Mazda 3 2018 review
Mazda's mainstay 3 hatch and sedan have just had their annual update and the lower reaches have scored new safety goodies and a few welcome extras.
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This right here is basic motoring at its finest.
Remember when Toyota's Corolla really was the go-to for stripped-back well-built inoffensive daily drivers?
Well, Kia's current Cerato hatch, being the brand's best-selling vehicle, is proof that Korean automakers have 'made it'. Brand anxiety over whether Korean hatches are as well-built as Japanese competitors is well and truly in the past.
But, as I found on my test of the Cerato S, there are a few rather large catches.
It's quite old, and safety, styling and engine tech have moved along from the Cerato's heyday. And, more awkwardly for Kia, its sister brand Hyundai has since released the very, very good i30 that even competes on price.
Plus... the next-generation Cerato is due here as soon as June. So, can I find you any reasons to consider the Kia Cerato S auto? Let's find out.
Disturbingly good weather for this late in April let me appreciate the Cerato's exterior.
It makes the curvy, unresolved edges of the Cerato look dated in 2018. But it's maybe a testament to the original design that it's managed to stick around since 2014 with only minor facelifts.
My favourite angle of this car is by far the rear three-quarter. Even at this base S grade, the hatch gets a rear spoiler and sporty-looking exhaust. These, combined with the slick rear light clusters make me think that perhaps Hyundai picked up some design inspiration for its new i30 from the Cerato.
I even think it looks great in this 'Clear White' shade (the only free colour), but the ultra-dorky steel wheels, with possibly the most boring-looking hubcaps in recent memory, serve as a reminder that this is still a base model car.
The 'nice, but old' trend continues inside. The Cerato lacks the refreshed interior treatment that has rolled out across almost all of Kia's range, including the new 8.0-inch media system and Audi-look three-spoke steering wheel.
It's all very well laid out though, I had no trouble finding all the functions and the buttons and switchgear are sturdy. Carefully-placed soft-touch surfaces and chrome highlights add an element of 'premium' to the inside.
It's still the pick of the range, as the lower model (coming in at $19,990, now with free auto!) strips out the multimedia system and reversing camera, and higher models add mainly aesthetic touches.
Family visits and several appointments meant a solid mix of some of inner-western Sydney's least desirable road conditions, followed by a stint on the freeway.
What struck me most about the Cerato was how easy everything was. I didn't have to hop in and immediately disable an annoying stop/start system, there were no frustrating beeps from overzealous safety systems and visibility straight off the bat was fantastic.
There's something to be said for the simplicity. That also extends to the Cerato's drivetrain. It has a 2.0-litre engine with 112kW/192Nm on tap which is mated to a six-speed traditional (torque converter) automatic shared across the whole Cerato range.
That sounds old fashioned, but I found it suitably powerful up hills and at freeway speeds. It also avoids the rubbery response feeling of a CVT or the potential long-term costs of dual-clutch set-ups.
The downside of this combination is that my uhm... active driving style pushed the fuel usage out to 10.0L/100km.
Surprisingly, this is bang-on Kia's own 'urban' fuel usage estimate. The company claims if you mix freeway driving in you can get it down to 7.2L/100km, which is honestly not impressive when you consider the Mazda 3 Neo has a claimed 5.8L/100km combined usage figure.
Thankfully, the Cerato is not a fussy drinker and will take regular 91 unleaded.
It's worth mentioning that the soon-to-arrive next-generation Cerato will maintain this engine and transmission combination in Australia despite a smaller, turbocharged engine and a CVT becoming available overseas.
The drive experience is a bit of a mixed one. The suspension - as always with Kia and Hyundai products - is tuned locally. The result is the Cerato is decidedly more spongey than the i30 or the Mazda 3. While that means it feels a little less sporting than those two, it had absolutely no trouble soaking up the more gnarly potholes Sydney offers up with a surprising amount of grace.
Push it too far though, and some issues surface. Corner quickly over the bumpy stuff, for example, and the torsion bar rear has the back of the car bouncing around. Plus, while I liked the power available from the engine, it was making a racket anywhere above 3000rpm.
If practicality is more your concern, the Cerato offers almost SUV levels of space.
In terms of room in the back it scores a close to class-leading 385 litres (VDA) with the seats up, comparing well with the Toyota Corolla (350 litres) and Mazda 3 (308 litres), but is just bested by the Hyundai i30 with its massive 395 litres of cargo space.
Room for the driver and all passengers is more than healthy, although if you're any taller than me (182cm - just under six foot), you might find the roofline restrictive in both the front and the back seats.
I had heaps of legroom in the back seat, my knees being miles from the seat in front of me, and despite rear passengers missing out on a power supply or rear vents, there's plenty of storage on offer, including a fold-down armrest and dual cupholders which is somewhat rare in the segment.
Speaking of cupholders, there are neat triple-separated spaces in the doors front & back which should suit most bottles as well as two decently-sized ones in the centre up front. These join a deep centre console box and storage area under the air-conditioning controls. If the updated Rio is any indication, the next-gen car will be even better for storage.
As is often the case with recent advancements in safety, cars of the Cerato's vintage seem lacking. It maintains a five-star ANCAP safety rating (scored in 2014) courtesy of six-airbags and the usual electronic refinements but is notably missing up-to-date tech like Auto Emergency Braking (AEB), Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and active cruise across the entire range.
It's hard to justify that safety tech shortcoming at the price when the Mazda3 Neo has AEB as standard. I will say the reversing camera is excellent though, even at night.
As always, Kia's warranty is hard to argue with. Seven years and unlimited kilometres is impressive stuff and illustrates how confident Kia is in the mechanicals underpinning this car.
This is also backed up by the 12-month/15,000km service interval that averages out to $354 a year for those seven years.
There is nothing wrong with the Kia Cerato S. It's perfectly inoffensive, suitably powerful and well equipped. Our car as tested with the AV kit is easily the pick of the range.
The problem is the competition has moved on and now presents a better value offering in terms of safety, style and efficiency at the circa $20k mark, making even the Cerato's best variant tough to recommend.
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