Mercedes-Benz A-Class VS Kia Cerato
- Ride comfort
- So-so warranty
- Okay only rear headroom
- Tight rear door apertures
- 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
Meet the world’s most aerodynamically efficient passenger car. Mercedes-Benz says the drag co-efficient for this new sedan version of its fourth-generation A-Class is the lowest ever measured for a passenger vehicle.
Which is quite a claim, but you only have to look at it to see how much work has gone into marrying good looks with slippery aero performance.
|Engine Type||1.3L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
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|
Mercedes-Benz knows its way around a sedan, and this A-Class is a well-equipped, comfortable and efficient city-sized four-door.
But more than that, to my eyes anyway, it’s a perfect example of restrained form matching aero function with beautiful results.
Would your preference be an A-Class with a hatch or a boot? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
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.
A global carmaker can’t hold its head up in public without a formal design strategy, and Mercedes-Benz uses ‘Sensual Purity’ as a guiding principle in developing the look and feel of its current models. It may sound airy-fairy, but I for one reckon it’s accurate in describing the A-Class sedan.
The overall form is flowing and minimalist, the major exception being a hard character line running down the side of the car from the trailing edge of the angular LED headlights and along the top of the doors to link with the tail-lights.
A rear-biased glasshouse emphasises the length of the bonnet, at the same time delivering a broad, muscular stance with short overhangs front and rear.
Ultra-fine panel gaps, careful sealing around the headlights and curved strakes either side of the bonnet keep the look clean and simple, not to mention super-slippery.
The interior has been styled to within an inch of its life, the dash dominated by the slick twin 10.25-inch widescreen ‘MBUX’ display covering instruments, ventilation, media and vehicle settings.
Five signature, turbine-style air vents (three in the centre, and one at each edge) lift the dash’s visual interest, and the quality of fit and finish is top-shelf.
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).
At a bit over 4.5m long, a fraction under 1.8m wide, and close to 1.5m tall the A-Class sedan is 130mm longer and 6.0mm higher than the hatch version.
The A-Class sedan driver is presented with the same sleek widescreen display as found in the hatch, and storage runs to two cupholders in the centre console, a lidded bin/armrest between the seats (including twin USB ports), decent door pockets with room for bottles and a medium-size glove box.
In a swap to the rear, sitting behind the driver’s seat set to my (183cm) position, I enjoyed adequate knee and headroom, although stretching up a to a straight-back position led to a scalp to headlining interface.
In the A 200 a centre fold-down armrest incorporates two cupholders, again there are generous pockets in the doors with room for bottles, and adjustable ventilation outlets are set into the back of the front centre console. Always a plus.
There are three belted positions across the rear, but the adults using them for anything other than short journeys will have to be good friends and flexible. Best for two grown-ups, and three kids will be fine.
One snag is the size of the rear door aperture. Okay for taller people on the way in, but a limb-unfolding gymnastic exercise on exit.
But of course the reason we’re all here is the boot, and the sedan’s extra length translates to an additional 60 litres of luggage space for a total cargo volume of 430 litres (VDA).
Extra space is one thing, but usability is another. The benefit of a hatch is a large opening that allows bulky stuff to find a home, and Merc has pushed the sedan’s boot aperture to just under a metre across and there’s half a metre between the base of the rear window and the lower edge of the boot lid.
That’s made a big difference and access is good, with the rear seats folding 40/20/40 to add extra flexibility and volume. There are also tie-down hooks at each corner of the floor (a luggage net is included) and a netted pocket behind the passenger side wheel tub (with 12-volt outlet).
At the time of writing Mercedes-Benz wasn’t quoting towing specifications, and don’t bother looking for a spare wheel, the tyres are run-flats.
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.
Price and features
The A-Class sedan is launching with two variants, the A 200 at $49,400, before on-road costs, and an entry-level A 180, arriving in August 2019 at $44,900.
We’ll cover active and passive safety tech in the safety section, but above and beyond that standard equipment for the A 180 runs to 17-inch alloy wheels, ‘Artico’ faux leather upholstery, the ‘MBUX’ widescreen cockpit display (two 10.25-inch digital screens), auto LED headlights and DRLs, keyless entry and start, auto-dimming rearview mirror, climate-control, sat nav, multi-function sports steering wheel, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, ‘Active Parking Assist’ (with ultrasonic proximity sensors front and rear), tinted glass, plus nine-speaker, 225W audio with digital radio, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The A200 steps up to 18-inch alloy rims, and adds a dual exhaust system, four-way electrical adjustment for the driver’s seat (with lumbar support), a folding rear armrest (with twin cupholders), adaptive high-beam assist, and a wireless device charging bay.
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.
Engine & trans
Both models are powered by the same 1.3-litre (M282) direct-injection four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine as the hatch, the A180 tuned to deliver 100kW (at 5500rpm) and 200Nm (at 1460rpm), with the A 200 bumping that up to 120kW (at 5500rpm) and 250Nm (at 1620rpm).
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.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 5.7L/100km for both models, with a CO2 emissions figure of 130g/km.
Over roughly 250km of open highway driving on the launch program the A 200’s on-board computer coughed up a figure of 6.3L/100km. So, the real-world highway cycle figure is higher than the claimed combined number. Which is a miss, but not a massive one, and fuel-efficiency is still pretty impressive.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 43 litres of it (plus a 5.0-litre reserve) to fill the tank.
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.
Three things stand out on first meeting with the A-Class sedan – ride comfort, steering feel, and road noise, or rather the lack of it.
The ‘biggest’ compliment you can pay a small car is that it rides like a bigger one, and behind the A 200’s wheel you’d swear the wheelbase was appreciably longer than the 2.7 metres it actually measures.
Over long undulations, even higher frequency bumps and ruts, the A-Class remains stable and composed thanks to a thoroughly sorted (strut front, torsion beam rear) suspension, with beautifully progressive damping a particular highlight.
Electromechanically-assisted steering points accurately and delivers good road feel without any undue vibration. And despite the A-Class launch drive loop covering typically coarse-chip bitumen roads through rural Victoria, overall noise levels remained impressively low.
Acceleration is brisk rather than properly sharp, but in the A 200 there’s more than enough oomph to keep things on the boil for easy highway cruising and overtaking.
With maximum torque available from just above 1600rpm, and a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission keeping revs in the sweet spot, the A 200 breezes through the cut and thrust of city traffic, too.
Auto shifts are smooth and quick, with manual changes via the wheel-mounted paddles adding even more direct access to your ratio of choice. And the bonus is no sign of the slow-speed shuntiness sometimes exhibited by dual-clutch autos, especially in twisting, three-point parking manoeuvres.
Special call-out for the cruise control which responds to adjustments quickly (including 10km/h jumps up or down with a firm press of the thumb) and rapidly retards downhill speeds.
Several unbroken hours in the front seat couldn’t generate a twinge of discomfort, the brakes are strong, and over-shoulder visibility is marginally better than in the hatch (not that it’s a weakness in the latter).
Add the sleek and intuitive multimedia system, high-quality audio, plus excellent ergonomics and you have a neatly resolved compact sedan that’s easy to use in the city and suburbs, keeping solid road-tripping ability up its sleeve as well.
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.
Think automotive safety and Mercedes-Benz will be one of the first names to pop into your mind, and the A 180 offers in impressive suite of active features including ABS, BA, EBD, stability and traction controls, a reversing camera (with dynamic guidelines), ‘Active Brake Assist’ (Merc-speak for AEB), ‘Adaptive Brake’, ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Blind Spot Assist’, ‘Cross-wind Assist’, ‘Lane Keep Assist’, a tyre pressure warning system, the ‘Pre-Safe’ accident anticipatory system, and ‘Traffic Sign Assist’. The A 200 adds ‘Adaptive Highbeam Assist’.
If all that fails to prevent an impact you’ll be protected by nine airbags (front, pelvis and window for driver and front passenger, side airbags for rear seat occupants and a driver’s knee bag), and the ‘Active Bonnet’ automatically tilts to minimise pedestrian injuries.
The A-Class was awarded a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2018, and for smaller occupants there are three child restraint/baby capsule top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
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.
That lags behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz Road Care assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/25,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an ‘Up-front’ or ‘Pay-as-you-go’ basis.
Pre-payment delivers a $500 saving with the first three A-Class services set at a total of $2050, compared to $2550 PAYG. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase.
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.