Kia's firm local suspension tune underpins the Cerato's leapfrog sales strategy.

Sixth on the sales ladder is good, and more than good enough, for many car brands. Not Kia. And definitely not for the Cerato.

The brand is looking to boost sales by expanding the appeal of its budget small car beyond the current 45-plus group who dominate Cerato deliveries.

After months as a run-out special, with an effective showroom deal at $18,990, the compact Kia is finally getting the work it needs to make a run at the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Hyundai i30 that dominate the class.

The price line for the new Cerato sedan and hatch is rock solid at $19,990 on the road.

The range of midlife updates includes a 2.0-litre petrol engine as standard, a new nose with bigger grille opening and smaller headlamps, improved interior trim and fittings, sharper suspension and more safety equipment throughout the line-up.

"Our strategy was to add value to this midlife upgrade. The pricing has remained unchanged for the volume variants," says Kia Motors Australia boss Damien Meredith. "Drive-away pricing has been one of the great things for our success.

"We've kept the consistency with our pricing. We're not going to change that now.

"Our goal with this model is to break into the top five. I think fourth is where we should be."

The updated Cerato definitely drives well for the class and, after CarsGuide cited the harsh ride and noisy cabin of the previous model, there has been a lot of improvement. Even the Nexen tyres on the Cerato are a lot better.

Six airbags are standard and Kia Australia says it retains the five-star ANCAP score, although there is still no reversing camera on the starter car. A $500 option pack that includes a camera isn't available on the basic manual variant.

"If we could get a reverse camera in under $20,000, we would," says Meredith.

In the 2016 line-up of sedan and hatch, the 2.0-litre engine loses the outgoing engine's direct fuel injection. Kia says it's happy with 112kW/192Nm and owners will appreciate fuel economy rated at 7.1L/100km.

The six-speed manual gearbox is available only on the Cerato S, with an auto as standard on the S Premium, Si and SLi.

The infotainment is improved on all models. It's worth getting the option pack on the S auto just to get a bigger display screen, and the S has front and rear parking radar even without a rear camera.

Kia's suspension guru Graeme Gambold has improved the steering feel and response as well as the stability of the chassis, despite going much firmer on all the settings.

The ride is good, with no thumping or banging, reflecting again the wisdom of proper suspension and steering tuning in Australia.

On the safety front, the Si gets blind-spot and lane-change warnings, the SLi has a forward collision warning, lane departure assist and upgraded stability control.

As always, Kia is trumpeting the longest factory warranty in Australia — seven years — and capped-price servicing costs which it claims are the best in the class.

On the road

The bolder nose means the Cerato now stands out in traffic and we've always liked the styling of the sedan and hatch alike. They are not nearly as bland as some in the class.

It's hard to see or feel much improvement in the cabin but the car is definitely quieter on the go. The six-speed manual has a light feel but few will appreciate this as they go for the auto with newly added driving mode selector.

The move up the model range brings more comfort and kit but the basic driving feel is much the same.

In corners, the tyres on the S roll around a bit. The upspec cars have more basic grip but most Cerato drivers won't reach the limits except in an emergency.

The ride is good, with no thumping or banging, reflecting again the wisdom of proper suspension and steering tuning in Australia. Even on some awful country roads north of Sydney the Cerato drives well, for the class and particularly for the price.

Looking at its rivals, there is every reason to consider — and take — a Cerato in a value-for-money cross-shop against the Hyundai i30, and the warranty and running costs also bring it into consideration against a Toyota Corolla or Mazda3.