2014 KIA CERATO REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Small sedan
Price: $29,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 129kW/209Nm 4cyl petrol | 6sp auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.4 l/100km | tested: 8.2 l/100km
Kia’s shapely new Cerato is without doubt one of the more visually appealing cars in its price bracket.
But its appeal is more than just skin-deep. Underneath is a great engine, a well-sorted chassis and a quality interior.
More to the point, the up-specced SLi reviewed here boasts a swag of premium features to keep driver and passengers happy.
But there is no shortage of capable alternatives in an incredibly competitive small car segment. So, is Kia’s top-end small sedan worthy of your hard-earned?
Quality: Never mind the slick presentation, the Cerato has a quality interior. No, it’s not quite the equal of segment leaders like the Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus, but it’s not far behind them either.
Unlike the base model Cerato S, the SLi has more soft-touch surfaces and supple leather upholstery.
Everything fits together snugly, and most of the switchgear and controls have a solid premium feel (though the indicator/light stalks still feel a bit downmarket).
Comfort: Heated and ventilated driver’s seat? That alone will win over a few buyers in the showroom, but the Cerato’s already comfortable cabin puts it in good stead even without that fancy 'power-everything' driver’s seat.
Knee-room and shoulder-room are abundant in the Cerato, though the front seats at their lowest setting don’t seem all that low. Tall drivers might find headroom a bit limited though, thanks to the presence of the SLi’s sunroof.
Back seat comfort is also good, with a nicely-shaped backrest and plenty of head and shoulder-room for two adults. Rear face-level air outlets are standard on the SLi too.
However, getting in and out of the back seat is compromised by the slope of the rear door aperture (something to consider for passengers with a bad back or limited mobility).
Equipment: The Cerato SLi comes well-equipped for a sub-$30k car, with keyless entry and ignition, xenon headlamps, parking sensors, reversing camera, heated, ventilated and powered driver’s seat and a heated passenger seat all as standard.
That’s in addition to 17-inch wheels, daytime running lamps, foglamps, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, a trip computer, chilled glovebox, Bluetooth phone and audio integration, USB input and 3.5mm auxilliary audio input too.
But one area where the Cerato SLi lags behind is in the provision sat-nav. Despite being the top-grade model, an integrated navigation unit remains a cost option.
It’s something those of us in cooler states would happily trade that ventilated driver’s seat for.
Storage: With the new-generation Cerato sedan, boot space has increased by a modest six litres for a total of 421 litres.
The 60/40 split-folding rear seats enable larger cargo to be carried, and are unlatched via a pair of handles in the boot.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The Cerato’s 2.0 litre direct-injected petrol four is a sweet engine, with 129kW and 209Nm.
It handles the weight of extra passengers with ease and isn’t troubled by steep hills, both of which are signs that it’s got plenty of low-end torque.
The optional six-speed automatic is just as good. Shifts are smooth and the mapping is intelligent enough to keep the engine in its sweet spot when going up hills (and free of 'hunting'). It also kicks down readily when needed.
The manual shift mode can at times be a little slow to react, but you'll likely use manual mode only rarely.
Refinement: There’s a bit more tyre thrum transmitted through the SLi’s 17-inch alloys on coarse roads, but otherwise the Cerato is nice and quiet inside.
Its slippery shape mitigates wind noise, and the engine is scarcely audible at a cruise.
It’s obviously a bit more vocal in the upper part of its rev range, but, unlike some small car motors, this one sounds good when worked hard.
Ride and Handling: The Cerato’s ride is a little taut on the SLi’s 17-inch alloys and the suspension can feel a little busy over small-amplitude, high-frequency bumps.
Kia’s work in localising the suspension settings however has paid dividends in grip and comfort, and the Cerato has good turn-in response and compliance as a result.
Better tyres would really make the SLi shine though, as we easily found the limits of the standard Nexen rubber on dry roads.
The steering is responsive and direct, but lacks feel. There is also a slight inconsistency to the power assistance round dead-centre - something you only really notice on long highway drives.
You can vary steering weight through three different settings though, tailoring it to your own personal tastes. Spend plenty of time going from lock-to-lock in carparks? “Comfort” is for you. Want a spirited drive and feel like your forearms could do with a workout? Select “Sport”.
Braking: Nothing to complain about here. The Cerato’s all-disc brake setup may be simple, but it stops the car quickly and isn’t overly grabby near the top of the pedal’s stroke.
ANCAP rating: 5/5 Stars - this model scored 35.51 out of 37 in ANCAP testing.
Safety features: The Cerato’s standard safety suite is similar to that of most of its competitors.
That means stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD and brake assist are all standard, as well as dual front, dual side and full-length curtain airbags.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Kia’s warranty is one of the most competitive, covering all new cars for the first five years of ownership, with no kilometre limit.
Service costs: Under Kia’s capped-price servicing scheme, the new Cerato SLi costs between $271 and $344 for a basic service.
Intervals are set for every 12 months/15,000km, and a major service costing $504 is scheduled for the 4 year/60,000km mark. The scheme covers the first five years of ownership.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Holden Cruze SRi-V sedan ($28,690) - The best-handling small car that isn’t a hot hatch has got to be the Holden Cruze. When paired with the 132kW/230Nm 1.6 turbo four from the Opel Astra GTC, it’s very sporty indeed.
Interior quality isn’t great, but the Cruze SRi-V scores well for standard equipment. For outright value-for-money, the Cruze convincingly beats the Cerato. (see Cruze reviews)
Ford Focus Titanium sedan ($32,990) - Ultra-sharp handling and a 2.0 litre engine that’s as eager as the Cerato’s, along with exceptional interior quality.
Poor rear legroom and a small boot hurt its appeal, but the biggest thorn in the Focus Titanium’s side is its price tag. (see Focus reviews)
Nissan Pulsar Ti ($29,490) - Build quality is about par with the Kia, but when it comes to driveability and handling, the Pulsar is inferior.
Rear seat comfort is excellent and the equipment list is healthy in the top grade, but a weak 1.8 litre engine, substandard CVT and lack of folding rear seats makes it difficult to recommend the Pulsar Ti over the Cerato SLi. (see Pulsar reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The top-spec Cerato SLi is an expensive proposition for a small Korean car, but it has a long feature list to match and is a good drive, if not at the top of the class.
Kia has significantly lifted its game in design, quality and engineering with this new Cerato, and in SLi grade it adds a luxury feel to a robust package.
A downside is that sat-nav is missing; at the SLi's price, we think it should be on the standard feature list, even if at the expense of another piece of kit.
As an all-round package though, the Cerato SLi certainly fits the bill.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- Cerato S - 1.8 petrol - manual - $19,990
- Cerato S - 1.8 petrol - auto - $21,990
- Cerato Si - 2.0 petrol - manual - $23,990
- Cerato Si - 2.0 petrol - auto - $25,990
- Cerato SLi - 2.0 petrol - manual - $27,990
- Cerato SLi - 2.0 petrol - auto - $29,990