WHEN IT CAME TO UPDATING THE 2016 KIA CERATO, THE IDEA WAS TO SIMPLY TWEAK THE CAR TO KEEP IT FRESH, NOT RE-INVENT IT AND START AGAIN.
And why would Kia need to re-invent it? Before the current Cerato launched in 2013 it was the twelfth ranked small car on sale in Australia, by the end of 2015 it had moved up to sixth place.
So, if more Aussie buyers are choosing a Cerato - instead of a Civic, Pulsar, or Focus - there's got to be a fair bit right with things, at least that’s Kia’s rationale behind this incremental update.
Vehicle Style: Small hatch and sedan
Price: $19.990 - $32,490 (drive away)
Engine/trans: 112kW/192Nm 2.0 4cyl petrol | 6sp manual, 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.1 l/100km | Tested: 7.5 l/100km
Like before, the Cerato comes in four models - S, S Premium, Si and SLi - except now all four are offered in both hatch and sedan body styles again (in runout mode some variants disappeared for a while).
Pricing has been kept sharp, with no changes across range, except for a $500 bump on the SLi to account for newly added safety features.
But the changes are low-key. There's a restyled front bumper that shadows the larger Optima, a more prominent grille and new wrap-around headlights, new wheel designs and new tail-lights for the sedan.
Inside, Kia has fitted the S and S Premium variants with new cloth-trim and some detail changes to the interior finishes, while S Premium and above feature a new infotainment system, with all-important smartphone mirroring capabilities.
And there’s a new engine sitting across the range, and revisions to the Cerato’s Aussie-tuned steering and suspension - again, nothing groundbreaking but good solid updates to a dependable package.
- S: Cloth seat trim, trip computer, cruise control, power windows, remote central locking, cooled glovebox, front and rear parking sensors, 16-inch steel wheels
- S Premium: In addition to S, dusk-sensing headlights, soft-touch interior surfaces, premium steering wheel, leather-look instrument cover, chrome interior door handles, 16-inch alloy wheels
- Si: In addition to S Premium, leather seat trim, rear air vents, illuminated vanity mirrors, UV-cut windscreen, puddle lights and door handle lights, proximity key with push-button start
- SLi: in addition to Si, dual-zone climate control, power adjustable driver’s seat with ventilation, heated front seats, HID headlights, LED tail lights, powered sunroof, steering wheel paddle shifters, sport pedals, colour instrument cluster display, cooled glovebox
- Infotainment: (S) MP3 compatible CD player, AM/FM radio, MP3 copy functionality, Aux and USB input, six speakers, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity
- Infortainment: (S Premium, Si, and SLi) 7.0-inch touchscreen, MP3/AM/FM playback satellite navigation, Android Auto (now) and Apple CarPlay (via software update), Aux and USB input, six speakers, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity
- Cargo volume: 385 litres, hatch. 482 litres, sedan
On the inside Kia has kept things much as they were, with just a few tweaks like new seat fabrics on S and S Premium.
There are some premium touches as you rise through the range: a stitched instrument hood, extra gloss-black trims, carbon-look elements and additional brightwork through the cabin.
The seat design itself doesn’t change, nor do key interior dimensions - and there’s little to complain about, with a roomy cabin and plenty of room for young families.
If we’re splitting hairs, the rear seat of the sedan is a little tighter for headroom compared to the less-raked roofline of the hatch - and the rear seat itself lacks for under thigh support - but these are small gripes.
The dashboard design, made up from multiple pieces, looks a little busy and is not as cohesive as some of the opposition. Despite attempts to give the interior a more premium feel, there are still dollops of dull plastics that bring the tone down a bit.
In terms of fit and finish, however, the Cerato hits the mark. There are no raw edges, no loose pieces, and no ergonomic flaws, it just lacks the cohesion and integration of some of its competitors.
The biggest news is a new infotainment system, which brings with it a 7.0-inch touchscreen which will include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility “coming soon” via a software update, once licensing agreements are in place
The system is standard in S Premium and above, and a slightly different version can also be optioned into the S for $500 (with Android Auto ready to roll) in a package with a reversing camera and automatic headlights - but without the standard sateillite navigation of higher-grade cars.
Leather seat trim is standard on Si and SLi models, with SLi also scoring heated front seats, a ventilated driver’s seat, and eight-way power adjustment for the driver with two-position memory.
Jumping in and out of variants revealed that the powered driver seat can’t be set as low as the manually adjusted seats, giving the SLi a more lofty driving position.
As with the rest of the cabin, boot space is unchanged, with the hatch providing 385 litres of storage space (to the parcel shelf) and the sedan bulking up to 482 litres, both expandable via split fold rear seats.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 112kW/192Nm 2.0 litre naturally aspirated petrol four-cylinder
- Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: Four-wheel disc brakes, ventilated front, solid rear
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering, turning circle: 10.6m
- Towing capacity: 610kg unbraked, 1200kg (manual), 1100kg (automatic)
Just one engine variant is now offered across the Cerato range, a 2.0 litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol with multi-point injection that produces 112kW of power at 6200rpm and 192Nm of torque at 4000rpm.
It replaces both the 1.8 litre multi-point and 2.0 litre direct injection engines from before, with power and torque outputs that fall between the two previous offerings, but with a small improvement in fuel economy.
In the Cerato S, both a six-speed manual and six-speed automatic are available, but for S Premium, Si, and SLi, a six-speed automatic is the only transmission.
Our introductory drive stretched from the grinding city streets of Sydney, out to the more flowing roads of New South Wales’ Hunter Valley.
And, in the cut and thrust of the Harbour City the 2.0 litre engine didn’t disappoint. It has ample urge to keep pace with rushing traffic and to effortlessly contend with the many inclines and elevation changes about town.
As the roads open up, however, and the city falls into the background, the Cerato needs to be pushed a little harder to deliver its best. But, while it doesn’t offer the shove in the back of some turbo cars, there’s still enough left up its sleeve for safe overtaking at highway speeds.
The six-speed automatic performs well, with smooth, relatively seamless shifts, but is perhaps set-up a little conservatively. Through the hills the transmission will wash off a little speed before downshifting, but once it gets the message from the driver (via the right foot), it’s clever enough to hold lower gears without hesitating or shuffling about.
On the other hand, the six-speed manual available in the Cerato S is as light as a feather - meaning that changing gears is no chore. Unfortunately the clutch is also super-light, making it a little difficult to accurately feel the take-up point.
Kia’s Australian-developed suspension tune has been given a going-over. The result is improved vibration suppression and improved handling (on a car that was already pretty good for NVH).
Certainly, on some chopped-up road surfaces we encountered, the Cerato had little trouble blotting out all but the biggest hits, and otherwise offers the safe and predictable handling that family buyers will value.
Like most modern well-sorted small cars, it is more capable than its conventional lines might suggest - give it a bit of heat through the bends and the nose tucks in faithfully and the tail holds the road securely.
The steering has also been revised, with a more powerful processor for the electric steering system, and some hardware changes designed to quell vibrations.
Automatic Ceratos feature a drive mode selector with Eco, Normal and Sport settings for transmission, throttle and steering, while the manual gets a switch just for steering mode.
Wind and engine noise are subdued; in some blustery conditions we encountered, the cabin remained calm and quiet. Tyre noise is the bigger disturbance, but the Cerato is far from the worst in class.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - the Cerato maintains its previous 5-Star result, scoring 35.51 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2013.
Safety features: All Cerato models feature six airbags (dual front, front side, and curtain), ABS brakes with brake assist, hill start assist, electronic stability and traction control, 2x rear ISOFIX child seat mounts, and front seatbelt pretensioners.
Cerato Si adds a reversing camera, blind spot detection, and rear cross traffic alert, while the range topping SLi provides lane departure warning and forward collision warning.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Cerato goes into battle alongside some tough competition in the small car class, including the hard-to-beat (in sales terms) Hyundai i30 hatch and Elantra sedan and Toyota Corolla.
The Mazda3 is another that may well be on your shopping list, with great dynamics, and relatively frugal fuel consumption. The under-appreciated Ford Focus deserves a look too.
If price is a primary factor then there are good deals to be done on the Holden Cruze, Mitsubishi Lancer and Nissan Pulsar, but we think you'll find the Cerato the more impressive product.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Kia refuses to give up the fight for buyer attention, which is why the $19,990 driveaway Cerato (with automatic) is one of three key price-pillars for the brand - the $16,990 drive away Rio auto and $14,990 drive away Picanto auto are the other two.
With the peace of mind of a seven-year warranty, a decent list of features and commendable ride and handling, the Cerato deserves to be noticed in a chock-full small car segment.
Better than being simply cheap, the Cerato range is decent value, and new safety features higher in the range make it a reassuring buy.
Comfortable, roomy, and balanced - the Cerato is an appealingly-styled, well-built small car that is right at home on Australian roads. It's a sensible option for new car buyers who choose to buy with their heads, and let their hearts follow.