Kia Cerato VS Citroen C3
- Thoughtful cabin
- Plenty of safety tech available
- Good value
- 2.0-litre engine lacks punch
- Lane keeping assist too intrusive
- Steel wheels on the S
- Unique styling
- Giant door pockets
- Sofa-like seats
- Slow and seemingly indecisive auto transmission
- Low on advanced safety tech
- No front parking sensors
As the tortoise taught the hare - slow and steady wins the race.
Kia has been making slow but steady upwards progress on the sales charts ever since it introduced its industry-leading seven-year warranty in 2014. Back then Kia was very much Hyundai’s younger sibling, sitting well outside the top 10 brands in sales. Fast forward to 2021 and Kia finished May in third place, behind only Toyota and Mazda, and crucially, ahead of Hyundai.
The reason for this success? They are many and varied, but a big one is Kia having models in every major passenger segment. Notably small cars, a segment where many of its rivals have pulled back in favour of a greater focus on SUVs.
Kia, though, has maintained a heavy presence in small cars while expanding its SUV range (witness the new Stonic and Niro), and as a result the Cerato has become its best-selling model and the third best-selling small car in the country. It has managed to pick up sales as rivals become less competitive or simply disappear.
But it’s not just picking up the crumbs of its rivals, the Cerato is a good small car and for 2021 Kia has tried to make it better with a raft of changes. We sampled the updated Cerato range to see how it stacks up.
|Engine Type||1.6L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Citroen C3 is a little hatchback like the Kia Rio, Mazda 2 or the Suzuki Swift but it’s different to them, which is why you’re here, I think.
The C3 is different, not in a technological or engineering sense, but in the style stakes. It’s a premium and quirky French take on the tiny-car-thing in a similar way to the Audi A1, Peugeot 208 and Mini Hatch.
Yep, it’s cool, tiny, and little bit fancy. Sounds perfect for the 21st century Australian urban dweller, right?
Well, one came to stay at our urban home in Sydney for a week and here’s what I thought.
|Engine Type||1.2L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The point of the tortoise and hare story is that the tortoise didn't pretend to be something it isn't. It stuck to its strategy and emerged victorious at the end. It’s hard not to think of the Cerato - and Kia as a whole - the same way.
The Cerato isn't trying to be a premium small car, like the Mazda3 or Volkswagen Golf, it’s just a simple, straightforward small car. It's honest, dependable and easy to drive, which makes it a good value proposition for many buyers. It’s easy to understand why it has become so popular.
In terms of picking the sweet spot of the range, while the GT is certainly well-appointed and faster, the entry-level S with Safety Package is our preferred choice. It offers the best value, giving you all the elements you really need, even if you do miss out on the shiny alloy wheels, while still offering a pleasant driving experience.
The C3 is not a bad choice of car for the urban dweller with its tiny size making it easy to park, big windows for good visibility, the air bump armour protecting its doors, and tech like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for keeping your hands off the phone. The little Citroen is unique in its looks among many ‘samey’ hatches out there. If only the C3 drove as well as it looked. The driving experience could be smoother, but if you can get used to this side of its character there’s plenty to like – like those seats. So, for the daily driver score the C3 Shine gets 6/10 but a 7/10 for its urban score.
Kia has made a number of subtle changes to the Cerato for this update - and one major one. The Cerato is the first model to feature Kia’s new logo, with the stylised ‘KIA’ replacing the previous lettering within an oval. It may sound small but it stands out dramatically on the front and rear of the Cerato.
The brand is introducing this new logo around the world as it bids to rejuvenate its image as it moves further into the mainstream. It also comes as Kia looks to make itself a more contemporary brand with a range of electrified vehicles set to join the line-up in the coming months and years (or, in the case of the e-Niro, already).
The front end of both the hatch and sedan have been redesigned to freshen up the look of the Cerato. The grille is new and blends into the headlights, which have also been changed, while the lower bumper has been restyled with the fog lights now integrated into the air intake for what the company hopes is a sleeker look.
At the back end, Kia focused its efforts on the sedan by adding new tail-lights and a new bumper to create a smoother, more flowing design from the side; the hatch is unchanged. Also at the rear, Kia has tried to create a visual difference between the two engine choices, with the S, Sport and Sport+ now getting hidden exhaust pipes, while the GT gets a new design with twin exhaust tips.
Another visual change is the new look 17-inch alloy wheels for the Sport and Sport+ models, which look quite sharp for a sub-$30K hatch (at least in the case of the Sport).
When it comes to the Citroen C3 I think 98 per cent of the appeal is the styling, and the remining two per cent is that you can also drive it places. Okay, that’s probably a bit much, but a big part of the C3’s charm is the way it looks.
There’s nothing wrong with that because the C3’s design is pleasing. If you were having trouble putting your finger on what it is about the C3's the styling that's so interesting and cute, then let me point out the rounded-off shapes.
Yep, they’re everywhere – the headlights, the tail-lights, and those 'air bumps' down the doors which stop them from getting dings in carparks. Even the C3 badge on the back of the car is stylised to make a rounded-off rectangle shape.
I’ve heard the word ‘squircle’ used in relation to them and they’re everywhere, even on your phone, just look at the shape of the apps. Never noticed it did you? And they were literally right under your nose.
Anyway, the same rounded rectangles are seen in the air vent design, the door handles, the shape is even pressed into the door trim. I’m not sure if I’m going bonkers, but does the steering wheel have a square with round edges look, too?
While we’re inside check out the suitcase strap style door handles and those seats. Oh man, if the car business doesn’t work out for this French brand the manufacturer could always go into making furniture because Citroen’s seats are supremely comfortable, supportive and stylish. In my opinion when it comes to comfort no other carmaker can beat Citroen’s seats.
Enough about the seats. This isn’t seatsguide.com.au, so let me give you the dimensions. The C3 is 3996mm long, 2007mm wide (with the mirrors out) and 1474mm tall.
There are six colours to choose from including 'Almond Green' and 'Cobalt Blue', which are both optional and so is the 'Aluminium Grey' our car wore with the 'Polar White' roof.
I nickname it Pigeon Grey because as you can see in the images the colour camouflages the C3 into the road and if it wasn’t for the white roof the car would be almost invisible in an urban landscape.
Maybe you want that but if it was me, I’d go for the standard Polar White and red roof which is also standard. The red and white combination suits this little car perfectly and it’ll stand out like it should.
Now, don’t get the C3 confused with the C3 Aircross which is the SUV version of the little hatch, while the C5 Aircross is even bigger. I’ve reviewed them all so you can read about those later. Let’s move on to the price.
A hallmark of Kia’s interior design is how thoughtful and usable the layouts typically are. There are a few minor changes for this updated Cerato, but given how well received the previous model was it didn’t need a major overhaul.
The thoughtful touches include plenty of small item storage space and cupholders, but also three new USB ports including one in the back for rear passengers to charge up their devices. Whereas some brands put USB ports in illogical spots, Kia’s are positioned next to a place to store your phone (or other device) which adds to the practical nature of the cabin.
One notable change from the old model is the introduction of rear air-conditioning vents across the range, which will make the back seat more comfortable than the old model.
The seats in the S, Sport and Sport+ are good, because while they lack the lateral support of the GT seats, they are comfortable, even on our longer stints behind the wheel.
Space in the back is adequate for a small car. I’m approximately 180cm (5'11") tall and can fit behind my own driving position in the rear without my knees touching the back of the front seat, so the Cerato could take four adults in relative comfort. However, like most small cars the back seats are better suited to smaller children.
The boot space obviously varies between the hatch and sedan. The former has 428-litres of room and offers a wide space for loading your luggage. The four-door Cerato offers up even more boot space, 502-litres. That’s more than what a Holden Commodore offered a decade ago, which is one reason why small cars have remained popular.
Let me rephrase that. How are you going to be using your car? Are you going to try and get away with it as a family car? If so, I’d say it’s going to be too small because the boot has a cargo capacity of only 300 litres and it won’t fit a large pram.
Will there be people sitting in the back seats regularly? If so, again I think the C3 could be too small to frequently seat five, as legroom in the rear seats is tight, and at 191cm (6'3") tall I can’t sit behind my driving position.
But if most of the time only one or two adults are going to be in the C3 then it will suit them well, with enough boot space for a suitcase (see the images) or shopping. Plus, if you do need to carry more people you can, and it’s unlikely, they’ll be as tall as I am.
Cabin storage would be disastrous if it wasn’t for the enormous door pockets in the front and rear door. Apart from that, there’s no centre console armrest bin, two tiny cupholders near the gear shifter, a small glove box and a little shelf in the dashboard for a wallet or purse, but too small for my phone.
As for charging and connection for devices, the C3 could be better. There’s just one USB port (the old Type-A) and one 12V (who uses these?).
One of my practicality gripes about the C3 is that to adjust the climate control it needs to be done through the touchscreen, when a dial would be perfectly fine and quicker. Thankfully, there’s an actual volume control knob.
Price and features
A big part of the appeal of the Cerato is the breadth of the range, with both sedan and hatch options as well as four different trim lines - S, Sport, Sport+ and GT. While most of the range is powered by a 2.0-litre engine, the GT gets a 1.6-litre turbocharged unit and a more sophisticated suspension package to help establish it as the premium option.
What they all have in common is a strong value argument, thanks to generous equipment and Kia’s focus on keeping the pricing competitive but affordable; ignoring the temptation of some rivals to delete cheaper entry-level models in favour of more profitable high-grade variants.
Pricing for the range has leaped up with this change though, with the cost-of-entry into the Cerato now $3800 higher than the out-going model because Kia Australia has opted to axe the cheaper manual-equipped variants.
Kia does offer drive-away pricing across the range, and charges the same for hatch and sedan to keep it simple. The S is still highly competitive in the small car segment, priced from $25,990 drive-away, and the Sport is priced from $27,990. Both the S and Sport are available with the optional 'Safety Package' for an extra $1500.
Next up is the Sport+, from $31,690 drive-away, with the GT topping the line-up at $36,990 drive-away.
The S gets the basics such as 16-inch steel wheels with plastic hubcaps, cloth trimmed seats, front and rear parking sensors and cruise control as before, but for this update adds new LED daytime running lights, an upgraded multimedia system and some extra safety features.
In addition to those items the Cerato Sport comes with new look 17-inch alloy wheels, a new 10.2-inch media screen, digital radio, navigation and 'sport pattern' cloth trim.
The Sport+ takes things up another notch, adding keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control and leather-appointed seats as well as heated front seats to add a bit of luxury. Another new-for-2021 addition is an electric park brake, which also means larger rear brake discs for improving stopping power.
The range-topping GT is actually a fairly different proposition to the rest of the Cerato range, with its turbocharged engine and other sporty elements designed to turn it into a ‘warm hatch’ like the Hyundai i30 N Line or Ford Focus ST-Line.
So, as well as a more potent engine, the GT gets 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and tail-lights and a unique body kit with more aggressive lines for a sportier look. It also gets more premium touches in the cabin, including an eight-speaker JBL sound system, a wireless charging pad as well as a sunroof and ventilated front leather seats; the latter pair are new additions to this updated model.
The S features the same 8.0-inch multimedia screen as previously, but adds wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. The rest of the range gets Kia’s latest media system and a larger 10.2-inch touchscreen.
While this system misses out on wireless smartphone connectivity, it does get navigation (with 10 years of map and live traffic updates) as well as the ‘Sounds of Nature’ function that plays various types of white noise (lapping waves, rainforest sounds, etc) that have been designed to soothe children or relax adults.
There’s one grade in the C3 line-up, it’s called the Shine and the list price is $28,990.
Coming standard is, proximity unlocking with push button start (so convenient if you’re getting in and out a lot on short trips), parking sensors (but only at the back not the front which is a bummer in the city), a touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a reversing camera and sat nav, digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity, climate control, cruise control, 16-inch alloys wheels and LED running lights, but halogen headlights.
I’d expect more features for this price and there are rivals packing more into small cars than this for the same money. The Volkswagen Polo is $3K less and gets impressive features and if the VeeDub isn’t kooky enough then there’s Skoda's Fabia for $22K.
I get it, those cars aren’t as cool, so I’d seriously check out the $26,990 Peugeot 208 GT-Line which (because they’re part of the same company) shares the same engine and transmission and many other mechanical and tech bits.
As for the Audi A1, the most affordable lists for $32,350, but it is a premium and cool little car worth taking a look at.
The Mini Hatch is more expensive again, but undoubtedly cool and different.
None of the rivals have the C3’s ‘air bumps’ treatment. It’s a Citroen creation which first made an appearance on the Cactus SUV about five years ago. They’re little plastic bubbles that are basically armour for your car to protect it against runaway shopping trolleys and people opening their doors into yours. They’re not just a gimmick, they work.
You won't find seats like the C3’s in any of the competitor’s cabins, either. The ones you can see in the images come standard and they’re so good I’m thinking seriously about asking Citroen to make me a couch.
Engine & trans
As mentioned earlier, there are two powertrains to choose from, one for the S, Sport and Sport+ and a separate one for the GT. With the exception of Kia’s decision to drop the manual gearbox, what you find under the bonnet is unchanged from the pre-facelifted model.
The S, Sport and Sport+ are powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, producing 112kW of power and 192Nm of torque. It sends that power to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, exclusively now the manual has been dropped.
The GT is powered by a 1.6-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder unit that offers more punch - 150kW/265Nm, to be precise. It also gets a unique transmission, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, but is front-wheel drive like the rest of the range.
The C3 has a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder, turbo-petrol engine making 81kW/205Nm, while a six-speed automatic transmission shift gears.
If a three-cylinder engine sounds tiny to you, then you’re right, it is, but these small powerhouses are really common for little cars these days. Plus, the power and torque outputs are more than enough for a car that weights only 1090kg.
The transmission was the let down here, the shifts slow and uncertain at times
The 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine isn’t really at the cutting-edge of small car technologies, but while it does the job it means fuel economy isn’t a match of the best-in-class.
Officially the 2.0-litre models (hatch and sedan) are rated at 7.4-litres per 100km on the combined urban/highway cycle, which is unchanged from the previous model.
However, there’s a slight difference between the GT hatch and sedan. The five-door has a claimed return of 6.8L/100km, which is the same as before, but the four-door has actually had a minor increase to 6.9L/100km (up from 6.8L/100km). Kia puts this change down to the adoption of a new catalytic converter.
On test we saw returns of 8.2L/100km in the S and 8.3L/100km in the GT, but those trips didn’t include any significant highway mileage so it’s unsurprising they’re higher than claimed. We spent a more representative time behind the wheel of a Sport, which included highway and dynamic, country road driving and saw a return of 7.9L/100km, which is in the ballpark of the official claim.
Citroen says that after a combination of open and city roads the C3 should use 4.9L/100km, while its urban mileage is 6.8L/100km.
My fuel test covered 174.1km of mainly urban roads and I needed 11.76L to fill the 45 litre tank to full again. That comes to bang on the serving suggestion of 6.8L/100km.
Not bad, but not fantastic fuel economy for a small car.
The C3 comes with fuel saving idle stop tech, too, which cuts the engine as the vehicle slows to a stop.
There’s a lot more that's different between the majority of the range and the GT than just the powertrain. Underneath the S/Sport/Sport+ get a different suspension layout (a torsion team axle instead of a multi-link set-up in the GT, for the technically inclined), which has an impact on ride and handling.
The good news is the Cerato was already a nice small car to drive, having been put through Kia Australia’s local ride and handling program that adjusts the suspension and steering systems to better suit our local roads.
Kia opted not to change it for the S/Sport/Sport+ with this facelift, happy with what it had - and after our test drive that's clearly a good decision. While not as dynamic as some small cars, the Cerato is pleasant to drive, around town and on the open road, thanks to its good balance between ride comfort and responsive handling.
It steers nicely and always feels responsive and well controlled, even if you push on a little bit in some twisty corners. But really, most Ceratos will spend their lives around town, and it feels easy to live with negotiating traffic.
The 2.0-litre engine does its job adequately, but lacks the off-the-mark surge you get from rivals with smaller capacity turbocharged engines (like the GT). It’s good, offering enough performance to allow the Cerato to keep up with traffic, but you do need to work it harder at times to keep it in its sweet spot.
The GT might have some hot hatch elements (and the engine is the same one the Hyundai i20 N will use) but it’s definitely not one. Instead, think of it as a ‘warm hatch’ (or sedan if you prefer) that has some sporty elements, but also a few more premium touches for those who want a small car that feels more luxurious and well-appointed than city runabouts of years gone by.
The engine obviously offers more performance than the 2.0-litre, without ever really moving into hot hatch territory. The dual-clutch transmission also delivers faster shifts than the automatic in the other models, but it isn’t always as smooth.
The more-sophisticated suspension set-up does mean the GT feels nicer to drive than the 2.0-litre models, plus Kia Australia re-tuned the shock absorbers as part of this facelift. They worked to make the ride more comfortable without sacrificing handling. It’s fair to say they succeeded, the GT remains more engaging and responsive than the other models in the range.
All models are impressively quiet for a small car, with good insulation making it feel a bit more polished than your average small car.
One area Kia needs to work on is the tuning of the active lane keeping system. Like most recent Kia models (and Hyundais as they share the same technology) it can be too intrusive, often tugging the wheel in your hands when it doesn’t need to. There is a button on the wheel to turn it off, but hopefully Kia (and Hyundai) will improve the tuning for future models as lane keeping assist can be a useful safety tool when done right.
The C3’s length is its biggest urban strength, and in the time I had it there was almost never a spot I couldn't squeeze into.
Visibility is also good in all directions, through those giant windows, although I did feel low down with even small SUVs seeming to tower over me.
I’ve reviewed the SUV version of the C3, the C3 Aircross, and the slightly taller ride height made for even better visibility.
A comfortable ride and a fun sporty feel to the handling makes buzzing around town enjoyable, but if I could change anything it’d be the engine and transmission.
This may be a highly acclaimed three-cylinder engine and the transmission is a six-speed auto (torque converter, not a dual clutch), but their interaction with each other doesn’t provide the smoothest driving.
The shifts sometimes arrive too early, or at peculiar times, sometimes hesitating mid-shift, and moving to higher gears results in slumps of turbo lag.
I also found the fuel saving idle stop tech way too intrusive, to the point where the engine was cutting out midway through intersections as I was waiting to turn. Thankfully, you can turn this off.
This is one area that has come in for significant attention during this update, with several new safety items added across the range. However, the Cerato retains the same split safety crash rating from ANCAP (it’s worth noting these are carry-over scores from when the previous model was tested in 2019), with the S and Sport scoring four stars while the Sport+ and GT have maximum five-star scores.
The reason for this is simple and deeply confusing. Put simply, the S/Sport miss out on some key safety features as standard - specifically, blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with cyclist avoidance - which means they’re unable to achieve the maximum rating.
However, Kia does offer both models with a Safety Package that includes those items for an additional $1500, thus meaning they achieve the same five-star score as the Sport+/GT if you’re willing to pay extra.
Where it gets a bit confusing is Kia had to drop the manual transmission because of the safety ratings. That’s because the manual wasn’t compatible with the full AEB system, which means it couldn’t be fitted with the Safety Pack and therefore could only ever be a four-star car. For reasons that require a separate story, ANCAP rules mean that the entire range would have been classified as four-stars, so the manual was axed.
What’s actually important is the safety equipment the cars do have. In the case of the S/Sport that means AEB with car and pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, lane follow assist, driver attention alert and speed warning. In addition to the previously mentioned items, the Safety Package also adds 'Safe Exit Warning' (which is standard on the Sport+/GT) that uses sensors to detect if you’re opening your door into oncoming traffic or cyclists.
The Sport+/GT also get two new active safety items - blind-spot collision avoidance assist and rear cross-traffic alert with collision avoidance assist. These are extensions of existing warning systems that add autonomous braking to mitigate or avoid a potential collision.
In terms of passive safety, all Ceratos are fitted with six airbags (driver and front passenger, front side, and dual curtain) and come with three child seat anchor points and a pair of ISOFIX locations.
ANCAP scored the Citroen C3 four stars out of a maximum of five in 2017, but that was before AEB was added in 2018. Also, standard is lane departure warning, and blind spot detection. As mentioned above there’s also rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.
The AEB system works at slower city speeds which is a plus for urban driving, but it doesn’t have pedestrian and cyclist detection, which is a minus.
And there’s no rear cross traffic alert either, which in other cars has saved my skin more than once while reversing into busy little streets.
For child seats you’ll find three top tether anchor points and two ISOFIX mounts across the second row.
Kia is now famous for its seven year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and the brand freely admits it has played a major role in its sales growth, acting as an incentive to entice new customers to take a chance on the brand.
In terms of servicing, intervals for the 2.0-litre are every 12 months or 15,000km while the GT, with its unique powertrain, needs 12 month/10,000km check ups.
Unlike some companies that offer a flat rate or at least a consistent rate for minor and major service, the cost of each Cerato service varies significantly. For example, the first service for the 2.0-litre costs $275, the second $469 and the third $339. Over the full seven year period the average cost works out at $419 per year.
It’s the same story for the 1.6-litre, with the 10,000km visit costing you $282, and the 20,000km $476, before the 70,000km visit hits $640; which is at the high end for a mainstream small car. Over the full period though, the GT isn’t significantly more to service, averaging $470 annually over the seven years.
Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km and capped price servicing is offered with the first visit costing $381, then $491, $621, $496, and $385 for the fifth.