MAKE YOURSELF a list of every attractive two-door coupe available now in Australia, brand new, for under $25,000. If you've got it right, it's a list of one - you'll see the 2010 Kia Cerato Koup there and, well, nothing else.
Stretch the dollars to $30,000 ($29,990 to be exact) and you'll get the Citroen C4 VTS 'coupe'. And that's about where things end until you start getting into serious dollars.
With Toyota retiring the Celica line and Mitsubishi leaving the two-door option off the last few generations of the Lancer, competition for an affordable, stylish, entry-level coupe is very thin on the ground right now.
Kia knows it. That's why it has responded to the Cerato Koup concept's positive reception a little over a year ago by putting it into production. And it's virtually unchanged (at least on the outside).
What better way to dominate a segment than to choose one that everyone else has vacated? Perhaps conservatively, Kia expects to sell around 600 to 800 Koups in its first year on the market.
Whatever the sales story, the thing about the Koup is its visual impact. Because here, Kia has a car with the looks to draw non-believers into showrooms, and have them stay long enough to discover that this Korean upstart can make an appealingly styled and engaging car.
Better than that, a good one.
The Cerato sedan, already one of the better looking cars in its segment, barely holds a candle to its two-door stablemate. In a way, the Cerato sedan is to the Koup as Mimi McPherson is to her supermodel sister: shapely, certainly, but... well... she's no Elle.
The Cerato Koup, 60mm lower and 50mm shorter than the sedan, has a sporting style about it absent in the sedan (though the four-door is smart enough in its own way)
Certain elements are common to both cars - one is clearly the two-door version of the other - but virtually every body panel is brand new and only the bonnet is shared.
While drawing a line between the styling of each car is easy enough - the tail-lights, the identical headlights and grille, the character line that follows the bottom sill of the side windows - the most noticeable point of difference (besides the two-door layout and coupe roofline) is that tougher-looking front bumper.
Styled wider and more purposeful, the Koup's front bumper is dominated by a wide-open air dam, flanked either side by large foglight housings.
The gloss black touches up front, like the black-framed version of the Cerato 'Schreyer-line' grille, work well and give a distinctive style to the Koup's nose.
From side-on, the funky C-pillar dominates the Koup's lines, and it really is quite unique.
Unlike most modern coupes, the Koup is 'booted' - it's not a hatch. This gives it an oddly square roofline and C-pillar, but the lines work remarkably well. Stylewise, Kia's nicely balanced Koup seems to be all about the phrase "point of difference".
Up back, the shorter tail is highlighted by a protruding rear bumper with faux diffuser and a pair of exhaust tips jutting from beneath.
Above the rear bumper, narrower versions of the regular Cerato's tail-lights sit almost wing-like, featuring slightly re-styled lenses.
Speaking with TMR prior to the Koup's launch, Kia's National Marketing Manager Jonathan Fletcher said: “It’s unquestionably a car that we’re going to be very proud to offer. It will form an important part of the range, and its looks alone immediately stamp it as being something of a halo car for the brand.”
Inside the Koup lies a largely unchanged but noticeably tweaked interior compared to the Cerato SLi sedan TMR has on long-term test. The Koup has come in for a number of small but significant changes.
The hard plastic of the 2009 Cerato's dash has been partially trimmed in a more up-market soft vinyl. The centre stack now features a larger area of glossy piano-black plastic, surrounded by a darker, and classier, gunmetal version of the 2009 Cerato's silver-finished trim panels.
The air vents either side of the centre stack, previously plain black plastic, are now also finished in the same gunmetal grey. It also features on the steering wheel, door grips and gear-knob and transmission housing.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel, lifted directly from the sedan, features red stitching for a slightly sportier look.
The stylish instrument cluster is large and easy to read, with a centrally-mounted speedometer flanked by the tachometer and fuel gauge. A central, single-colour LCD panel houses the trip multi-function computer display.
Seating is unchanged physically but for more obvious bolstering. It is also trimmed in a flattering suede or Alcantara-like material that is classier than the fabric seats of the 2009 sedan, but perhaps not as stylish as the leather options available in overseas markets. The same red stitching is featured here.
Overseas models can have their interiors optioned with splashes of red, but Kia Australia has opted to stick with a strictly black-on-black (on-gunmetal) look. A smart move, we reckon.
We will be switching our 2009 Cerato SLi for a 2010 model in the coming weeks, so we'll know then which of these styling updates are unique to the Koup and which will carry over to the sedan.
Retaining the sedan's 2650mm wheelbase, cabin space in the Koup is virtually identical to its four-door sibling. Rear leg space is only slightly smaller, but three adults will fit as comfortably across the Koup's rear bench as in the sedan.
Headroom is slightly diminished, but thanks to the square-ish cut to the roof and the relatively steep C-pillar, rear passengers are not badly served. The Koup offers quite reasonable headspace here.
Boot space is an ample 358 litres, losing only 57 litres from the sedan's 415 litres of storage space. As with the sedan, the rear seats can be dropped to open up more space (although Kia doesn't specify the capacity with the rear seats down).
Equipment and Features
The 2010 Kia Cerato Koup, available in only one trim level, is fitted out to the same level as the top-of-the-line SLi sedan variant.
As with the SLi, the Koup features an easy-to-use and effective cruise control, climate control, multi-function trip computer, auto-on headlights and rear-parking sensors.
The Cerato Koup has yet to be tested for an ANCAP safety rating (the base sedan was awarded a respectable 4-Star rating), but nonetheless offers the same six airbag package and stability control as its SLi sedan sibling.
ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control and stability control are all standard and each seat is equipped with three-point seatbelts. Pretensioners are fitted to the front row belts.
As with many Hyundai and Kia models, auxiliary and iPod/USB connectivity is featured, but Hyundai-Kia engineers have once again overlooked the difference between compatibility and integration when it comes to the iPod connectivity.
Motorists familiar with the iPod's file management will know that once files are transferred to the device, they are given new, randomised names, and placed into similarly random folders.
As the Hyundai and Kia stereos only read files and not playlists, using an iPod via the Cerato Koup's stereo means, essentially, having the 'random' function constantly in play.
Starting at $23,690 for the manual - less than a grand more than the equivalent SLi sedan - and offering virtually the same cabin and storage space in a very nice looking parcel, it's difficult to argue against the value the well-specified Koup represents.
The 2010 Kia Cerato Koup is powered by the same 2.0 litre inline four-cylinder petrol engine as the sedan, developing a class-leading (still) 115kW at 6200rpm and 194Nm of torque at 4300rpm. It is a robust and proven unit with DOHC and electronic injection.
Fuel consumption is rated at 7.8 l/100km for the manual-equipped model (the one we tested) and 7.9 l/100km for the auto. Safe numbers too: the long peak-hour drive home from the Koup's launch saw us comfortably sitting on a 7.5 l/100km average.
No revisions were made to the engine in its leap from a four-door to a two-door body, but that's unlikely to put most Koup buyers off. While it lacks the sense of urgency and punch an enthusiast would expect from a genuine sports car, the Koup's target buyer simply isn't going to notice its absence.
While it might give away a degree of performance, the Koup's in-line four is perfectly suited to everyday driving and highway cruising. It is in fact exactly what it's designed to be: a stylish 'daily-driver' with a nice wide brush of visual flair.
Beating the 2010 Cerato sedan to market, the manual Koup gets a revised and improved transmission. Both the feel and the operation are a step-up from the previous model. Our 2009 SLi sedan 'long-term tester' is saddled with a clutch that, while easy enough to adapt to, is too sensitive on take-up and can be annoying in traffic.
The updated clutch of the same five-speed manual transmission is vastly improved in the Koup; now much more manageable and a great deal easier to live with. The action of the shift through the gate is slicker and more satisfying than previously, and with less chore-like clunkiness.
Things down below have also come in for some tweaking. While the Koup's suspension is based on the sedan's MacPherson strut/torsion beam setup, it gets stiffer damper valving, a thicker front sway bar and a 10mm lower ride height.
These changes have lead to a marginal but not insignificant improvement in the Koup's handling. It now feels firmer but the ride is not too bad.
You need to keep the price in context here. While it might lack a little in sophistication, it goes about things pretty well. It is only over poorer secondary roads that it can jar a little; it is otherwise quite a reasonable and enjoyable steer.
The Koup's brake package is more or less unchanged: 15-inch ventilated front discs and 14-inch solid discs at the rear. Some minor tweaks from Kia's tech-heads has lead to slight braking performance improvement and shorter stopping distances (it certainly feels a little sharper than the sedan).
A sportier muffler offers a slightly sportier note, but it's still a bit dull and enthusiasts certainly won't be satisfied. This would be the first thing we'd attend to - some nice pipes and a throaty note.
We mentioned the Koup's sticker price earlier, and it's this point that should remain at the front of your mind if you're in the market for a sportscar. The simple fact is that the Koup is not one.
That said - and we recognise the minor dichotomy here - it is sporty. We hurled the thing through more than a few corners and were pleasantly surprised. It doesn't have masses of power at its disposal but is reasonably well-balanced.
There is an expected tendency to understeer when really pressing on (which can be corrected by lifting off), but some performance tyres will likely transform things.
The sedan, a respectable-enough handler in its own right, is outdone by the Koup's modified suspension. The Koup can be worked a lot harder thanks its tighter underpinning.
The result, unexpectedly, is a Kia that sits a little flatter, corners with a little more determination, and will hold its line that little bit better - 'a little bit' is the key here, but it works for the Koup.
The trade-off is that things are a little harsher over broken surfaces than the sedan. But it's no deal-breaker. With the tweaks being relatively minor, daily driving offers similar comfort as the four-door.
This was no doubt a specific goal for Kia's engineers. It's a fair bet that most of the Koup's buyers will spend a lot more time commuting than barrelling through the nearest set of curly roads.
Steering feels sharper and more communicative than the sedan - and with good reason, it gets a faster rack and re-engineered more-rigid steering linkages. Where the sedan's steering feels somewhat light and vague, the Koup's tiller feels a little more connected and certainly heavier - in an 'old school' sportscar way.
The Koup takes the 0-100km/h run at more of a canter than a gallop, hitting the ton in around 9.5 seconds.
Sure, an 'enthusiast' might choose to bypass the two-door Cerato. It is never going to be taking on a WRX nor even an older scorcher like the Integra Type R.
But, that said, we're not about to damn it with faint praise.
Kia's inexpensive little Koup is more than a reasonable steer for the money, and can be an entertaining and enjoyable drive if you're prepared to keep the revs up.
The Koup is what it is: a sporting package - handsome certainly, and will win hearts on style alone - but not a performance car.
There are better drives around for the money: the Lancer for instance, or Ford's sharp-handling Fiesta, even the i30. But the Koup is a coupe, and, at its price, is perfectly alone in a segment that has been all-but overlooked - or abandoned - by other manufacturers in this market.
But while it's stylish, it's not all looks and nothing else. It is quite nicely trimmed inside, well-finished, and is more than a half-decent drive.
It will sell well for Kia; it's a sure bet we will see lots of them running around with some nice aftermarket pipes and wheels.
Kia's Koup will win a lot of friends and it deserves to. It is a genuine good-value buy. The 'second Korean' has pulled a rabbit out of the hat with the stylish Koup.
- Newer, classier interior
- Updated transmission
- Sharp, purposeful sporting styling
- Especially eye-catching in bright red
- Looks great, doesn't handle quite as well
- Engine needs more poke
- Seats could have better bolstering