There’s no shortage of choice in the Kia Cerato small car range.
Starting from $19,990 (plus on-road costs), the South Korean-built Cerato offers sedan and hatchback bodystyles, a choice of 1.8- or 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder power and six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.
The model we’re testing is the $28,990 (plus on-road costs) Si hatchback available only with the larger engine and an auto. It’s meant to be a bit fast and a bit luxurious, while leaving room for the flagship $31,990 (plus orc) SLi.
For all that choice, however, home-town rivals the Hyundai i30 (hatch) and Elantra (sedan) outsell the Cerato by four-to-one. Is there a valid reason why buyers are staying away, or is this small Kia really under-rated?
Vehicle Style: Small hatchback
Price: $28,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 129kW/209Nm 2.0 4cyl petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.4 l/100km | tested: 9.1 l/100km
Headline act with all Kia models is a seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. Even Hyundai only provides coverage over five calendars, while Mazda and Toyota only cover three years.
There’s value in the peace-of-mind the Cerato offers, which is just as well because two out of three rivals otherwise have this $29K Si covered for equipment.
The $1000-cheaper i30 SR trades the Kia’s standard leather, sat-nav and front parking sensors for dual-zone climate control, 17-inch wheels (instead of 16s) and a sports bodykit (which is much of a muchness).
A Mazda3 Touring, however, has the Cerato Si matched for standard features for $2200 less, also adding dual-zone climate control, though without the Kia’s keyless auto-entry and front/rear parking sensors.
An identically priced $28,990 (plus orc) Toyota Corolla ZR boasts the superior climate control of the Mazda and Hyundai, in addition to bi-LED headlights, front seat-heaters, driver’s power lumbar adjustment and an electro-chromatic rear-view mirror – all features found only on the $32K Cerato SLi.
Kia hits back with a 2.0-litre that is the most potent of its size in the class, delivering 129kW of power and 209Nm of torque, up on the 124kW/201Nm Hyundai, 114kW/200Nm Mazda and 103kW/173Nm Toyota.
So, on paper, it's ahead in some area, behind in others. Let’s see if it's what you're looking for.
- Standard equipment: leather-wrapped steering wheel, gearknob and seat trim, manual air-conditioning, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, keyless auto-entry and push-button start, multi-function trip computer, auto on/off headlights, vanity mirror lights
- Infotainment: 7.0in touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB/AUX inputs and SUNA satellite navigation
- Cargo volume: 385 litres
Nowhere are this Kia’s budget origins more evident than inside. We say ‘budget’ because the Cerato is designed to appeal to the price-sensitive US market.
The brand has a more premium, European-made alternative called the Cee’d, which briefly sold here in flagship pro_Cee’d trim.
The 'plasticky' trim and fake carbonfibre are giveaways that the Cerato has been built to a price.
The leather trim too is not of the high-quality variety, and the lack of electric seat-adjustment or heating, along with the basic manual air-conditioning controls, means this Si doesn't quite match its $29k-plus pricetag.
The colour touchscreen is sizeable, but this three-year-old model has not been updated to Kia’s latest infotainment software as has Kia's Sorento SUV.
Instead, third-party SUNA navigation shows up on a screen that is tilted too far backward, causing bad reflections in harsh sunlight.
Mazda and Toyota rivals now get internet apps connectivity such as Pandora music streaming, while the Hyundai scores Apple CarPlay/Android Auto mirroring technology – all lacking in any Cerato.
Everything is not lost, however, because in terms of comfort and packaging the Cerato Si is competitive.
It’s a rare member of the small car class to include air-vents for rear passengers, for example. Back there, the bench is comfortable and space is plentiful. There is no shortage of storage space front and rear, either.
Front seats too are quite comfortable and with enough shaping for a long trip.
The boot is one of the most capacious in the segment too, with a volume of 385 litres just eclipsing the i30 (378l) while trouncing the Mazda3 (308l) and Corolla (280l). That Kia provides a full-size alloy spare wheel underfloor is all the more impressive.
If you value sheer space higher than 'appearance' in cabin feel and standard amenities, the Cerato Si scores.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 129kW/209Nm 2.0 petrol inline four
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion bar rear
- Brakes: ventilated front and solid rear discs
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 10.6m
- Towing capacity: 610kg (unbraked), 1100kg (braked)
There’s no need to glance at the spec sheet to realise the Cerato Si packs the gruntiest 2.0-litre in its class.
The high-tech direct injection engine is immediately responsive to throttle input, superbly quick to rev and matched to a slick-shifting automatic transmission.
Also clear is that maximum torque isn’t produced until the tachometer is showing 4700rpm. On even slight hills, the auto needs to burrow back gears to search for extra revs. It does so immediately, but your ear will note the loud proceedings.
Likewise your hip pocket will notice how hard the engine is working – only a long freeway and country-road drive lowered urban fuel consumption from 11.0 litres per 100 kilometres to 9.1l/100km. The claimed ‘combined cycle’ consumption of 7.4l/100km is higher than Mazda3 (5.8l/100km) and Corolla (6.1l/100km).
Kia fits high-quality Continental ContiPremium Contact tyres to the Cerato Si, and with sensibly thick (55-aspect) sidewalls they contribute to a decent ride and handling balance.
The Certato Si comfortably soaks up the worst a country road can place under its tyres, although the urban ride can be bumpy and overly reactive to smaller road blemishes.
The handling is safe, grippy and predictable, but uninspiring against the dynamic Mazda3 and even the Corolla.
The steering works best in its weightiest ‘Sport’ setting, which at least eliminates the slack in the rack that is noticeable when weight is removed in ‘Comfort’ or ‘Normal’ modes. Either way, other rivals work better with just one setting.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.51 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Six airbags including dual-front, front-side, and full-length curtain ABS, ESC, front and rear parking sensors, reverse-view camera
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Golf is in another league to others here for punch and refinement, though it lacks equipment. The Hyundai feels more premium than this Kia, while the Corolla is best equipped and the Mazda3 an all-round superstar.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Kia Cerato Si is a good car priced too highly. Not by much, but by enough to be noticed. It doesn’t help that this small South Korean fails to shine in any particular area, where each of its competitors do.
It’s the fastest 2.0-litre around, but then if you really want speed, there’s a 2.5-litre Mazda3 SP25 that’s quicker again. The Cerato Si is roomy and comfortable, but bargain hard if you’re keen on what is otherwise a nicely balanced hatchback.
We can’t help but feel, though, that ultimately the Euro-spec Cee’d would fight the better fight against the classy rivals the Cerato is up against in this segment.