IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE a car based on the humble Cerato could look this good, but lo and behold, the Koup sure is easy on the eyes.
Kia Australia has launched the 2010 Cerato Koup nationwide, and cars are set to roll into dealerships this weekend. What will greet buyers when they walk into Kia showrooms? Nothing less than the sexiest and sportiest Kia yet ? and Australia?s cheapest coupe.
Australia is one of the first right-hand drive markets to get Kia?s sporty new Koup, which launched in the US and South Korean markets earlier this year.
Kia?s sales projections for the car are modest at 600 to 800 cars for the first year. But more than anything else, the Korean automaker sees the two-door Cerato variant as a trophy for the brand: a rolling billboard announcing the arrival of Kia as a world-class manufacturer.
It is also a triumph for Kia?s engineering teams, having been developed from last year?s Koup Concept into a production car in just 12 months.
Although it shares the same wheelbase as the sedan, the Cerato Koup bears a number of significant differences from the four-door Cerato.
The Koup is 60mm lower than the sedan, the result of a 10mm suspension drop and a 50mm cut in body height. It?s 50mm shorter too thanks to a cut in rear overhang, and total width is down 10mm to 1765mm.
Styled at Kia?s American design studio in Irvine California, every body-panel bar the bonnet is new and the front and rear bumpers are markedly different to those of the sedan.
While sashless windows impart an up-market flavour to its lines, the blacked-out grilles, foglight-frames, and the Koup?s trapezoidal lower bumper inlet, inject some visual menace into the Korean two-door. Below, subtle wheelarch flares frame a set of two-tone 17-inch alloy wheels.
The sharp character line that runs along the Cerato sedan?s flanks is also there on the Koup, except it appears deeper, bolder and more pronounced.
Around the back, narrower tail-lights sit below a prominent boot lip and a faux diffuser panel surrounds the twin-outlet chrome exhaust tips.
It?s sharp looking for sure, and it turned more than a few heads on the streets of Melbourne. The Cerato sedan is already a well-proportioned car; lopping off two doors and massaging the sheetmetal has more than enhanced the visual appeal - the Koup has the presence of a whole new car.
On aesthetic qualities alone, the Koup is deserving of the trophy status Kia has bestowed upon it.
Step inside the cabin and the picture gets even better. Like the upcoming 2010 model year Cerato sedan, the Cerato Koup benefits from newer, more upmarket materials and a premium trim scheme.
Black is the dominant colour in the cockpit, while a healthy smattering of piano-black trim and neat applications of chrome offset the darkness. The steering wheel ? which, like the dashboard, is shared with the sedan ? features gunmetal rather than silver paint and red stitching on the leather-wrapped rim.
Red stitching is also applied to the seats and fabric-trimmed doors, the front seats themselves being deeply-bolstered buckets unique to the Koup. The back seats lose a bit of legroom compared to the sedan, but there?s still more than enough room to fit three people across the rear bench.
Specced to the same level as the Cerato SLi sedan, the Koup scores fog lamps, climate control, cruise control, a trip computer, auto-on headlights and rear parking sensors as standard, also standard is a six-speaker AM/FM CD tuner with USB/iPod input.
Safety equipment too is generous, with ABS, traction control, stability control and six airbags included in the Koup?s single spec level.
Mechanically, the Koup possesses a mixture of familiar and new components. Power is delivered by the same 2.0 litre Theta II petrol inline four used by the Cerato sedan, and the Koup?s four-speed auto and five-speed manual are also pinched from the four-door?s parts bin.
The auto has, however, received a sharper shift map for the Koup, but an all-new six-speed auto is expected to arrive with the first model update.
Power is a best-in-class 115kW at 6200rpm, with peak torque of 194Nm arriving at 4300rpm. While the Koup Concept used a turbocharged Theta II engine mated to an all-wheel-drive system, there are no plans to bring either to the production Koup ? likewise for diesel powerplants.
Fuel consumption is rated at 7.8 litres per 100km for the manual and 7.9 l/100km for the auto. Kia is definitely being conservative with these numbers though: we managed to achieve an average of 7.5l/100km on the long drive home from the launch ? in peak hour traffic.
Suspension hardware is based on the same MacPherson strut/torsion beam setup from the sedan, however stiffer damper valving, a thicker front swaybar and a 10mm lower ride height all improve handling in the Koup. A faster steering rack ratio sharpens turn-in, and more rigid steering linkages help make the tiller a more communicative one.
Brakes are unchanged from the sedan?s stoppers, but subtle changes see performance improve and stopping distances shorten.
How does it drive? Pretty respectably, as it happens. Where handling in the sedan is soft, the Koup feels a lot tauter and more controlled during spirited jaunts along twisting roads.
The sportier suspension tune works wonders with the Cerato?s chassis, and although that rear beam axle is anything but sophisticated, the Koup still exhibits a reassuring amount of grip.
It?s by no means quick (the claimed 0-100km/h time for the manual is 9.3 seconds), but keep that 2.0 litre up high in its rev range and there?s enough grunt to keep the Koup moving at a good rate.
That said, it?s a pity a turbocharged motor isn?t on the cards ? things could get serious with a bit more grunt.
But, despite the sporty pretensions, Kia will be relying on keen pricing and the Koup?s killer good looks and fuel economy to move cars out of its showrooms. The Cerato Koup range kicks off at $23,690 before on-roads for the five-speed manual, and $25,690 for the four-speed auto.
The 25-40 year-old demographic is squarely in the sights of the Koup, and Kia hopes to snare some customers away from rival hatches and small sedans, like the Mitsubishi Lancer VRX, Mazda 3 SP25 and Honda Civic Sport.
Has the 2010 Kia Cerato Koup got what it takes to stick it to the Japanese competition? We?ve already started putting some kays on our Koup?s odometer, and we?ll have the answer for you next week.