While here at Drive Section, we tend to focus on cars that are more performance-focused, luxurious, or adventure-ready, it would be remiss not to look at something a little more normal from time-to-time, and there are few cars I can think of more overwhelmingly normal than the Kia Cerato.
With the all-new model first launched last year in sedan form – which I drove shortly after launch and was rather impressed with – before the hatchback model and performance-focused GT variants were added this year to round out the range.
On test here in hatchback form is the Sport+ variant – the previous range-topper as a sedan before the addition of the GT – and with the sedan I drove last year being identical in spec, I had a fairly good idea of what I’d be in for during my week revisiting the Cerato.
Visually, both the Sport and Sport+ variants are fairly similar with 17-inch two-tone alloy wheels and the Porsche-inspired four-square DRL motif the only things you’ll be able to tell it apart from the base S model by.
In hatchback form, I think it’s a fairly attractive car, with the surprisingly chunky rear diffuser a nice way of helping it look a bit sportier than the sedan. Otherwise, everything from the A-pillar forwards is identical, so there’s not a whole lot to report. The red finish of my tester was a nice choice too, and helped it be a surprising head-turner on streets crowded with silver and grey dullmobiles.
On the inside, all is identical to the equivalent sedan, too. The spacious and sensibly laid-out interior is carried over without any changes which is a very good thing as it feels roomy and open, with fairly comfortable and supportive seats all around and acres of room in the back. Uber drivers, take note – if you pull up in one of these, I at 6’2″ will be happy to ride in the back.
A big part of what makes the Cerato feel so normal is the fact that everything is exactly where you’d expect it to be. The infotainment system – one that’s shared with Hyundai and Genesis models – is attractive, clear, and easy to use thanks to a row of buttons below that double up its on-screen functionality, allowing you to use it however you’d prefer. In the Sport+, satellite navigation and DAB+ digital radio are standard, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity features across the range.
The climate control unit is similarly easy to use, with none of its functions hidden away inside the infotainment system. Dual-zone climate comes as standard, along with heated seats in the Sport+, with these two things being the most noticeable additions that the + badge on the back signifies.
If there’s one thing that does make it feel a bit cheap, however, it’s the tiny black-and-white screen in the gauge cluster that simply looks archaic compared to the coloured LED screens you’d see in something like its twin-under-the-skin, the brilliant Hyundai i30. The gauges themselves are very clear and easy to read, however, so it gets a pass there.
Also worth noting is that some of the interior plastics do feel representative of its very affordable price point, which is to say they aren’t the best, but all of the tackier stuff is used in places you’re unlikely to ever feel it, with all of the key contact points feeling to be of a good standard, particularly the faux-leather-clad items like the seats and steering wheel.
I must praise the new hatch variant of the Cerato for its massive boot, too. After going to pick up a new whiteboard for my office that I wasn’t entirely sure would fit in it without the rear seats folded down, it surprised me by swallowing it whole with room for more. While it doesn’t feel quite as tall as that of the i30, it’s definitely deeper and a little wider which is where it really counts.
Under the Cerato’s skin, all is incredibly normal there, as well. If you asked someone who had no idea what it was packing to hazard a guess, they’d probably nail that there’s a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine making 112kW and 192Nm, which is backed by a six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive. The S and Sport models can also be had with a six-speed manual joined to the same engine, while the sporty GT model comes with a 1.6-litre turbo engine and a dual-clutch auto.
From behind the wheel, it feels almost exactly as you’d expect – good, but incredibly normal. Left in Comfort mode – the drive setting I expect the owners of every single one of these will permanently keep it in – it feels very smooth thanks to the slightly dulled throttle response, light and easy steering that’s a dream in carparks, and the locally-tuned suspension feel.
The engine and transmission feel equally smooth and operate in the background at low speeds as well, although if you request a quick downshift from it, you can catch it out as it stumbles to get to a low-enough ratio to harness the power the engine has to give, which is a solid amount but is all hidden away right up near redline.
In Sport mode, however, the gear changes and steering feel tighten up enough to allow for some fun to be had, although you’ll be working it hard to get it going as its wheezy mid-range does feel to be lacking, while it sounds coarse and shouty when you get into the top-end peak of its power band. This, of course, will be of no matter to practically anyone who’s looking at buying one of these, as if you’re after a strong mid-range, the turbocharged GT will naturally be more to your tastes. I’d definitely be interested in sampling a manual S or Sport variant with this atmo engine if the opportunity presented itself, however, to see if that helps it feel more spritely.
One performance-minded area it does feel to excel in, however, is in the ride and handling department, as it remains fairly composed on the limit with it remaining fairly flat and the steering feeling nice and responsive. I will say that I recall the sedan version I tested last year feeling even flatter and tighter through the bends, with the hatch tending to understeer just a tad more, but regardless, it’s still fairly solid in this area.
While we’re on the topic of driving, there is one minor complaint I want to throw out there which is the frustrating radar cruise control system. While it’s easy to operate and does a good job to matching the speed of the car in front of you, when you first set your speed it begins to slow down by as much as 10km/h at freeway speeds for some unknown reason, before realising after a few seconds that it needs to speed back up. Whether that was just an issue in this particular example or one that’s across the board, I’m not sure, but it’s worth pointing out.
I also feel that it’s worth pointing out that while a lot of the active safety tech you’d expect to be standard, including the radar cruise system, does come as standard on the Sport+ model, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are a $500 option (which my tested thankfully did have) but really should be fitted as standard. Worse, still, on the S and Sport grades, you’ll have to pony up $1000 for a Safety Pack that not only includes those two safety systems, but also Fusion II AEB, radar cruise, and auto-folding mirrors and a leather steering wheel to seal the deal.
What will really help the Cerato sell well is its otherwise very sharp pricing given standard levels of kit, along with its attractive ownership proposition. Although the Sport+ tested here starts at $27,840 (sedan and hatch pricing is identical), Kia is currently offering drive-away deals across the range that sees this model cut down to just $26,190 out the door, while the entry point to the range is set at just $19,990.
With a seven year warranty that also includes seven years of capped price servicing and roadside assistance, Kia still leads the market here, although I should point out the closely-related i30 does offer lifetime capped-price servicing that’s cheaper on average, although the caveat is a shorter warranty.
It should be fairly easy on your hip-pocket at the bowser as well, as I managed an average of 8.2L/100km over the course of 570km behind the wheel, and I don’t doubt you yourself could bring that figure down further by driving even more sensibly.
While nothing that will set your heart alight, the Cerato isn’t really meant to be. It might not have the panache of something like the super-stylish Mazda3, but for what is simply intended to be an incredibly normal car that feels to be worth its price point, it absolutely nails the brief.
2019 Kia Cerato Sport+ Hatch List Price: $27,840 | As Tested: $28,860
Pros: Very roomy interior and big boot, well-equipped for the money, should be easy and affordable to own in the long-term
Cons: Wheezy engine, frustrating cruise control system, blind-spot monitoring still only optional
In a nutshell: Simple, honest, and dependable, the Cerato is an easy car to recommend to someone who isn’t after frills and gimmicks and just wants a good, reliable car.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Kia Motors Australia for a week with a full tank of petrol. All additional fuel expenses were covered by the author.
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