Paul Gover road tests and reviews the Kia Cerato SLi hatch with specs, fuel cosnumption and verdict.
Kia sets up a challenge, backing itself with quality, value and warranty to hit lofty targets.
The spare wheel in the boot of the Kia Cerato tells me everything I need to know about the car.
It's full-size and the alloy rim precisely matches the four at each corner of this compact.
This shows, as if proof were needed, that Kia is still a challenger brand with big ambitions and lofty targets. As it works hard to improve its cars and its sales in Australia, it's not happy just to clear the bar with a space-saver spare.
The latest improvement is a mild tickle for 2016 that includes a standard 2.0-litre engine, suspension tweaking and predictable facelift changes including a bolder frontal treatment that brings the Cerato into line with recent Kia stablemates including the Sorento SUV.
Some of the trim pieces in the cabin are improved and there is additional safety gear, although there's still no reversing camera on the base car.
After concentrating on the starter car at the press preview a couple of months ago, it's time for the fully loaded model. It's the Cerato SLi, which is $32,490 in sedan or hatch form.
Naturally, it has that reversing camera, as well as leather seats and a sunroof. It also has a well-sized multimedia screen that's marginally (but noticeably) bigger than in the base car, although Apple CarPlay is still only "on the horizon", and the audio is reasonable.
It would be very easy to live with a Cerato.
Kia is still making most of its progress at the bottom end, continuing the pricing position that means its cars are always all-in with drive-away pricing.
The latest deal is $19,990 for the Cerato S, including automatic transmission, effectively making the car an $18,500 proposition.
That is a good deal but the Cerato is better than just a price fighter. From engine to cabin fittings, everything fits well.
I'm driving it after recent time with the latest Honda Civic, which has a higher price but shows what Honda can still do when it gets serious about small cars, as well as a preview drive in the latest Mazda3. Each is superior to the Cerato but costs a lot more and can't match Kia's seven-year factory warranty, Australia's longest.
On the road
It would be very easy to live with a Cerato. On top of the warranty, the car is quiet and comfy, rides well and returns good fuel economy.
Would I spend the extra for the SLi hatch? Definitely not, and not only because the S Premium at $24,990 does everything I need.
The SLi has a sunroof that severely compromises headroom in my test car. It's not just about the roof itself, even though it nibbles about 5cm out of the cabin, but also about the electric driver's seat that is fitted below it.
Kia has yet to learn how to package the electric motors for the seat, so it's also sitting about 5cm higher than a non-electric Cerato bucket.
The end result is a driving position that's too high and too cramped for me. Kia really needs to get working on the Cerato's packaging.
Long trips will be easy in the Cerato.
Also on the downside, and also something Kia's engineers need to learn soon, is the mismatched premium headlamps. It's good to be driving with HID low-beam lamps but the high-beams are just "standard" halogen and that means there is almost no improvement in coverage when you flick to high.
Lots of Japanese brands make the same mistake with a substandard high-beam. Put this down to the fact that Japan and Korea are flooded with street lamps and the car brands rarely do any after-dark driving in Australia where high-beam performance is a priority.
With the Cerato, there is good news in almost every area. The updated suspension drives a little smoother, the cabin finishing is excellent and even the Nexen tyres seem to grip and ride a little better.
I enjoy the performance boost thanks to the four-cylinder's outputs of 112kW and a solid 192Nm.
Long trips will be easy in the Cerato. It might not handle as sharply as the latest Hyundai i30 but the set-up is good and works well in the SLI.
I also like the SLi's paddle-shifters for working through the auto's six ratios.