KIA CERATO HATCHBACK REVIEW
Another launch, and another surprise from Kia. This time it’s the new 2011 Kia Cerato Hatch. On style, substance and value it is going to win a lot of friends.
With six-speed auto or six-speed manual, and greatly improved on-road handling and refinement, it’s a clear step-up from any previous Cerato.
And, sharing the wheelbase and front clip of the stylish sedan (which now also gets the upgraded drivetrain and other refinements), it simply looks terrific.
There is a character and finesse to its sculptured flanks, rising hipline and wide stance.
Perhaps its dynamics do not yet have the same character and finesse – not like the considerably more expensive Golf or MINI – but on the road it’s pretty damn good and certainly a match for most in the sector.
Better yet, the new Cerato Hatch, in both Si and SLi configurations, comes exceptionally well-featured at a very competitive price.
It’s a hatch, that’s new - and one with a large class-leading cargo area.
While it sits on the same wheelbase as the sedan, the hatch body is 190mm shorter (thanks to a shorter rear overhang). The front clip, except for a few cosmetic changes, is the same as the Cerato sedan, but everything behind it is new.
The SLi’s 17-inch alloys are also new (and fill the chunky arches very nicely).
The Theta II engine is unchanged (still with a class-leading 115kW underfoot), but the two six-speed transmissions on offer – manual and auto, the latter with sport and normal drive modes – are all-new for the new Cerato range.
In SLi trim, the automatic gets paddle-shifters on the steering wheel which adds to the fun.
A folding key, LED indicators in the side mirrors, redesigned centre console and Bluetooth functionality are also new.
New again is the improved handling and refinement. Additional sound-deadening in the floors, boot, passenger shell and bulkhead, and foam-filling in the A/B and C-pillars gives the Hatch a very solid feel and quiet ride.
The suspension set-up and tuning has also come in for an upgrade. It’s the work of an Australian testing and engineering team – and it shows.
The handling is greatly improved, as is the way the Cerato Hatch deals with rough roads and broken tarmac.
What’s the appeal?
The Cerato Hatch’s winning style and value are sure to appeal to younger drivers. Young families and older drivers (after the kids have bolted) will appreciate the Hatch’s versatility, interior space, sensible power, fully-featured interior and bullet-proof warranty.
Kia nails its colours to the mast with all of its products with a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
What features does it have?
The Cerato Hatch, in both Si and SLi trim, is very well-featured: it comes with power windows, power side mirrors with LED indicators, keyless entry, folding key, standard cruise control, multi-function steering wheel (audio, cruise and Bluetooth), dual trip meter, and ambient temperature display.
The steering wheel is reach- and rake-adjustable.
Each also offers Bluetooth connectivity, MP3 compatible CD player with Power Bass, aux and USB inputs, and air-conditioning.
In SLi trim, the Hatch comes with 17-inch alloys, premium cloth trim, brushed metal interior highlights, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights, front and rear fog-lamps, six-function trip computer and climate control air-conditioning.
What’s under the bonnet?
The Theta II petrol engine with DOHC and continuously variable valve timing (CVVT), carried over unchanged, produces 115kW @ 6200rpm, 194Nm @ 4300rpm.
The Cerato Hatch (and Cerato range) comes with six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions.
Down below, front suspension is McPherson struts with coil springs, gas-filled shocks and anti-roll bar. At the rear there’s a torsion-beam axle, with coil springs and gas shocks.
Steering is electric power assisted rack and pinion. It has a quite direct ratio with only 2.8 turns lock to lock. Turning circle is a tight 10.32 metres.
How does it drive?
The first thing you will notice in the manual version is the vastly improved ratios (we have been critical of the Cerato’s manual gearbox ratios in the past).
Now with six gears under the sporty lever, it is easy to get the best out of the Theta II engine.
The result is a much livelier-feeling car than the older model.
For overtaking, you need to slot back to fourth to get some instant urge (sixth is a very lazy ratio – at 100km/h it is only pulling 2600rm), but away from the line or flicking through the gears on a winding road, the six-speed manual works quite nicely.
For both auto and manual models, if you’re prepared to keep the revs up and exploit the gears, the Cerato is capable of a spirited turn of speed.
Not so good in the manual is the fuel cut-off between 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears. It’s a fuel management issue that when accelerating hard, the engine dies momentarily on each upshift.
It was a feature of the previous Cerato sedan; it can be annoying and it’s a bit of a drag that Kia hasn’t attended to it.
We had the SLi manual and the Si six-speed auto (not the SLi with the steering-wheel paddles) with a centre shift. It has both sport and normal modes: tap the lever to the right for ‘manual’ up and downshifting.
The six-speed auto is the pick, especially with the wheel-mounted paddle shifts, and gives the Cerato a nice edge over most competitors – only the Cruze can offer a similar six ratios.
Whether shifting manually, or left to its own devices, it works very well.
So too does the Theta II engine. It can sound a little thrashy above 5000rpm, but is otherwise not intrusive. It provides sensible power with good fuel consumption and has no trouble hustling the Cerato Hatch along.
Kia is claiming a 9.1 seconds in the 0-100km/h dash for the manual, 9.8 seconds 0-100km/h for the auto.
The really big improvement though is in the Hatch’s suspension tuning; it’s especially noticeable on secondary roads. The spring rates and damping are unique to Australian models and, in practice, now work very well.
The way it deals with bounding road surfaces and broken tarmac is surprisingly good. We had the back hop once or twice when finding a bump mid-corner at speed, but the handling is otherwise surprisingly adept – Kia has certainly closed the gap on the best in the segment.
Even pushing on, we didn’t once find the bump-stops and the solid-feeling wheel is well-isolated from jarring or judder. (The electric power-assisted steering also comes with a unique Australian tune.)
It’s not class-leading for grip and agility, that falls to the Golf and Mazda3. But, because the Hatch damping allows more compliance (in riding over imperfections), it gives a more comfortable ride than harder ‘Euro-feel’ suspension tunes.
It is also quiet. Much quieter in fact over harsh surfaces than the Mazda3 and Honda Civic for example. For on-road refinement, the Cerato Hatch gets the tick here.
Interior quality and feel
We like the Cerato interior, always have. It is robust, and, as our long-term testers have shown, will stay free from rattles and scuffing despite some pretty heavy treatment.
The dash is ok, it’s not the best style around, but the new centre console with piano-black facings looks pretty good. Plastics in the Si model are a bit sombre – without the metal highlights it all looks a bit black and funereal.
Seats are good – there is good under-thigh support, and, while not deeply contoured, they proved comfortable on a long drive.
Fabrics are also good, especially in the up-specced SLi.
The boot is the thing with the Hatch though, it’s huge for a hatchback. With 385 litres with all seats in place, there is plenty of room in there for the trappings of a young family on holiday (or golf clubs plus luggage).
The seats fold flat (60/40) for bigger loads.
How safe is it?
Both Si and SLi models come with six-airbags, electronic stability control (ESC) with traction control, anti-lock brakes (ABS) with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD and BA).
Brakes are ventilated discs up front (280mm) and solid discs at the rear (262mm).
Claimed average fuel consumption is 7.5 l/100km for the manual, 7.7 l/100km for the auto; CO2 emissions are 179g per kilometre and 183g respectively.
Five years unlimited kilometers (private buyers only).
How much is it?
The Si starts at an appealing $20,240 (plus on-roads) for the manual; $22,240 (plus) for the six-speed automatic. The fully-featured SLi starts at $24,040 for the manual, rising to $26,240 (plus) for the six-speed auto. For premium paints, add $400.
Stand aside, here comes Kia. The Cerato Hatchback is one very appealing car. With the price advantage that only a Korean can offer, it has buckets of style and good driving dynamics to match.
Kia has done it again. If you are in the market for a stylish roomy hatchback, have a very close look at its surprising Cerato Hatch.
At the moment, it’s looking like the best buy in the segment.