Cheap, cheerful and practical: The Kia Cerato offers plenty of bang for your buck

Jun 20, 2019
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The Kia Cerato small hatchback and sedan family has been the driving force behind the company’s charge up the sales charts over the past few years – a time frame that has seen it overtake the likes of Nissan, Volkswagen and Honda.

Much of the appeal has been an unbeatable value-for-money equation, led by a base model retailing for less than $20,000 drive-away, and backed by an unbeatable seven-year warranty and capped-price servicing. Sensible shoppers, and fleet buyers, have flocked to the brand.

In 2018, the Cerato was the fifth most popular car in its class, behind only the Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3, Hyundai i30 and Volkswagen Golf, though the Honda Civic remains a hit with private buyers.

What you see here is the brand-new Kia Cerato hatch model, which replaces the outgoing version that resonated so well with buyers. It joins the new sedan body style that arrived on our shores in June last year. Alas, the European Kia ProCeed sport wagon isn’t headed our way.

At the entry level, Kia has thankfully played to the Cerato’s strengths: affordability, space, and lots of features. At the same time, the company is cashing in on the sporty cred it has built up with the Stinger by launching a Cerato GT ‘warm’ hatch, which serves as a counterpoint to the intimately related $34,990 Hyundai i30 N Line Premium.

As ever with these ‘range’ reviews (see some more examples here), the question we seek to answer here is which version of the Cerato hatch family should you buy? Or should you buy the identically priced and specified Cerato sedan?

  • Cerato S manual: $20,990 ($19,990 drive-away)
  • Cerato S auto: $23,790 ($21,990 drive-away)
  • Cerato Sport auto: $25,790 ($24,190 drive-away)
  • Cerato Sport+: $28,340 ($27,740 drive-away)
  • Cerato GT: $32,990 ($31,990 drive-away)

Cerato S

$19,990–$21,990 drive-away

This is the range’s entry point, meaning it’ll probably be as interesting to rental car companies and Uber drivers as private users.

The base grade wears a recommended retail price of $20,990 before on-road costs, though as ever the notion of RRP is slippery and frankly meaningless. At the time of launch, Kia is actually selling the Cerato S hatch for as little as $19,990 drive-away, no more to pay.

If you want to swap the six-speed manual gearbox for a six-speed automatic, as almost all buyers will, the price climbs to $23,790 ($21,990 drive-away).

It’s worth noting that the entry pricepoint of main rivals paints the Kia in a good light. The Hyundai i30 Go might also be $19,990, but the base Corolla Ascent Sport is $22,870, the Mazda 3 Neo Sport is $20,490, and the Honda Civic VTi is $22,390.

NOTE: Click through to our gallery to see many more photos of the Cerato hatch range.

The equipment list covers the basics, though if you’re a sucker for little luxuries, you’ll want to skip higher up the range. Check out our table below for a more digestible wrap, but in short, the key features are: front/rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, lane-keeping assist, a driver-attention monitor, six airbags, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) that detects other vehicles only, basic cloth seats, cruise control, Bluetooth/USB, DAB+, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and manual A/C.

However, you can also option more safety equipment in the form of the Safety Pack. This package adds a ‘Fusion II’ camera- and radar-based AEB system that also detects and automatically brakes for cyclists and pedestrians, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, electric-folding side mirrors, and a ‘premium’-feeling steering wheel and shift knob.

The drive-away pricing for the Cerato S with the Safety Pack is $21,490 manual and $23,490 auto. More importantly, adding this pack takes the Cerato’s ANCAP crash rating from four stars to five – of particular importance to fleets with five-star policies.

As you might imagine, the Cerato S is pretty basic in terms of design, especially finished in plain white as our example was. The plastic wheel covers and the plethora of plain black plastics inside the cabin, as well as the dour cloth trim, make this point clear.

At the same time, everything is nicely laid out and well made. You also get a clear digital trip computer with speedo, ample seat and wheel adjustment, that big centre touchscreen with contemporary phone mirroring, and plenty of cabin storage.

Rear seat space is also at the upper end of the class, with plenty of space for two adults or three kids. It’s certainly roomier than a Corolla or Mazda 3. The boot also has a large opening aperture and stores 428L (VDA), which is sizeable for the class, though down on the sedan’s 502L.

All Ceratos (bar the GT that’ll be discussed at the end) use the same engine, a 2.0-litre MPI naturally aspirated unit with a modest 112kW of peak power and 192Nm of peak torque at 4000rpm. The 2.0-litre units in the i30 Go (120kW/203Nm), Mazda 3 Neo Sport (114kW/200Nm) and Corolla Ascent Sport (125kW/200Nm) all trump the Kia.

At the same time, it’s hard to imagine that the average punter driving around town or doing relaxed highway jaunts will feel underdone. It’s an acceptable engine that gets on with the job, albeit without any great amount of pep.

On our tester, the engine was matched to the six-speed manual gearbox, though the sales of this type will likely be nearly non-existent. It has a light shift action and slightly strange clutch take-up point, but once you adapt it’s pleasant for the rare few who like to row through the cogs themselves.

Dynamically, the Cerato – like all Kia product – gets a distinct Australian-developed suspension tune fitted at the factory in Korea, which gives it a more composed nature than the rather uninspiring domestic versions.

The ride quality is excellent, capable of swallowing up potholes and speed bumps, while the body stays flat and controlled through corners and the steering is pleasantly light and direct. It’s not sporty, but it’s ideal for the target buyer, though there’s some wind noise through the B-pillars and a little tyre roar at speed.

Cerato Sport

$24,190 drive-away

The reason why the Sports version is likely to appeal to private buyers is that, for another $2,200, you get extras such as satellite navigation with SUNA live updates (meaning you need not rely on phone mirroring only), a ‘premium’ steering wheel and shifter in place of the cheapo urethane units, and 17-inch alloy wheels that add some stylistic zing.

You can also option a Safety Pack for $1,000 RRP (or $1,500 drive-away) that adds Fusion II AEB, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, auto-folding side mirrors and, unlike the Cerato S, adaptive cruise control that mirrors the speed of the car ahead of you.

The drivetrain and underpinnings are unchanged, though our tester had the six-speed automatic gearbox with torque converter. Manual? Not an option. That’s exclusive to the base S.

Cerato Sport+

$27,740 drive-away

Next is the mechanically identical Sport+, which gets an electrochromatic rear-view mirror, Fusion II AEB, blind-spot monitor, rear-cross traffic alert, LED daytime running lights (instead of cheapo halogens), proximity key and button start, heated seats trimmed in a mixture of leather and fake leather, auto-folding side mirrors, active cruise control, soft-touch door trims, dual-zone climate control, and rear air vents.

That’s a decent amount of extra stuff for the money. It’s worth noting that the $27,740 drive-away pricepoint of this top-spec luxury grade is actually cheaper than the real-world drive-away pricing for the Corolla Ascent Sport petrol (based on Toyota’s own online calculator).

The Cerato remains a sensible and unexciting choice, but on a sheer stuff-for-your-money measure it’s tough to argue with.

It’s also the cheapest Cerato that gets a five-star ANCAP rating without the Safety Pack optioned.

NOTE: Click through to our gallery to see many more photos of the Cerato hatch range.

Cerato GT

$31,990 drive-away

This is the big-ticket item in the new Cerato range, and easily the most exciting. At a tick over $4,000 more than the Sport+, it’s also as close as it gets to a no-brainer if you want the best Cerato for the money.

Of course, the Hyundai i30 N Line (successor to the SR, not to be confused with the hotter N Performance) that shares key mechanicals is at least as appealing though also a few grand pricier, while something smaller but even sharper and more premium such as the Volkswagen Polo GTI ought to also be considered at this pricepoint.

Consider for one the extra spec niceties: LED headlights that look crisper and shine brighter, ‘GT’ embossed leather bucket seats with powered adjustment and seat coolers, a body kit, twin exhaust pipes, a flat-bottom steering wheel, silver cabin highlights, a Qi wireless phone charging pad, and a nine-speaker JBL audio system. It also comes with an exclusive Sunset Orange paint hue option.

Then there are the mechanical changes: the rear torsion beam rear suspension in the others is replaced by multi-link for better roadholding; the front vented brake discs are uprated from 280mm to 305mm (the rears are unchanged); a distinct steering and suspension tune designed to be ‘sportier’ (meaning flatter handling and weightier steering, in performance mode); and the wheels upgraded to 18 inches in diameter and shod with sticky and pricey Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres.

Read more: Everything Kia

As a result, it looks the part. That slightly strange layout of the hatch body looks its best with this wheel and tyre combination, there’s little doubt about it. Perhaps slightly more ‘youthful’ than the Hyundai version, as befits Kia’s branding.

Then there’s the drivetrain, pairing a version of the i30 N Performance’s 1.6-litre turbo petrol making a much meatier 150kW of peak power and 265Nm of peak torque (from 1500–4500rpm), mated exclusively with a seven-speed DCT double-clutch automatic gearbox with wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual override.

Manual gearbox? Not available, just like the i30 SR/N Line Premium, with that self-shifter only on the regular N Line).

We should caution that the vehicle we drove in this spec was a pre-production car without the local suspension tune, so the excessively stiff ride quality needs to be taken with a big grain of salt. Based on what we are used to from Kia Australia’s engineers, we practically guarantee the road-going version will be better. The i30 N Line/SR is a good guide, and that car is bloody well sorted.

On the other hand, the engine remains good, with decent rolling response, a strong mid-range, and a more guttural and raspy note than we’re used to given its other applications. We also managed a 7.5sec 0–100km/h sprint on the first attempt, without getting much torque steer and no axle tramping.

The DCT is better than the initial applications of this transmission type from Hyundai/Kia, and indeed is quite well sorted and smooth in urban driving conditions.

The shift points can be made more aggressive in Sports mode, though it never downshifts as aggressively or shifts quite as crisply as a Volkswagen Group performance DSG. It’s a decent attempt, though, and the Cerato GT can be a quick little A–B warm hatch.

Don’t conflate it with being a true Golf GTI, Megane RS or i30 N Performance hot hatch rival, or even a mini Stinger. Think of it as a luxuriously equipped and nimble warm hatch with plenty of pep and eye-catching design for $32K. In that framework it makes sense, and frankly deserves to be popular.

Gallery: Click to see many more photos of the Cerato hatch range.

Advice

The Cerato S suits fleet buyers, particularly with the Safety Pack, which we advise everyone to buy.

The Sport justifies its premium for private buyers, and it’ll also have better resale value as there will be fewer being on-sold by these fleets.

The Sport+ offers plenty, but in the spirit of being ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’, we reckon anyone with warm blood in their veins should just hop into the GT instead.

Have you downsized your car? Would you consider the Kia Cerato?

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