Kia Cerato, Hyundai Elantra and Honda Civic sedan 2016 review | comparison

15 July 2016
 by 
, CarsGuide

Joshua Dowling road tests and reviews the Kia Cerato S Premium, Hyundai Elantra Elite and Honda Civic VTi-S sedans with specs, fuel consumption and verdict in this comparison review. 

Little wonder small cars are our top sellers.

They are barely a hand span shorter than the original 1978 Holden Commodore bumper-to-bumper, but have roomier cabins and a larger footprint.

Combine those factors with advanced safety, technology and fuel-efficiency, and it's easy to see why we fell out of love with traditional Aussie sedans.

Amid the strong swing to SUVs, small cars remain the biggest and most competitive segment of the market.

We gathered the three newest arrivals from the past three months in model grades closest to the average transaction price of $25,000.

Kia Cerato

The updated Kia Cerato has a new front bumper, headlights and a wider grin -- but the changes are more than skin deep.

The S Premium comes with Apple CarPlay, a rear view camera, front and rear parking sensors, and is the only one of the three cars tested with built-in navigation.

A new central touchscreen comes with improved graphics, and there's a digital speed display alongside the analogue dials.

Automatic headlights are standard but, on this model grade, rain-sensing wipers are not.

If it sounds like we're splitting hairs, we are. These cars are so closely matched it pays to sweat the details.

The only blots on an impressive report card: the driver's power window lacks one-touch "auto up", which is becoming the norm these days and standard on these rivals. And there's no external boot release (except for the remote key fob).

There are two 12V power sockets, one USB port and a 3.5mm plug. The CD slot is gone.

Behind the wheel, the updated Kia Cerato is much more impressive than we were expecting.

The cabin has more than enough space for four (or five at a pinch), with ample oddment storage in the doors, centre console and glovebox.

As with all three cars here, there are two ISOFIX baby seat mounting points, and the back seat split folds to create more cargo room after pulling two release tabs in the boot.

Under the boot floor is a full size spare. Given Australia's vast distances, this is a welcome sight in an era of skinny space savers.

Behind the wheel, the updated Kia Cerato is much more impressive than we were expecting.

There's a new 2.0-litre petrol engine under the bonnet and the steering and suspension have been retuned and refined for local roads.

Riding on 16-inch wheels and tyres the Kia soaks up bumps and thumps with a level of comfort and composure that puts it among the top of the class.

Wet weather grip -- historically not a strength of Korean tyres -- is also improved, as we discovered during last week's downpour.

The engine sounds a little buzzy under hard acceleration but it has more than enough grunt for a runabout -- almost twice as much power as a six-cylinder Commodore from the 1980s.

Hyundai Elantra

The Hyundai Elantra may look familiar but it's an all-new model.

Beneath the sleek body are the same underpinnings as its sister brand Kia Cerato; the footprints of both cars are identical.

They also share the exact same 2.0-litre petrol engine and six-speed automatic transmission.

The similarities, however, end there.

On this grade, and unique among this trio, the Hyundai has leather seats, dual zone air-conditioning and air vents to the rear.

With daytime running lights up front and LED lights at the rear, the Elantra Elite rides on 17-inch wheels and tyres (versus 16s) and comes with a full size alloy spare.

Standard fare includes Apple CarPlay, a rear view camera, rear parking sensors (but not front), a digital speed display, automatic wipers, auto headlights, a sensor key, and a one-touch auto-up driver's window (although the switches themselves feel cheap).

The steering is well weighted and, overall, the Hyundai Elantra is a pleasing car to drive.

As with the Kia, the Hyundai Elantra has two 12V sockets, one USB port and a 3.5mm plug -- and no CD slot.

The cabin is roomy, the seats are comfortable and, as with the Kia Cerato, the Hyundai Elantra fabrics feel high quality and hard wearing.

Unfortunately the design of the dashboard looks dated, like an Audi from the 1990s. The graphics on the digital displays are unnecessarily bland.

Fine-tuned on local roads it should come as no surprise the Elantra does an admirable job of soaking up bumps -- even those in the middle of a corner -- despite riding on low profile tyres.

The steering is well weighted and, overall, the Hyundai Elantra is a pleasing car to drive.

Does the Hyundai drive better than the Kia? It is a little sharper in tight turns, but the revised Cerato has a better blend of comfort and cornering ability.

Honda Civic

With its futuristic looks inside and out, the Honda Civic instantly feels like it's in another league.

The interior presentation -- with its large digital speedo instrument panel and high quality cabin materials -- is several rungs above Hyundai and Kia, and anyone else in the segment for that matter.

Honda has rediscovered the packaging genius it was famous for a decade ago, with the biggest boot here, the roomiest cabin and the largest centre console, glovebox and door pockets.

An electric park brake, unique among this trio, also frees up some space.

Nice touches: both front windows have a one-touch "auto up" switch, and although there is no volume dial on the audio unit, Honda has a clever button on the steering wheel that senses a fingertip swipe.

It means you can raise or lower the volume much more quickly than pressing a button repeatedly.

The suspension is softer and more plush over bumps compared to the Hyundai and Kia.

There is one 12V power socket and two USB ports (one of which enables Apple CarPlay) and no CD slot.

The guiding lines in the rear view camera turn with the steering (the lines in the Hyundai and Kia are fixed) and there are front and rear parking sensors.

A blind-zone camera switches on every time you indicate left, to see if the lane on the passenger's side is clear. You can turn it off at the press of a button on the indicator stalk, or disable it permanently after going into the car's "menu". We reckon it would be more beneficial to show the driver's side view.

The seat fabrics are superb, and the driver's seat has the option of sitting lower than the others, providing a more sporty position for those who want it.

The suspension is softer and more plush over bumps compared to the Hyundai and Kia, but the edge of the front tyres can be noisy in tight turns.

The steering has a precise, BMW-like feel to it, especially at low speeds.

The smaller, 1.8-litre engine feels more lethargic than the 2.0-litre in the Hyundai and Kia, although the well sorted CVT auto makes the most of the available power.

Downsides? There is only a space saver spare in the boot, no rear air vents, and no auto headlights on this grade.

Verdict

The Hyundai Elantra has made significant gains in the way it drives, but it is priced way too high -- despite the Elite model having some equipment the others lack.

The Honda Civic VTi-S is the classiest of the trio inside and out, and the most luxurious to drive -- but its high-ish price, dearer servicing costs, and short warranty period weigh against it in this contest. It might be the best car here, but it's not the best value.

The Kia Cerato S Premium is well equipped and drives better than most others in the segment. Its super sharp price of $24,990 drive-away -- $3000 to $5900 cheaper than the other pair -- and industry-leading seven-year warranty seal the deal.

Kia Cerato S Premium, Hyundai Elantra Elite and Honda Civic VTi-S specifications

Kia Cerato S Premium - 4 stars

2016 Kia Cerato S Premium.2016 Kia Cerato S Premium.

Likes

Super sharp price, seven-year warranty
Clear and modern display graphics
Nice to drive, well equipped (including full size spare)

Dislikes

No auto-up power window switch for driver
Guiding lines on rear view camera are fixed
No rear air vents

Price: $24,990 drive-away
Metallic paint: $520|
Warranty: 7 years/unlimited km
Capped servicing: $985 over 3 years
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, rear view camera, front and rear sensors, auto headlights  
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl petrol, 112kW/192Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; FWD
Thirst: 7.1L/100km  
Dimensions: 4560mm (L), 1780mm (W), 1435mm (H), 2700mm (WB)
Weight:1332kg  
Spare tyre: Full-size
Boot size: 482 litres

Click here to see more Kia Cerato Premium pricing and spec info.

Hyundai Elantra Elite - 3 stars

2016 Hyundai Elantra Elite.2016 Hyundai Elantra Elite.

Likes

Sleek exterior design
Sharp handling, fair comfort over bumps
Well equipped, including a full size spare

Dislikes

Interior looks dated already
Unnecessarily bland graphics
Flimsy and cheap power window switches

Price: $26,990 plus on-road costs ($30,890 drive-away)
Metallic paint: $495
Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km
Capped servicing: $747 over 3 years
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, rear view camera, rear sensors, auto headlights
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl petrol, 112kW/192Nm  
Transmission: 6-speed auto; FWD
Thirst: 7.2L/100km  
Dimensions: 4570mm (L), 1800mm (W), 1440mm (H), 2700mm (WB)
Weight: 1335kg  
Spare tyre: Full-size
Boot space: 458 litres

Click here to see more Hyundai Elantra pricing and spec info.

Honda Civic VTi-S - 3.5 stars

2016 Honda Civic VTi-S.2016 Honda Civic VTi-S.

Likes

Futuristic design inside and out
Large digital speedo instrument display
Rear camera guiding lines turn with steering

Dislikes

1.8 engine is a touch sluggish
Blindspot camera should be on driver's side
​Space saver spare tyre

Price: $24,490 plus on-road costs ($27,950 drive-away)
Metallic paint: $593
Warranty: 3 years/100,000 km
Capped servicing: $1193 over 3 years (based on national average distance travelled of 15,000km, therefore requiring a service every 9 months)
Service interval: 12 months/10,000km
Safety: Six airbags, rear view camera, passenger-side blindspot camera, front and rear sensors, no ANCAP star rating yet
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl petrol, 104kW/174Nm
Transmission: CVT automatic; FWD
Thirst: 6.4L/100km
Dimensions: 4644mm (L), 1799mm (W), 1416mm (H), 2700mm (WB)
Weight: 1331kg  
Spare tyre: Space-saver
Boot space: 519 litres

Click here to see more Honda Civic pricing and spec info.

What would your pick be? Tell us in the comments below.

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