Look past the generic small-car silhouette and the Kia Cerato deserves some love.
The basic torsion beam rear suspension is common to most of the cars in the segment but Kia spent months tuning it for local conditions.
The base model Cerato S hatch CarsGuide tested has a list price of $19,990, ranking it at the more affordable end of the small-car spectrum. A six-speed automatic adds $2000.
Buy one before the end of August and it's a $19,990 drive-away deal, backed by a five-year warranty and cheap capped price servicing.
Front and rear parking sensors are standard, though the S misses out on the reversing camera found in the higher-spec versions.
The Toyota Corolla starts from $19,990, the Mazda3 $20,490.
The 1.8-litre engine isn't the smartest kid on the block, lacking both direct injection and a turbocharger. Despite that, is more powerful than the Corolla and Nissan Pulsar and is genuinely fun to drive with the six-speed manual gearbox.
The looks are contemporary without being a standout. The same can't be said of the interior, which has fairly hard plastics in fairly visible places. They feel solid enough but lack the more up-market looks of newer rivals.
The switchgear and dials are above par, with definite clicks as they're operated, and the controls are easy to learn.
Five stars, six airbags and an overall ANCAP rating of 35.51/37 put the Cerato at the pointy end of the safety equation.
It doesn't take many kilometres for the Cerato to mount a convincing, if not compelling, argument for ownership.
This is one of the best-handling vehicles in the field on any surface and at any speed. That's reassuring on the commuter run and rewarding on the weekends.
The multi-mode steering is gimmicky as it artificially increases the resistance from the Comfort setting through to Sport. It exists as a marketing tool rather than a genuine driver's aid.
Leave it in Normal and appreciate the fact there's decent feedback and a degree of accuracy that embarrasses some of the move mundane cars in the class. The same criticism applies to the 'FlexSteer" system on the Hyundai i30 and that hasn't hurt its sales.
Perky rather than powerful, the engine is more than capable of keeping up with the traffic. Those looking for more performance will need to look at the mid-spec Si with its 2.0-litre engine.
The Bluetooth pairs quickly and incoming calls are crisp. The same can't be said for the other side of the conversation, with callers reporting a distorted, echo-ey voice from within the cabin.
Put that down to a cheap or poorly positioned microphone.
It isn't a deal-breaker by any means but the S lacks the rear air vents found in its more expensive siblings.
These will be missed on hot days - opening the rear windows for ventilation doesn't help the aircon.
Life in the rear is otherwise an agreeable proposition. The seats are well-padded and head and legroom is more than acceptable for a small car.