Andrew Chesterton road tests and reviews the 2016 Kia Cerato Si hatchback with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
That the Kia Cerato is one of Australia's best value new cars is old news. We've said as much on these very pages, rattling off highlights like its handsome design, equipment levels and class-leading warranty as reasons the sub-$20k hatch or sedan deserves its place on price-conscious shopping lists across the country.
And all of that sounds wonderful, but here's the catch: the car we've been talking about is the entry-level S model, yours for a paltry $19,990 drive-away with a free automatic transmission (and sometimes cheaper, if you watch for end-of-month deals). And at that money, Kia's Cerato makes perfect sense.
But we're not at that money. We're driving the Si hatch, which sits toward the upper end of the Cerato range and carries a $28,990 price tag, albeit drive away. It sits below only the SLi, but above the S Premium and the bargain-basement S models, all of which were recently updated as part of a 2017 refresh.
And $28,990 isn't peanuts, throwing the Cerato Si into a hotly contested price bracket that's prowled by serious contenders like the Mazda3 Touring ($29,005 drive away) or the VW Golf 92TSI Comfortline ($29,990 drive away).
So the question we're left to answer now is, if you take the value equation off the table, how does Kia's Cerato stack up?
While Australia's road surfaces are almost uniquely appalling, the Cerato absorbs lumps and bumps with little bother.
Price and features
Part of what makes the entry-level Cerato such a killer deal is the fact that even the bargain-basement model gets 16-inch alloys, power windows, cruise control and a 3.5-inch TFT display in the driver's binnacle, along with keyless entry and front and rear parking sensors.
The Si trim level we're driving gets those things too, of course, but adds an Android Auto-equipped seven-inch touchscreen multimedia unit with standard navigation (it'll get Apple Car Play, too, once Kia finalises a licensing agreement), dusk-sensing headlights, air-con vents for the rear seats and an alarm, along with a heap of safety tech that we'll come back to in a moment. On top of that, your power windows will get an auto-up/down function, and you'll nab push-button start, better interior materials and that all-important leather trim.
It has to be pointed out, though, that the base Cerato can be optioned with the most critical elements of that extra kit - specifically the seven-inch screen, navigation and dusk-sensing headlights - as part of a $500 pack. And ticking that box still puts its asking price a long way from the Si's.
Kia scores many more hits than misses on the design front, and it's all down to the creative crayons of former Audi TT designer-turned-Kia saviour, Peter Schreyer, who has completely reshaped the Korean's design language over the past 10 years. His talented hands were all over the Cerato Si and it's a predictably fine looking thing, pulling off that marvellous trick of appearing more expensive - and more European - than it actually is.
The Cerato rides on 16-inch alloys, but it looks its best when viewed front on, with Kia's signature grille framed by a pair of swept back headlights, with two fog lights nestled beneath them. The combination gives the Cerato and purposeful, athletic look when viewed from the front.
Inside, you'll find leather, soft-touch materials and all the niceties you might expect from car in this price bracket, but there's something a little old-school about it, from the rounded - and ribbed - dash setup to the hard plastics surrounding the multimedia unit. In short, the end product isn't quite as polished as what you might find in its competitors, but it is both effective and well equipped.
While interior space is often abandoned in the pursuit of sporty exterior lines, the Cerato Si definitely feels more roomy inside than some of its competition. There's ample space in the front, and a heap of head, leg and shoulder room in the backseat, where you'll also find two cupholders, (joining the two for front seat passengers), and there's extra room in each door pocket for bottles. There's two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat in the back.
In hatch form, the Cerato is 4350mm in length and 1780mm in width, and standard boot space is a reasonable 385 litres, which swells to 657 litres with the 60:40 split rear seats folded flat.
There's only one engine option available across the Cerato range, and it's a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine that will produce 112kW and 192Nm, with power sent exclusively to the front wheels. In Si guise, it's paired with a six-speed torque converter automatic transmission. That combination will return a claimed/combined fuel reading of 7.1L/100km, while emitting 168g/km of C02.
Kia has done some terrific work with local tuning across its range, and the Cerato hatch gets the same attention to detail. Working with suspension expert Graeme Gambold, Kia Australia has ordered stiffer front springs but more compliant dampers, along with a revised steering tune for Australian-delivered Ceratos. And while Australia's road surfaces are almost uniquely appalling, the Cerato absorbs lumps and bumps with little bother, without ever feeling overly soft or billowy.
The 2.0-litre's 112kW and 192Nm won't have you heading to the dragstrip, but the power delivery is more than adequate to shift you through the city. But there is a roughness that appears under heavy acceleration, as though it could use some refining. Plant your right foot and the floor panel vibrates slightly, sending a subtle shake through the driver's seat. It's no deal breaker, but it's also an element that's missing from its rivals.
It's an engaging drive, though, with the suspension, gearbox and steering all playing nicely together, even if the engine doesn't quite have the chops to get the best out of that combination.
Despite a 2016 update, the Cerato range feels a little off the pace when it comes to standard safety. Every model arrives with six airbags (fronts, front-sides and curtains), along with front and rear parking sensors, but the base model does miss out on an as-standard rear-view camera.
The Si adds a more comprehensive safety package, including a reversing camera, blind-spot detection, lane change assist (which warns you if it's unsafe to change lanes) and rear-cross traffic alert. But only the top-spec SLi gets lane departure warning and forward collision warning and there's no AEB at all.
Despite these active safety limitations, the entire Kia Cerato range carries the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Still the best in the business, the Cerato is covered by a seven-year warranty, with capped price servicing for the duration. To put that into some sort of perspective, it means a car you buy in 2016 can be on-sold in 2020, and still have another three years of factory warranty coverage.
Every Cerato requires servicing every 12 months or 15,000kms, and servicing costs are capped at $2,734 for the full seven years.