Is the 2022 Kia Cerato S a rare cheap and cheerful surprise, or just plain nasty? Time to find out.

Jeremy Clarkson once penned, “There’s no such thing as cheap and cheerful. It’s cheap and nasty & expensive and cheerful.” He was, of course, entirely incorrect.

Take the Kia Picanto, for instance. Here is a sub-$20,000 car with just enough power to get into second gear. It should be rubbish but it isn’t. Frankly, it’s rather brilliant. The base Picanto S is ever-so-slightly under-tyred, boasts a sub-tonne kerb-weight, and has wonderfully-weighted steering that makes it hilarious fun to rag around – especially when equipped with the five-speed manual. I am not suggesting that cheap and nasty cars don’t exist – rather, I’m suggesting that while most cheap cars are undeniably rubbish, there remain exceptions to the rule.

The 2022 Kia Cerato S is a couple of sizes bigger than the Picanto, available in either hatch or sedan forms (the former being what’s on test here), and comes with quite a bit more power yet nevertheless costs less than $26,000. So which is it – cheap and nasty, or another surprising delight from the ever-improving Korean manufacturer? Err…

The Cerato S is Kia’s bargain-basement mid-sized offering that competes with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf, Toyota Corolla, and Hyundai i30. Now in facelifted guise, the 2022 Cerato S comes with a suite of subtle design changes including tweaked headlights, central grille, and front bumper bar. Kia has also thrown in LED daytime running lights, advanced lane-following assist tech, and a rear-seat alert function. In light of these changes, pricing has increased by $1000 compared to the 2021 model year.

Our car also came equipped with the $1500 Safety Pack, an absolute must-have that includes additional active safety tech including adaptive cruise control, AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. Upgraded 15-inch rear disc brakes are also added, along with convenience items such as an electronic parking brake, power-folding wing mirrors, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter.

Strap yourself behind the wheel of the Cerato and you may just be surprised by the amount of space on offer. I am near-as-makes-no-difference 6’2″ and comfortably fit into the front seats without being twisted into a claustrophobic mess. There is also an abundant amount of boot space at 428 litres, and sufficient room in the rear to comfortably host a couple of average-sized adults side-by-side. Kia has also added rear-seat climate vents across the entire 2022 Cerato range.

The rest of the interior is also competitive and hosts a generously-sized 8.0-inch touchscreen. That said, it’s far from the slickest unit I have used, though, to Kia’s credit, it does boast wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring as standard. Aside from a few minor glitches, I found Apple CarPlay to work fairly consistently contrary to prior reports.

The six-speaker sound system is nothing to write home about. To make out song lyrics you have to crank the volume almost three-quarters of the way up. This wouldn’t be such a sore point if the quality of the sound produced was satisfactory, but it’s not – bass is almost entirely non-existent. It also doesn’t help that the Cerato S has very little in the way of interior sound insulation so you find yourself in a sonic battle, constantly trying to drown out the sounds of the outside world with subpar music quality.

When Kia first introduced the Cerato’s 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, Adam hadn’t yet eaten the damn apple, and it’s certainly feeling its age. At any point up to 3,000rpm it feels perfectly acceptable – however, beyond this, it all becomes rather… ropey exciting.

The Cerato S may oblige to prods of the throttle and venture into the upper regions of its rev range, but you get the sense that it is hating every second of it. I swear I heard it whisper “please kill me” the first time I floored the throttle. Unfortunately, because the Cerato’s 112kW and 192Nm aren’t available until 6200rpm and 4000rpm respectively, you find yourself having to pin the throttle regularly just to keep up with the flow of traffic.

It is at least economical, though. Even when driving like a loon, I could not get the little four-pot to drink more than 9L/100km. On a long, primarily freeway-driven stint, the Cerato S even managed to sip an agreeable 6.0L/100km. Kia officially claims a combined consumption of 7.4L/100km.

The Cerato S comes equipped with a six-speed torque converter automatic and I found it to be a perfectly acceptable unit. It is relatively smooth and decisive, and does a satisfactory job of selecting the appropriate gear for each situation. I also commend Kia for the Cerato’s agreeable Australian-tuned suspension setup that soaks up the worst tarmac with relative ease. Even in tight corners, the Cerato feels composed and capable.

The steering, on the other hand, is, frankly, quite woeful. I had to double-check that it was an electronically assisted unit given the level of resistance on offer. It is also ferociously keen to return to the centre after turning – should the wheel slip in your hand while dissecting a corner, you will receive quite the shock as it whips back to centre with the ferocity of a mousetrap. The Cerato’s brake pedal is also on the uncomfortable side of firm and required considerable effort to bring the car to a halt. Admittedly, this may have more to do with the fact that I have toothpicks for legs. Regardless, they offer ample stopping power for daily use.

Every Cerato also comes equipped with lane keeping and following assist systems which do exactly what their names imply: keep the Cerato in the centre of the lane, and at an appropriate distance from leading cars when cruise control is activated. I found these to work best on straight roads with clearly defined road markings. And, yes, I did have a moment when I tried showing some family members how the systems worked on a flowing back road. I’d barely finished uttering the words “watch this” when the systems failed to detect the road markings and let me stray straight into the path of oncoming traffic. Lesson learned – keep your hands on the wheel at all times, people.

Do note, also, that the Cerato S and Sport only have a four-star ANCAP safety rating as standard. Adding the Safety Pack our tester had brings it up to a five-star safety level, however, which is in-line with the Sport+ and GT variants.

At $25,990 drive-away for a base Cerato S, and $28,010 as tested here with the Safety Pack and metallic paint, it’s priced line-ball with the competition from Hyundai and Toyota, with Volkswagen’s Golf more expensive still. However, I cannot in good faith conclude that it is an enticing proposition – even with Kia’s renowned seven-year unlimited-kilometre warranty and roadside assistance. Blame the underwhelming engine and weighty steering which let down an otherwise attractive on-paper proposition.

The Cerato S is particularly jarring considering the car’s potential for true greatness. The higher-grade Cerato GT, for instance, is a vastly superior product to the point that it feels like it’s built on an entirely different platform – but then again, it does cost the best part of $10k more. If the Cerato S had been half as good to drive as the GT I would have considered it a success, but it’s not.

Cheap and cheerful? Not this time. Maybe Clarkson had a point.

2022 Kia Cerato S Hatch Drive-Away Price: $25,990 | As Tested: $28,010
  • 6.5/10
    Performance - 6.5/10
  • 7/10
    Ride & Handling - 7/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech & Features - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Practicality - 8.5/10
  • 7/10
    Value for Money - 7/10

Pros: Kia’s warranty is still the benchmark, impressive fuel economy, agreeable ride, sharp looker, decent amount of standard kit
Cons: Ropey engine, steering requires excessive force, stiff brake pedal, four-star ANCAP without Safety Pack, a lot of what’s optional should be standard

In a nutshell: The 2022 Kia Cerato S is an enticing on-paper proposition that is soured by an underwhelming engine and overly-weighty steering. It’s a shame it falls short considering the potential for greatness is there as the Cerato GT clearly displays. 

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Kia Motors Australia for five days with a full tank of fuel and all toll costs covered.

Noah Charalambous
Latest posts by Noah Charalambous (see all)
Share this article: