Cool looks and classy handling defines the Kia Cerato, which helps explain why it's the South Korean company's best-selling car around the world.
The features list in the range-topping SLi is enough to impress most small car buyers and it comes with capped-price servicing for the duration of the five-year warranty. That doesn't hurt its appeal, either.
The Cerato starts under $20,000 but the SLi models top out at $24,055 for the sedan and $24,305 for the hatch. That buys a 2.0-litre car with a decent amount of go, a big boot (in the case of the sedan) and features that run from Bluetooth connectivity to rear parking sensors and climate-control airconditioning.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, the six-speed auto adds $2200. Rivals include the Ford Focus, Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf. That's tough company to keep, especially given the Cerato is nearly three-years old. A few age spots aside, nothing has started to sag on the compact Kia.
Local suspension tune gives the Cerato a grip on the small-car market it mightn't otherwise enjoy. It is supple enough to let owners think they're driving on smooth roads rather than the chopped-up bitumen that dominates most cities. The engine itself isn't the best in the class and the auto gearbox is likewise OK rather than brilliant.
Styling is Kia's strong suit and the Cerato is one of the smarter examples to come off lead designer Peter Schreyer's drawing board. The sharp lines are offset with scalloped door recesses and work well on both the sedan and hatch.
The interior is starting to show its age, with relatively hard plastics and red light displays but there's a new model due midway next year that should bring it back on terms with the latest Focus and the Golf Mk VII.
Airbags aren't everything, as ANCAP has shown by giving four-bag models five-star ratings. In the case of the Cerato, there are six airbags, stability control and brake assist along with brakeforce distribution to compensate for uneven loads. When it arrived 2010 ANCAP gave the Kia a four-star rating.
The Cerato's biggest problem is it looks like a sporty car, so you tend to think of it as one. The red-lit instrument cluster only adds to the illusion, because this car is intended to be a good value middle-of-the-road contender.
The engine pulls well down low and through the midrange but tends to whine rather than wind up with heavy applications of the right foot. It is still quick enough on takeoff and the sorted suspension encourages run on windy roads. But the stability/traction control, which happily permits wheel-chirping starts, kills the joy with prolonged intervention the nanosecond a yaw sensor starts to twinge.
That's great for learner drivers and absent-minded parents but doesn't do justice to the otherwise well-balanced car. The steering is likewise engineered with enough play to cope with nervous twitches while going straight at the expense of outright precision.
As family transport, the Cerato is a winner. There's room in the rear for long-legged teens, boot space aplenty and it doesn't chew through a tank of fuel around town.
Kia Cerato SLi sedan
Price: from $24,055
Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km
Resale: 57 per cent
Service Intervals: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: 6 airbags, ABS, EBD, TC, ESC
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder, 115kW/194Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 6-speed auto; FWD
Thirst: 7.7L/100km, 183g/km CO2
Dimensions: 4.34m (L), 1.77m (W), 1.46m (H)
Ford Focus Trend
Price: from $24,590
Engine: 2.0-litre 4 cylinder, 125kW/202Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, FWD
Thirst: 6.6L/100Km, 154g/km CO2
Price: from $24,490
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder,108kW/182Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Thirst: 7.9L/100km, 187g/km CO2
Holden Cruze CDX
Price: from $24,740
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cylinder, 104kW/176Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual, FWD
Thirst: 7.0L/100Km, 166g/km CO2