Kia Cerato GT 2019 first drive review
The church of performance hatchbacks is a particularly broad one.
At the top end, Audi’s RS3 can get perilously close to $100,000 on the road if you mine the options list for costly extras such as ceramic brakes, while Ford’s Focus RS brings semi-slick tyres, “drift mode” and unforgiving rally-spec seats, and Honda’s Civic Type-R pushes the pursuit of aerodynamic performance into new and aesthetically questionable territory for half that sum.
The other end of the spectrum is less defined - what should customers drive if they will never see a racetrack, and want to spend a little less on their next set of wheels?
The answer might not be a hot hatch, but it just might be the Kia Cerato GT.
This isn’t a rival to Volkswagen’s Golf R or GTI, but it has elements of those cars’ character.
Like the Golf R, this Cerato GT sits at the top of Kia’s small car range, and is stuffed to the roofliner with handy kit. Like the GTI, the Cerato aims to be a comfortable everyday drive with sporting pretension as opposed to something designed to challenge the Nurburgring lap record.
Priced from $31,990 drive-away in sedan or hatchback form, the Cerato GT costs a neat $10,000 more than a basic automatic model, though there is plenty of equipment to justify the additional spend. Hidden extras aren’t a problem - the only option is metallic paint. You can choose from nine premium finishes for $520, or go with a flat white finish as standard.
Kia’s contender is competitively priced, taking on rivals such as the $28,990 Ford Focus ST-Line and Hyundai i30 N Line (which replaces the i30 SR) for $29,490 plus on-road costs.
Loaded with kit, the Cerato GT brings a turbocharged engine, dual-clutch automatic transmission, 18-inch wheels with Michelin tyres and sophisticated independent rear suspension which you won’t find on lesser models.
The same goes for interior details such as heated and cooled sports seats with driver’s memory adjustment, a flat-bottomed steering wheel with shift paddles and a thumping JBL stereo which join an 8-inch infotainment system home to sat nav, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a reversing camera and more.
Safety kit includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection systems, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control systems in a suite of features which earned a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Kia’s seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty is another strong value point, as is a capped price servicing scheme which works out at an average of $470 per year over seven years.
What's the interior like?
The Cerato GT is available as a five-door hatch or four-door wagon. We focused on the new-for-OZ hatch at the model’s local launch, as regular sedans have been on sale for a few months.
Five-door models have 428 litres of boot space, while the big-booted sedans boast 502 litres of capacity - though larger objects are more likely to fit into the hatch.
On the whole, the Cerato GT’s cabin is an accommodating and well-sorted environment helped by the modestly bolstered sports seats, tactile steering wheel and dual-zone climate control. It feels like a car which would prove a capable ally on long trips.
There are plenty of places to store nick-knacks, and power outlets are in good supply. You’ll find a pair of USB points, a 12-volt power outlet and an inductive charging pad up front. But the most important power comes from under the bonnet.
What's it like to drive?
Shared with the Hyundai i30 SR and N-Line, the Cerato GT’s 1.6-litre donk produces useful 150kW and 265Nm peaks - the latter from just 1500rpm. It’s a smooth and flexible unit, one which always has enough grunt to move the car along, handling steep hills and overtaking manoeuvres with ease.
Kia lent a little character to the normally nondescript unit by plumbing in augmented exhaust sound during wide throttle openings or in sports mode, making the car feel more like a GTI than a regular hatch. Though the seven-speed dual-clutch auto represents a sophisticated addition, it isn’t the sportiest unit going around. You miss out on the characterful burp from the tailpipes found in more expensive performance models, and it’s not as intuitive as VW’s DSG when driven hard.
Straight-line acceleration is brisk rather than blistering - we’d guess at a 0-100km/h time in the high seven-second bracket.
Kia claims the Cerato GT returned 6.8L/100km fuel economy during government testing, undercutting the regular car’s 7.4L/100km figure. Happily, the Cerato GT’s performance claims are achieved using regular unleaded as opposed to more expensive high-octane fuel.
Remember that bit about the Cerato being benchmarked against popular performance cars? The Cerato GT brings a level of focus we haven’t seen from the brand’s hatchbacks, packing firmer springs, shock absorbers and roll bars than regular models.
The result is a car that feels precise when pushing on, with taut, well-controlled body movements as opposed to the wallowing heave and droop sometimes found in affordable five-doors. The deliberate decision to chase a sporty character resulted in a car that feels a touch firmer than you might expect on broken surfaces, with an edge to its ride that might take you by surprise.
Drivers accustomed to performance cars such as the GTI or Subaru WRX won’t be bothered by that, but people used to a more isolating experience might be more comfortable in something a little less focused.
Quality Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres give the hatchback plenty of grip, which results in cornering poise beyond the scope of the Kia’s electronic stability control system. Dial up the G-Forces and you’ll feel the chassis management system grab a brake disc here and there, worried that you’ve overcooked efforts which would be perfectly allowable in cars with a more accommodating ESC suite. Some cars activate ESC when things start to get testy, while the Kia intervenes well before you reach that point. Enthusiasts won’t like that.
What's the first impression?
On the whole, the Cerato GT is an impressive car. Its value is beyond question, but more than that, this model is the result of a genuine attempt to build driver appeal into an otherwise ordinary hatch.
The Cerato GT is fun to drive for the most part, at least until you push beyond its comfort zone. While keen drivers will want to stretch their budget a little further in pursuit of something with sharper performance credentials, many motorists are likely to find the Cerato GT is hot enough for their tastes.
David McCowen is Drive’s news editor, combining automotive passion with more than a decade of reporting experience. Dave is often found at a racetrack – either in the press room, or driving his hot hatch.