When asked what medium hatchback to buy, wise man invariably say: "A Golf if you've got $30K, a Mazda3 if you don't." Thirty grand gets you an 118TSI - the best VeeWee this side of a GTI . A Maxx Sport 3 gets change from that sum.
The VW's the best hatch money can buy, the Mazda's a close second. After an interval of daylight, there follows an ever more crowded field. None of them, however, including number one and two, can offer, the newly five door Kia Cerato's bang for buck. It's a convincing enough package to make a wise man question the order of things.
Explore the 2010 Kia Cerato Range
Unbeatable. The base SI is $20,240 for the manual; $22,240 for the auto. Its fruit includes cruise control, manual aircon, Bluetooth set-up, telescopic steering, and steering-wheel mounted controls. The SLI - $24,040 manual; $26,240 auto - adds 17-inch alloys, reverse sensor, suede/cloth upholstery, alloy pedals, automatic headlights, paddle shifters for the auto and various bling bits.
Kia's cousin Hyundai matches the otherwise peerless five year unlimited kilometre warranty, but while the Carsguide Car of the Year-winning i30 shares elements of the Cerato's platform and the Theta II petrol engine, the Kia's uniformly six speed transmissions best its relative's manual by one cog and its auto by two. In the case of the latter, this makes a big difference.
Hardly the last word in this department with that Theta engine a bit too like yesterday's papers compared to the direct injection turbo petrol or diesel donks to be had for a few thousand dollars more.
That's true too of the torsion beam rear suspension as opposed to the independent set-up of the Cerato's more sophisticated peers. The live rear axle allows for class leading 385-litre load space, rear seats up.
But, as is the case with the Sportage SUV, it's the Australian connection that distinguishes the Cerato. Led by Graeme Gambold, the local team's take on the Cerato equips it with bespoke spring settings and steering wheel weighting - improvements that will find their way into the Cerato sedan and Koup.
It's a looker, alright, another feather in the cap of head designer Peter Schreyer. Smart and elegant, it makes the i30 look plain, the Golf anal the Mazda3 like an over-folded piece of origami.
Inside, the base model SI looks just like a sub-$21 grand base car should, a sea of (rather smelly as new) plastic. But the SLI lifts the game markedly, inside and out, without over embellishing the go fast bits. Which would be silly, because sporty ain't what the Cerato is meant to be.
You have to applaud six airbags as standard on the both models. Ditto stability program, ABS and a full-size spare. But the Cerato will likely score four stars, not five, from the ANCAP program.
The easy shifting manual's sixth gear is a bit of gimmick, actually. At 110km/h in top cog you're still doing 3000rpm - a few hundred less than in fifth. But you're doing it with a remarkable degree of refinement. Aside for a bit of wind noise about the mirrors, this Cerato cruises in almost silently. It's a bit boomier in the back, but quite a feat nonetheless.
The auto's the go. The paddle shifters allow a degree of manual override, useful for engine braking or applying spurs to the recalcitrant Theta as a hill begins to prove too much for it. Left to self-shift, it's a fairly seamless unit that goes some way toward masking the ordinariness of the engine.
Moreover, at 7.7 litres per 100km and 187g of Co2 per km, the auto is merely 0.2L and 1g less environmentally nice than the manual.
While not so sharp as the Mazda3, the Cerato is nonetheless some way past dynamically adequate, especially for its likely buyers. Indeed, the local lads have done it proud, with a ride/handling compromise that certain other imports would envy.
Get over the badge and yourself; this represents more than value for money.