THERE ARE FEW things more important when out on a long day in the car than cruise control and comfortable seats. Both are thankfully features of the 2009 Kia Cerato SLi.
A recent weekend saw TMR head off to Lancefield and Hanging Rock in regional Victoria to shoot photo and video footage for the 2009 Aston Martin V8 Vantage (that's a video to keep an eye out for).
Of course, when the plans for the shoot were put together, it wasn't long before the thought occurred: what better way to test the Cerato's ability to lug a load than to fill it with a sweaty film crew and camera equipment?
Storage and Comfort
Laying down one of the two split rear seats, our team loaded up the Kia up with an assortment of camera gear totalling a little more than the Cerato SLi's excellent $22,990 starting price.
We crammed jibs, dollies, and a whole lot of other words we're not convinced actually exist, into the Cerato. There's a good 415 litres of storage with the rear seats up, but lay them down and you'll squeeze in a whole lot more.
A third vehicle started the day on standby against the chance that the Cerato couldn't manage the task, but with a crew of three and the full load of gear nestled neatly into the car, the standby car was locked away.
More and more, the Cerato is proving to be "the little Kia that could".
Heading off on a long trip with a pack of photographers and film nuts carrying on about this new lens and that new tripod is a daunting enough proposition, but if you've got do that while sitting on a church-like seat (that is, stiff and not designed with the word 'ergonomic' in mind), it won't be a good time.
Not a problem in this particular Kia. Sure, the Cerato's seats aren't going to put a fire up BMW, and there's nothing particularly clever or outstanding about them, but they're comfortable, firm but with enough 'give', and supportive.
If we had a complaint about comfort in the Cerato, it's not the seats, but rather the shape of the centre stack console.
With your left foot on the footrest next to the clutch pedal, there's only one position for your leg that won't have the rounded corner of the centre stack pressing uncomfortably against your knee - and who can keep their leg in one spot over a long drive?
Performance and Fuel Economy
Loaded up as it was, the Cerato's suspension and 2.0 litre petrol engine really had its work cut out for it on the road.
With nearly 250kg of humanity (loosely speaking) and probably close to 300kg in camera gear filling every spare inch, there were doubts among the team as to whether BIK-22X would hold up under the pressure.
After all, as anyone who's eaten a few too many servings of dinner and dessert will tell you: just because you can squeeze it all in doesn't necessarily mean you can still move afterward.
The Cerato's suspension however - MacPherson struts up front and a coupled torsion beam axle at the rear - proved the naysayers wrong.
Over broken and pot-holed country roads at the 100km/h limit, the robust Kia performed well. The cabin is a quiet, vibration-free place, speaking volumes for the car's engineering and assembly quality.
Sure, the load's presence was evident in the slightly heavier turning and a lower ride that made it look like we'd chopped the springs, but the Cerato's suspension was up to the task. We didn't once find the bump-stops and were quite surprised at the minimal jarring through the wheel.
Kia's engineers have clearly improved the Cerato's dynamic capabilities in leaps and bounds with this model.
Sluggish take-off and reduced braking ability, with some noticeable huffing from the engine as it struggled under the extra weight - common enough ailments for small cars carrying heavy loads - were the limits of the full load's effect on the Cerato's under-bonnet performance.
Fuel economy took a dive on the trip, at around 11 to 11.5 l/100km, but with the unusual load and the unforgiving task, this was to be expected.
Interestingly, the tricky clutch of the five-speed transmission seems less obvious with the car fully loaded, almost as though the clutch was designed for a heavier car in the first place.
On the topic of the less-than-forgiving clutch, Kia Australia's Jonathan Fletcher confirmed to TMR recently that the 2010 Kia Cerato update, due later this year, will receive some tweaks to the transmission for improved drivability. Excellent news.
You might not do a lot of long distance driving in the Cerato, but if we've come out of this review with anything, it's the view that this Kia can hold its own in the small car segment.
With three adults and an unholy amount of heavy gear stacked in the back, the Aston Martin photo shoot proved that the Cerato will easy handle two adults, three kids and a boot load of weekend-away gear.
The more time we spend with the Cerato, the more we'll be sad to see it go. It's part of the job that we're thrown into some pretty special cars, and while the Cerato will never top the list, it's very quickly made itself a home at TMR.
For styling, it's surprisingly sharp. Certainly one of the better looking inexpensive sedans on the road. Its nicely integrated lines gives peers like the Mazda3 a genuine run for their money.
This isn't the only long trip planned for the Cerato though, with a drive to - and back from - BIK-22X's hometown of Sydney planned for later this month. Stay tuned.