help Kia New Zealand cel­e­brate a rather happy Christ­mas.

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