Mazda3 VS Kia Cerato
- Great value
- Long warranty
- Is it hot or not?
- GT needs more grunt
- Steering feel
We all know that X means buried treasure in the world of children’s book pirates, but it’s looking like it could hold similar relevance for what lies under the bonnet of future Mazdas.
We first officially heard about Mazda’s industry-leading Skyactiv-X technology at the brand’s Global Tech Forum in Germany two years ago, but now we’ve ventured back to Germany to drive it in production form ahead of its Australian arrival aboard a new flagship version of the Mazda3 early next year.
No other manufacturer has managed to productionise compression ignition for a petrol engine, and with an underlying intention to make the combustion engine work better for everyday driving, in the face of the electric-focus of all other global brands, this could be the most exciting technological development of my career.
Why invest so much in combustion engines if every other major brand is beginning to treat them like yesterday’s news? While the Japanese government predicts that 52 per cent of new cars sold in 2030 will use some form of electrification in their drivetrain, the same data suggests 90 per cent will still use an internal combustion engine as at least an element of their drivetrain. That’s 90 per cent of the market, more than a decade from now.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
You need a new small car and have $20-30k to spend, max. What do you do? Easy. You take $24,870 and go straight to our sister site autotrader.com.au and get yourself that sweet-as 2015 white Mazda MX-5 convertible with the manual gearbox and 32,141km on the clock.
What? You need more than two seats? And a proper boot? For about the same amount of money? Oh… well this is awkward. Okay, have you met the Kia Cerato, then?
I did, I’ve met them all - every Cerato from this new generation model. I’ve driven the sporty one – the GT on some of Australia’s best roads, and I’ve driven the rest, the S and the Sport, on some of the worst roads.
My family and I lived with them, too. We drove hundreds of kays, did day care drops off, had supermarket car park meltdowns where nobody was talking to each other, singalongs (that was mainly me, by myself), fell asleep in them and did the daily commute in them.
I feel I know the Cerato so well now, I reckon I could almost build one if you gave me the pieces.
Here’s what I learnt about what could be the best value small car buy out there right now. Or there’s the Mazda MX-5.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Unlike most big technological advancements, this isn’t about extra performance or reinventing the wheel, it’s about Mazda’s bigger picture approach to deliver the best mobility solutions for right now, while still planning for electric and fuel cell vehicles in the future.
That may sound like a line straight out of the Skyactiv-X press release, but Mazda’s realistic approach to our continued dependence on combustion engines is commendable.
My final judgement will have to wait until we know how much more it will cost over a regular Mazda3, but I can say the technology works really well and should really suit Australian conditions.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
The drive-away pricing and big features list makes the Cerato great value, and then there’s the practicality and warranty. Also, you have choice between something a little hardcore or more comfortable.
To me, the Sport Plus is the sweet spot in the range. The leather seats, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, proximity key and heated seats clinch it.
The Kia Cerato could be the smartest choice you’ll make this year. Or there’s the Mazda MX-5.
Do you reckon the Cerato is the best value-for-money small car on the market? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Aside from the stunning good looks of the new Mazda3, the only visual distinctions the Skyactiv-X version scores over a regular high-sec model are bigger exhaust tips like those seen on the latest version of the Mazda6, and a Skyactiv-X badge in place of the regular models’ Skyactiv-G.
What a time to be alive: small cars have never looked better. Have you seen the new Ford Focus or the Hyundai i30? Even the current Toyota Corolla looks sexy.
But does the same go for the new Cerato? The sedan is certainly attractive, but the hatch looks hot from some angles and not from others. The hatch has whiffs of BMW X4 around the tail-lights, although its side profile is not as pleasing as the sedan’s.
Both have the same angry Kia face with signature ‘tiger nose’ grille, while all grades in both body styles have the glossy black diffuser and lower bumper with integrated exhaust.
And that’s a bit of a tip for you right there. See, despite there being four grades and a $12K price difference between the entry level and top-of-the-range Cerato, the difference in styling is almost zilch.
Really, the only way you can tell the difference visually between an S grade and a GT is the wheels and exhaust (the S has hub caps and one tail pipe, not two).
All Cerato hatches have that same body kit, including the roof top rear spoiler. The Cerato sedans don’t miss out – they have a little boot lid spoiler.
If it came down to it, I’d say the sedan is a better-looking car than the hatch.
The cabins are also almost identical although the cloth seats in the S and Sport aren’t as premium looking or feeling as the leather ones in the Sport + and GT, and there are other similarly luxurious elements on these grades such as the push-button ignition and soft-touch plastics. Have a look at the interior photos, I took them myself.
What colours can you get your Cerato in? There are 10, but one ('Sunset Orange') is exclusive to the GT.
Only one is a non-cost option, too – it’s 'Clear White'. The rest are premium paint colours and will cost you extra. You can have 'Aurora Black', 'Gravity Blue', 'Horizon Blue' (which was the colour of my S hatch and looks great), there’s also 'Runway Red' (that was the colour of my Sport hatch and it was hard to keep looking clean), 'Steel Grey', 'Snow White' and 'Silky Silver'. No green and no yellow.
The Cerato is a small car, but not the smallest Kia – that’s the Picanto and it’s tiny. Nope, the dimensions show the Cerato hatch to be 4510mm end-to-end, while the sedan is longer at 4640mm. Both are the same height at 1800mm tall, but their widths are different with the hatch being 1445mm across while the sedan is 5.0mm narrower.
You can get the Cerato as a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback. They’re the same size, but which do you reckon has the biggest boot? The hatch? Nope.
See, the Cerato hatch’s boot has a luggage capacity of 428 litres and the sedan’s boot space is 502 litres.
Thing is, the hatch is the more practical of the two because of its tailgate which opens high and gives you a big aperture and you can fold those rear seats down to open up the cabin as a cargo area.
Another practicality win for the hatch is the segmented storage area under the boot floor. The sedan doesn’t get this which is a shame because it’s like a big bento box for wet clothes or muddy shoes.
Storage throughout the cabins of both the sedan and hatch is excellent with two cupholders in the fold-down rear armrest and another two up-front, while the centre console bin is deep (there’s a USB charging port in there, too) and the shelves under the dash were a great place to plonk my wallet and phone. Also hiding in there is a USB charging port, a USB media port and a 12-volt outlet. That top shelf under the dash in the GT also doubles as a wireless charging pad.
Room for people is also outstanding. I’m 191cm tall, and mainly all limbs, yet I had no elbow or legroom issues up front and I can even sit behind my driving position in both the sedan and the hatch with about 20mm of space between my knees and the seatback.
The Sport Plus and GT have directional air vents in the second row, but the lower grades don’t get these. That’s something I find pretty frustrating – my four-year-old sat for two weeks in the back of the Cerato S and Sport through the killer summer of 2019 and it was hot back there.
Price and features
This is probably the biggest question mark above the Mazda3 Skyactiv-X’s head for now, with all we know being Mazda Australia’s plan to launch it as a new top-spec version, so sit above the existing $36,990 G25 Astina flagship.
How far above will be the clincher, and given it’s not likely to quite match the performance of the G25, it will depend on what value you place on outright driveability and a marginal fuel saving over the base 2.0-litre engine.
You’ve had a look online and you’re a bit shocked to find that your $20-$30k may not go as far as you originally thought, especially when you include the on-roads costs.
But, take a look at its ‘cousin’ the Kia Cerato, too, because I reckon it’s the best value-for-money car on the market right now, and one that no doubt keeps its rivals awake at night as it steals buyers away from them.
The Kia Cerato sedan and hatch are priced the same and the value-for-money is outstanding. The entry grade S with a manual gearbox lists for $20,990, and at the time we published this review you could have it for $19,990 drive-away.
You’d probably think the ‘S’ stands for ‘Sport’ but it doesn’t because there is an actual grade called the Sport which is the next tier up and lists for $25,790 or $24,190 drive-away. Then there’s the Sport Plus which lists for $28,840 and can be had for $27,740 drive-away. At the top of the range is the GT which lists for $32,990 or $31,990 drive-away.
Standard features on the S include an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, six-speaker stereo, air-conditioning, cloth seats, 3.5-inch LCD instrument screen, electric mirrors, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors and 16-inch steel wheels with 205/55 R16 tyres.
Standard features on the Sport are almost identical to the S. The only difference is the Sport’s premium steering wheel and shift knob, sat nav, plus 17-inch alloys wheels with 225/45 R17 tyres.
The Sport Plus has the Sport’s features and adds leather seats, dual-zone climate control with rear directional air vents, heated front seats, push-button start, proximity key and LED running lights.
The GT has those features and adds wireless phone charging, a 4.2-inch instrument cluster an eight-speaker JBL sound system and 18-inch alloys with 225/40 R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber.
Engine & trans
What’s compression ignition again? It’s basically how a diesel engine works, by using extreme pressure instead of spark plugs to burn fuel. Skyactiv-X still uses spark plugs, but only to kick off the ignition process and act as a safety net for cold starts and other edge cases, while extreme compression makes for much more effective combustion, which means improved efficiency.
This combustion efficiency means the engine can use a much leaner fuel-to-air mixture, and make more power and torque with less fuel and even less wasted fuel out the exhaust. Mazda describes it as delivering diesel-like torque and fuel consumption, with the power, responsiveness and refinement of a petrol. Or in other words, one step away from turning water into wine...
Mazda is calling the process Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI), and the extreme pressures required to make it all happen are created by higher static compression ratio (but less than a typical diesel), much higher fuel pressure and boosted air pressure entering the combustion chamber.
Key to managing all these heightened parameters (and the very technological advancement that makes it all possible) is an ultra sensitive in-cylinder pressure sensor that has been developed specifically for this task.
Delivering the boosted air pressure is a Roots-type supercharger - or what Mazda describes as a high-response air supply - which was chosen over other air pump designs like a turbocharger or the Miller-cycle supercharger previously used in Eunos models because of its instantaneous boost delivery and breadth of efficiency.
Speaking of breadth of efficiency, perhaps the biggest plus for average motorists is that the engine’s efficiency zone has multiplied, meaning the difference between city and highway consumption, leadfoot drivers and my Dad, heavy and empty loads etc will be far less than a typical petrol engine.
This all represents a continuation of core principles we’ve seen from the start of Mazda’s Skyactiv era. That is, to make an existing engine type work better under everyday driving conditions rather than targeting outright performance.
The Skyactiv-X era starts with a 2.0-litre based on the regular Skyactiv-G engine, with the same 1998cc capacity. Other capacities are planned, with the eventual reborn rotary looking increasingly Skyactiv-X along with a straight-six version for a new CX-9 in a couple of years. Smaller versions are unlikely due to the economies of scale involved with such technology in a smaller and therefore cheaper car.
Mazda is making two versions of the Skyactiv-X 2.0-litre for now, one with 16.3:1 compression designed for Europe that favours Premium unleaded petrol, and one 15:1 version aimed at the US with their abundance of lower grade unleaded.
Unlike conventional engines, it’s the lower compression version that will deliver the biggest benefits, because Skyactiv-X relies on the usually “bad thing” pinging to do its best.
We’re set to get the Euro-spec one in Australia, which unfortunately means we won’t quite be getting the very best Skyactiv tech again.
The Euro-spec engine puts out 132kW at 6000rpm and 224Nm from just 3000rpm, which on paper sounds about halfway between the existing Skyactiv-G 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre and 139kW/252Nm 2.5-litre petrol engines.
The engine also incorporates a mild hybrid system, but don't be confused by the H-word, there's no electric drive element. It simply means its got a cleaver alternator that only engages when needed and on deceleration to reduce efficiency-sapping drivetrain friction,
Pop the bonnet and you’re confronted by the biggest engine cover you’ve ever seen, but unlike most, this one is equipped with labeled latches that encourage you to have a look underneath. This encouragement continues with a clever little retention hook to hold the cover up against the bonnet while you’re poking around.
Unless you’re a Mazda engineer you’re likely to be baffled by the array of hoses, ducts and wiring, but you might get a kick out of spotting the supercharger.
There’s less to be said for the transmissions though, with versions of the existing six speed manual and torque converter automatics deemed up to the task, with the new engine’s increased efficiency zone negating any increase to the ratio count. The ratios have been adjusted to suit the new output characteristics, and while the ratios are yet to be published, there’s a narrower spread across the six with what feels to be taller first and sixth gears.
So, you can get a Cerato S, a Cerato Sport and a Cerato Sport Plus, but only the top-of-the-range Cerato GT is the true sporty one in the family.
The rest of the Cerato line-up shares a 112kW/192Nm four-cylinder petrol engine. If you want a manual gearbox, then you can only have it with the base grade S, otherwise the six-speed automatic, that is standard in the others, does the shifting for you.
Both are good powerplants, the 1.6-litre is smaller but more powerful and responsive and uses less fuel. How much less? Which we’re just about to get to.
All this hooha about fuel savings, and Mazda is yet to confirm an actual figure for Australia. We do know the hatch is rated at 4.5L/100km in manual and 5.3L/100km in auto according to the NEDC, which is historically close to the figures generated by the ADR 81/02 test we go by in Australia.
If it comes close to matching the NEDC figure it will be a win, sitting comfortably under the 6.4L/100km (manual) and 6.2L/100km (auto) figures currently applied to the Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre Mazda3 hatch.
While the Australian-spec Skyactiv-X engine is expected to align with Europe rather than the US, and therefore be tuned to deal with Premium 95 RON unleaded, it’s still unclear if it will accept the cheaper Regular 91 RON unleaded.
As mentioned above, the GT with its 1.6-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder is the most fuel-efficient member of the Cerato family and after a combination of open and urban roads Kia says you should see it using 6.8L/100km in both the sedan and hatch.
When I tested the GT at its launch in January 2019 the trip computer said I was using 7.6L/100km after driving the hatch on mainly country roads and 8.4L/100km in the sedan on similar open roads.
As for the other grades Kia says the combined fuel consumption for the S, Sport and Sport Plus grades with their 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engines and six-speed auto is 7.4L/100km. My own testing in the Sport hatch saw me measure bang-on 7.4L/100km (measured at the petrol pump), while the S hatch did 8.6L/100km (also measured at the bowser).
A manual gearbox is available on the S and Kia says you should see it using 7.4L/100km in the hatch and 7.6L/100km in the sedan. Along with that good mileage it's nice to know both engines are also happy to run on regular unleaded petrol.
What’s probably most amazing about Skyactiv-X is that you can’t really tell there’s anything special going on under the bonnet.
Push the start button and it gets going like any other petrol Mazda, although perhaps quieter.
Move off from rest and there’s no significant difference to the way it feels.
When I drove the prototype version of this drivetrain, there was a slight pinging under light throttle as it transitioned from spark to compression ignition, but I’m pleased to confirm that the extra two years of calibration has tuned this down to the tiniest occasional diesel sound, and it all feels a bit like a smooth diesel that’s more responsive than you expect.
The European-spec Skyactiv-X 2.0-litre’s outputs suggest it should be closer to the existing 2.5-litre in terms of performance, but in reality it feels closer to the 2.0 litre.
My perception is likely to be clouded by the Skyactiv-X’s specific transmission gearing, but it could also be because it’s able to do the same job with less revs and therefore not sound like it’s working so hard.
First gear feels quite tall with either transmission, and we also found the auto and manual were only sitting on 3500rpm in sixth at 160km/h on the Autobahn.
Mazda doesn’t specify performance figures, so it would be handy to put all three alongside each other from a standing start. But then, that’s not what Skyactiv-X is all about, it’s more about performing better under light throttle and incidental bursts of acceleration.
We can’t wait to put it to the test over some hilly terrain and familiar territory when it hits Australia early next year.
This is simple. There are only two types of Cerato when it comes to driving. There’s the fast and hard one, or the comfy and easy one.
If you’re looking for a Cerato which is pretty quick and has great handling, then it’s the GT for you. The catch is, the GT’s ride is firm and jarring over potholes and speed bumps.
If you’re looking for something which has a comfortable ride and is fuss-free to drive then the S, the Sport and Sport Plus are for you.
See, Kia set out to make the GT a bit more hardcore – it has a more powerful engine, firmer suspension (the torsion bar set-up in the other grades was swapped for a multi-link system in the rear of the GT), it also sits lower and rides on 18-inch wheels with low-profile Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres. The result is a hatch which is knocking on the door of Golf GTI territory.
I drove the GT in hatch form at its launch on twisty country roads and it felt planted, with excellent body control and impressive grip. The only thing lacking was more grunt.
This chassis is now so good it feels like it’s in search of a more powerful engine to match it. The steering also felt a bit ‘lumpy’ in places. Still it’s accurate and not a deal breaker.
That lumpy steering feel is also present in the S, Sport and Sport Plus, too but it becomes irrelevant because these grades don’t have the performance bent of the GT. Instead they have a ride which is composed and comfortable, with an engine that provides plenty of oomph for highway cruising, overtaking and city sprints – especially when you select 'Sport' mode which sharpens throttle response.
And while they don’t have the handling and agility of the GT, I was impressed by how controlled and planted the Sport felt when I tested it over the route I normally take sport cars on.
More importantly, the S, Sport, and Sport Plus are easy and enjoyable to drive. I clocked up hundreds of kilometres in the S and Sport and found the seats to be wide at the base and supportive around my back, and they could be adjusted to find a great driving position.
Kia tunes most of its cars for Australia roads and the job its local engineering team has performed on these lower grade Ceratos is outstanding – the ride is compliant and comfortable and the car has good body control over bumps and corners.
If I could change anything it would be to improve visibility in the rear corners – those tiny porthole-like windows aren’t big enough.
The existing Mazda3’s maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating will almost certainly be carried over, and the high level of safety gear fitted to the existing G25 Astina is also likely to be matched.
The Kia Cerato GT and Sport Plus hatch and sedan scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating in 2019, but the Sport and S were given four stars because while they do have AEB it doesn’t detect pedestrians and cyclists like the version on the top two grades.
You can effectively turn a Sport or an S into a five-star car by optioning the $1500 safety pack which adds that version of the AEB plus blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.
The Sport Plus and GT come with all of that advanced safety equipment already. The GT also comes with LED headlights which are much brighter and more intense than the halogen units in the other grades.
As you'd expect all Ceratos come with a suite of airbags, ESP and a reversing camera. There are also three top tether anchor points across the second row – they’re easy to use, I’ve installed my four-year-old’s seat in both the hatches I had. There are also two ISOFIX anchor points.
Under the boot floor is a space saver spare.
Service pricing is also yet to be confirmed, but Mazda engine development boss Eiji Nakai assures CarsGuide that the new engine will not need servicing more frequently or cost any more to service than existing Skyactiv-G engines.
So expect the same 12month/10,000km intervals, with five year/50,000km capped servicing plan totalling just under $2000 over that period.
Like all new Mazdas, the recently upgraded five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty will apply to the 3 Skyactiv-X.
The Cerato is covered by Kia’s seven-year/unlimited km warranty. Most carmakers are only just making the move to five-year warranties, but Kia has had this offering in place for years. The Cerato also comes with seven years of roadside assistance.
There’s also seven years of capped price servicing. Kia recommends you service the Cerato S, Sport, Sport Plus annually or every 15,000km. You can expect to pay $275 at the first service, $469 at the second, $339, $623, $309, then $596 and finally $328 for the seventh.
It’s good to know that after seven years of regular servicing you can expect to pay no more than $2939.
As for the GT Kia recommends servicing it every 10,000km or annually. Servicing is capped at $282 for the first service, $476 for the next, then $346, $630, $317, $604, then $640 for the seventh.
The aftercare Kia offers is outstanding and so the Cerato gets full marks for its cost of ownership.