KIA’s products are among the most underrated on the South African market. And there’s no good reason for it either; its cars are well-priced, offer good build quality, competitive performance, and there is a model to suit almost all tastes from little hatchbacks to SUVs, people-carriers to bakkies.
During our time with the Cerato, several of the testers’ friends rode in the test car and admitted that it was the very first time they had ever experienced a Kia first hand.
There could be many debatable reasons for this; 1) South Africans are slavishly loyal, often to their own detriment; 2) Perhaps Kia’s dealer network has not done enough promote itself, and/or 3) arguably the product line-up has not been as convincing as some of the rival ranges we are accustomed to.
The first two points are much larger “long-term” issues but point three is addressed right now with models such as allnew Cerato.
Cerato is not a new nameplate to South Africa, but previous models were so anonymous that this may be the first time you notice it. European influence in the overall design of this compact saloon is undeniable. It is far more neatly styled than it predecessors.
There are no quirky styling details that typecast it as an Eastern offering. It’s not surprising to learn that the chief designer, Peter Schreyer, was poached from Volkswagen. Sharp detailing in the headlamp design, a pointed facade and strakes in the bumper all help create a pointy look. Any suggestion of slab-sidedness is countered by a clever lower indent on the window line.
Alloy wheels are standard across the range, 16 inches being the size on this model. The boot lid is short and the tail-lamps have a decidedly Lexus IS250 look about them. With simple, tight lines and minimal overhangs this saloon looks compact. More importantly for a brand trying to shake its econo-car image, the form is upmarket even if it doesn’t really differ markedly from its chief rivals.
Inside the upmarket feel continues. Black is the over-riding theme of the interior but there are several different types and finishes of materials. Thankfully the assembly and combination has not turned into a hotchpotch.
The upper facia is made of soft-touch plastic with a tactile quality. The facia hangdown boasts a combination of brushed metallic-look and piano-key black plastics. This combination works well. Dominating the hangdown are the audio system controls. MP3 compatibility is standard, as are the aux-in/USB/iPod sockets.
Kia even throws in the iPod connector for free – we hope that other manufacturers are taking note…. While we’re dis cussing the audio system: sound reproduction is good on clarity but has an overbearing bassiness. The ventilation controls are located just below the radio and are finished with smart metal-look rings.
Ergonomically this interface is simple and intuitive. We did note however that if you are wearing sunglasses, even nonpolarised versions, or the sunlight falls onto the facia, the red-on-black displays are not the easiest to read.
Behind the steering wheel are three deep-set dials – the speedometer, rev-counter and an overtalent sized fuel-level read out. The space taken up by the fuel gauge could easily have been shared with an analogue coolant temperature display, as opposed to the blue and red lamps employed.
The steering wheel is a threespoke item. On the left spoke are satellite controls for the audio system. The column is adjustable for rake and reach and the driver’s seat is also height adjustable, so all people shapes and sizes are likely to find an agreeable driving position.
The front seats are comfortable, even on long trips, as one of our team members discovered on a 250 km Sunday drive up the coast to view the migration of the whales. Rear passengers were able to steal forty winks with no problem and appreciated the fold-down armrest but not the absence of a waist-level grab handle.
Luggage space is surprisingly generous when you consider the notchback look of the boot lid, and that a full-size alloy spare wheel resides under the boot board.
There is a commendable 376 dm³, with the seats in place, and the volume increases to 1 032 dm³ when the split folding rear seatbacks are lowered.
The seatbacks can be dropped by pulling on release catches mounted on the underside of the rear parcel shelf. Oh, and the boot’s spring action is feisty, so be careful the first time you release it…
The 1,6 EX model is powered by a, er… 1,6-litre petrol-fuelled engine. This all-alloy unit features twin camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Peak power is an impressive 91 kW developed at 6 300 r/min. Maximum torque of 156 N.m is produced at 4 200 r/min but the peak is raised courtesy of continuously variable valve timing.
The engine is eager to rev but it does feel a little unrefined at the higher reaches of the range, which is admittedly not where most Cerato owners BEST WORST will be revving their cars to.
Power is fed to the front wheels via a five-speed gearbox. The gearshift action is precise if a little notchy. All the testers remarked upon the lightness of the clutch action.
We suspect that this is a legacy of building entry level models for novice drivers. It feels as though you require too many revs to get going; a deft touch on the left pedal leaves one stalling the engine, as many of our team found out.
It’s almost as though the driver’s mechanical sympathy to the clutch is not appreciated. Be sure to use a few extra revs if you plan to make a speedy entry into the traffic flow.
Performance is on par for this segment. The benchmark zero to 100 km/h sprint took a fraction under 11 seconds. To race to one kilometre from a standing start takes an unexciting 32 seconds.
Top speed is an academic 190 km/h. While travelling in fifth gear on the open road we all instinctually reached for the gearlever to affect an upshift.
Cerato feels as though it is geared too short: at 32,3 km/h for every 1 000 r/min in top gear, this means over 3 700 r/min to maintain a true 120 km/h. A sixth ratio or a longer fifth would reduce noise levels and open-road consumption.
The Cerato performs admirably at the pumps. Our fuel index calculation reveals an overall fuel consumption figure of 7,92 litres/100 km. With a full tank of fuel, expect to travel over 650 km.
An area of slight concern is the lacklustre braking performance. Cerato’s best test stop was in excess of 3 seconds, with a poor average of 3,11 seconds for the ten-stop routine.
The all-disc – 280 mm ventilated fronts and 262 mm solid rears – ABSactuated braking system really should do a better job of stopping the 1,2-ton vehicle. Like its Soul sibling tested earlier this year, we suspect the unknown Nexen tyres are responsible for the tardy braking times.
The Cerato is suspended on MacPherson struts at the front end – aided by an anti-roll bar – and a torsion beam axle at the rear. Employing a compact arrangement for the rear suspension accounts for the large luggage-space.
This set-up works well to provide a comfortable, loping ride. In a straight line and at moderate speeds the Cerato compares with the best in its class as it soaks up bumps of all sizes. It is only when there are several imperfections in sequence on the road surface that the ride gets jittery and the Cerato tends to shimmy around.
Also, don’t jump on the brakes if you’re committed to a cornering manoeuvre at high speed. The rear end will attempt to overtake the front and without an electronic stability program you will have to be alert and quick to ensure you counteract the resulting slide. Then again, this was in extremis while putting the Cerato through its paces and finding the limits, a scenario we hope that the average driver is unlikely to replicate.
The electrically-assisted power steering action is devoid of weight at low speeds especially around the straight ahead. It does weight-up as speed increases but the feeling through one’s palms is very artificial.
This Kia Cerato costs R179 995, and unless you have very deep pockets that’s not small change for anyone. BUT, the test team judged this new Kia Cerato to be a relative bargain.
It is a spacious four-door saloon with a large boot, good specifi cation, agreeable looks and decent performance. Against its nearest rivals it makes an extremely strong business case for itself.
If South Africans made purchase decisions based purely on logic and were not swayed by brand cachet, Ceratos would be as popular as Corollas and Polos.
Unfortunately for Kia the road to a desirable reputation is long and hard-earned. For now, buyers that plump for the Cerato will be pleasantly surprised, and have a few rands left over.