The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - First Drive - PAUL GOVER CHIEF REPORTER

SIXTH on the sales lad­der is more than good enough for many car brands. Not Kia. And def­i­nitely not for the Cer­ato.

The brand is look­ing to boost sales by ex­pand­ing the ap­peal of its bud­get small car beyond the cur­rent 45-plus group who dom­i­nate Cer­ato de­liv­er­ies.

Af­ter months as a run-out spe­cial, with an ef­fec­tive show­room deal at $18,990, the com­pact Kia is get­ting what it needs to make a run at the dom­i­nant Toy­ota Corolla, Mazda3 and Hyundai i30.

The price line for the new Cer­ato sedan and hatch is rock solid at $19,990 on the road.

Midlife up­dates in­clude a 2.0-litre petrol en­gine as stan­dard, a new nose with big­ger grille open­ing and smaller head­lamps, im­proved in­te­rior trim and fit­tings, sharper sus­pen­sion and more safety equip­ment through­out.

“Our strat­egy was to add value ... The pric­ing has re­mained un­changed for the vol­ume vari­ants,” says Kia Mo­tors Aus­tralia boss Damien Mered­ith. “Drive-away pric­ing has been one of the great things for our suc­cess. We’ve kept the con­sis­tency with our pric­ing. We’re not go­ing to change that.

“Our goal with this model is to break into the top five. I think fourth is where we should be.”

The Cer­ato def­i­nitely drives well for the class and, af­ter Cars­guide cited the harsh ride and noisy cabin of the pre­vi­ous model, there has been a lot of im­prove­ment. Even the Nexen tyres are a lot bet­ter.

Six airbags are stan­dard and Kia Aus­tralia says it re­tains the five-star ANCAP score, although there is still no re­vers­ing cam­era on the starter car. A $500 op­tion pack that in­cludes a cam­era isn’t avail­able on the ba­sic man­ual vari­ant.

“If we could get a re­verse cam­era in un­der $20,000, we would,” says Mered­ith.

In the 2016 line-up of sedan and hatch, the 2.0-litre loses the out­go­ing en­gine’s di­rect fuel in­jec­tion. Kia says it’s happy with 112kW/192Nm and claims fuel econ­omy of 7.1L/100km.

The six-speed man­ual gear­box is avail­able only on the Cer­ato S, with an auto stan­dard on the S Pre­mium, Si and SLi.

The in­fo­tain­ment is im­proved on all mod­els. It’s worth get­ting the op­tion pack on the S auto just to get a big­ger dis­play screen, and the S has front and rear park­ing radar even with­out a rear cam­era.

Kia’s sus­pen­sion guru Graeme Gam­bold has im­proved the steer­ing feel and re­sponse as well as the sta­bil­ity of the chas­sis, de­spite go­ing much firmer on all the set­tings.

The Si gets blind spot and lane change warn­ings and the SLi has a for­ward col­li­sion warning, lane de­par­ture as­sist and up­graded sta­bil­ity con­trol.

As al­ways, Kia is trum­pet­ing the long­est fac­tory war­ranty in PRICE $19,990-$32,990 drive-away WAR­RANTY 7 years/un­lim­ited km CAPPED SER­VIC­ING From $2579 for 7 years SERVICE IN­TER­VAL 12 months/15,000km SAFETY 6 airbags, 5 stars EN­GINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 112kW/192Nm TRANS­MIS­SION 6-speed man/auto; FWD THIRST 7.1L/100km DI­MEN­SIONS Sedan 4560mm/hatch 4350mm (L), 1780mm (W), 1435mm/1450mm (H), 2700mm (WB) WEIGHT From 1770kg SPARE Full-size al­loy (steel on base model) Aus­tralia — seven years — and capped-price ser­vic­ing costs it claims are the best-in-class. The bolder nose means the Cer­ato now stands out in traf­fic. The sedan and hatch are not nearly as bland as some ri­vals.

It’s hard to see or feel much im­prove­ment in the cabin but the car is def­i­nitely qui­eter on the go. The six-speed man­ual has a light feel but few will use it as they go for the auto with new driv­ing mode se­lec­tor.

Mov­ing up the model range adds com­fort and kit but the ba­sic driv­ing feel is much the same. In cor­ners, the tyres on the S roll around a bit. Up­spec cars have greater ba­sic grip.

The ride is good, with no thump­ing or bang­ing, re­flect­ing again the wis­dom of proper sus­pen­sion and steer­ing tun­ing in Aus­tralia. Even on aw­ful coun­try roads north of Syd­ney the Cer­ato drives well, for the class and, par­tic­u­larly, the price.

There is ev­ery rea­son to con­sider — and take — a Cer­ato in a value-for-money cross-shop against the Hyundai i30. The war­ranty and run­ning costs also bring it into con­sid­er­a­tion against a Toy­ota Corolla or Mazda3. It’s not as well known as those mod­els but it looks good and drives bet­ter now af­ter the up­date. The Cer­ato is still not the best in the class but it’s more than good enough.

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