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Ian Barrett road tests the Kia Cerato SLi

ROAD TEST:   Kia Cerato SLi  (manual)

by Ian Barrett

28th June, 2009

Home > Road Tests > Kia > Cerato

Welcome to the dawn of a new era at Kia, an era of head turning style, uncompromising safety, performance and fuel efficiency. So begins the sales pitch for Kia's newly released Kia Cerato. With the ever popular compact sedan market in mind, Kia's latest offering has the likes of Honda Civic and Mazda 3 firmly in its sights.

And what a sight - this is indeed a head turner for all the right reasons! Styled by new chief designer Peter Schreyer's team, the new look Cerato is easily the best looking car ever to leave Korea's shores. Matching the very best of the European and Japanese from every angle, I observed that it managed to fool a few folks until they spotted the badges.

We spent a fortnight behind the wheel of a 5-speed manual SLi, the more comprehensively equipped version of Cerato. Externally the SLi adds chrome exterior highlights, front fog lights, rear parking sensors, and fatter 215/45 x 17" rubber on very stylish 10-spoke alloy rims. Just for the record, there's a full size (alloy) spare! So does the rest of the car match its stunning good looks?

Stepping inside we find a roomy cabin with most of the features needed to satisfy - climate control air conditioning, cruise control, leather bound gear shift knob and steering wheel (tilt/reach adjustable), power windows, aluminium-look door and console trim, heated external mirrors (incorporating side repeater lamps), rear park assist with in-dash display, 6-function trip computer alloy pedals and automatic (light sensing) headlights! (copyright image) (copyright image) (copyright image) (copyright image)

The 6-speaker MP3/WMA compatible audio system (single CD only) with 'power bass' actually puts out a surprisingly good quality of sound and includes both a conventional 3.5 mm auxiliary socket and a USB port. Overall layout of controls and instrumentation is well thought out and stylish. The usual storage nooks and crannies are there, including drink bottle holders in the front door pockets and cup holders in the console and the rear centre armrest. The release toggles for the 60/40 split fold rear seats are somewhat unconventional - they're accessible only from the boot, perhaps in the interests of added security.

Front seating now incorporates active front head restraints, and is comfortable and supportive, with good fore/aft range and height adjustment for the driver only. Rear accomodation for two was also given the seal of approval by our team. As with many smaller vehicles, both shape and firmness work against rear centre passengers for all but short cross-town hops. Leg room is also quite adequate for average sized adults. The alloy-look highlights help to lift the otherwise monotone black trim, but we think the door trims are a bit on the spartan side - no fabric, just textured plastic. Apart from that, overall fit and finish is very good - inside and out.

Safety, both primary and secondary, is now paramount. Front, side and full length curtain airbags are standard across the Cerato range, as is ABS with EBD and BA. ESP including TCS, is standard on the upper-spec SLi, but optional on the entry-level 'S'. Braking is taken well care of by front and rear discs, the former being ventilated.

This new Cerato is built upon a completely new platform, with some raiding of the broader corporate parts bin. Consequently, many key chassis dimensions are now dramatically altered, with a 2,650 mm wheelbase, and a 62 mm wider front track than the previous model. Front end is strut-type with stabiliser bar, while a newly designed torsion beam rear suspension allows for a surprising 415 litres of boot space with rear seats in place.

It all works remarkably well, with sharp handling and good ride comfort, particularly given the low profile tyres fitted to the SLi. It's not quite able to match the best in class, but few owners will pick the difference. And an unexpected bonus was surprising composure on corrugated gravel surfaces, which few modern vehicles cope well with.

Everything is new under the bonnet, too. Kia's latest Theta II engine is a 2.0 litre unit featuring variable valve timing to produce a class leading 115 kW @ 6,200 rpm, and 194 Nm @ 4,300 rpm. With the 5-speed manual as tested, performance is lively: 0-100 km/h arrives in a scant 9.3 seconds, and the Cerato cruises effortlessly and quietly, with around 2,500 rpm on the tachometer at the posted 110 km/h freeway limits. All this translates into comfortably relaxed and economical motoring. Kia quotes a combined fuel consumption figure of 7.8 L/100 km/h, enough to keep most owners very happy.

Gear ratios are likewise well chosen and light controls mean the cogs can be swapped easily. One minor niggle with the test vehicle was a combination of sticky accelerator and high clutch take-up point, which meant really smooth gear changes required a little concentration initially.

Kia's new Cerato is almost everything the outgoing model wasn't. For an asking price of $22,990 not including dealer charges and statutory charges (4-speed automatic is a $3,000 option), it offers exceptional value in this class, and with the added bonus of Kia's famous 5-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

We think the Kia Cerato SLi ticks most of the boxes, and does, indeed, have the power to surprise and delight a good many buyers!


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