THERE are now enough diesel-engined cars on the local market to divide the models into sporting and non-sporting categories, depending on the power output per litre. We would consider a diesel to belong to the sporting category if it develops more than 50 kW per litre. This separates cars such as the Volkswagen Golf 2,0 TDI Sport (52 kW/litre) and BMW 320d (55 kW/litre) from most of the other diesels. This yardstick enables prospective buyers to adjust their expectations to fit in with the manufacturer’s view of the product.
The Kia Cerato 2,0 CRDi fourdoor is fitted with a 1 991 cm3 diesel engine that develops 83 kW at 4 000 r/min, and delivers maximum torque of 250 N.m at 2 000 r/min.
The specific output amounts to 42 kW/litre, and places this model firmly into the non-sporting category. The Cerato range includes petrol 1,6-litre manual and automatic models, with a 2,0 CRDi auto to follow, and replaces the Shuma and Spectra ranges in this country.
Kia was the first Korean company to build a diesel engine more than 25 years ago, so the 2,0-litre fitted to the Cerato is not a new venture. It is a good example of its type, being slightly noisy when idling but not obtrusive while cruising. In fact, at cruising speed the 2 500 r/min low-pitched diesel hum is less annoying than the frenetic buzz of many petrol engines at 4 000 r/min.
Our fuel index value of 7,13 litres/100 km is slightly heavier than we’ve experienced with some similar-sized diesels, but any lightfooted driver should do better. The top speed of 190 km/h is well up to the level most petrol-engined rivals can reach, but the zero to 100 km/h time of 12,3 seconds is relatively slow. The Cerato is, nevertheless, fun to drive, because the outstanding mid-range torque is instantaneously available.
Korean cars have improved beyond recognition in the last five years, and the Cerato is a good illustration of this trend. Body panel gaps, interior fit and finish and the quality of materials, are now of a standard that some other makes might envy.
Styling and interior space are two very obvious pluses when looking at the Cerato. The shape is modern without being avantgarde, so that it will appeal to most people.
From a distance, it’s impossible to say whether the car is big or small. The front grille, headlight and bumper combination manages to look distinctive. The rear features huge tail-lights that contribute towards road safety.
The amount of interior space can easily fool you into believing it’s a bigger car. In fact, compared with direct rivals, the Cerato’s cabin is one of the biggest in its class. Legroom is generous, in spite of thick seat backrests. Storage spaces abound, and include a cubby, a roofmounted sunglasses holder, a space under the front central armrest, and cupholders. The rear seat is split 60:40, and the 304 dm3 boot is bigger than those found on most notchbacks.
Leather-covered seats, steering wheel and gear lever are standard on this model. The driver’s seat is electrically four-way adjustable, whereas the other front seat has the normal manual backrest and reach adjustment. The backrests are equipped with a fulmaflex structure that is claimed to mould itself round your back. This claim may well be true, because the seats are very comfortable. All windows are electrically operated.
Instrumentation is traditional modern, to coin a phrase. This means that the rev counter and speedo dials are round, and feature white letters on a black background, without any attempt to be futuristic. The facia’s hangdown section houses all the regular controls, resulting in an exceptionally neat and tidy appearance. The radio/CD unit utilises a rotating knob for volume control, the way most people prefer it, and push-buttons for most of the other controls. The air-conditioning unit has even bigger rotating switches for temperature control and fan speed, so the driver doesn’t have to fiddle around. Headlight activitation includes an automatic switch-on mode.
Speed-sensitive power-assisted steering is standard, and the steering wheel is adjustable for reach and tilt. Steering effort is just about right for this kind of car, with very little lost motion, but many enthusiasts would wish for more information on what the front wheels are doing.
Braking effort is controlled by ABS with EBD and BAS, and our emergency stopping routine showed that we could consistently stop in under three seconds from 100 km/h, which is very good for a family saloon.
Front suspension incorporates the almost-universal MacPherson strut layout, whereas the rear wheels are located by dual links. Wheel movement is damped by gas shocks.
Comfort levels are high, but the occasional pothole or ridge will catch out the suspension.
Roadholding is good for all normal motoring, but if you overdo it into a corner the car will understeer.
Passive safety features include side impact bars in the doors, impact-absorbing front and rear bumpers, three-point seatbelts with pre-tensioners and force limiters, dual front, side and curtain airbags, and active headrests that move forward on impact.
An unusual Kia feature that we’ve seen on some of its other models is a panic button on the keyless entry remote, which will activate the alarm even if you’re not in the car.
The Cerato CRDi is a stylish and practical addition to the ranks of diesel saloons, and has very few flaws. As we’ve implied, it’s not a sporty model, but will satisfy most family motorists’ needs. It is produced by one of the fastest-growing and most ambitious companies in the world, which, judging by worldwide sales, already has two other winners in its stable – the Sorento and Picanto.
There’s no reason why the Cerato cannot follow suit, but pick the petrol-engined model if you want to save money. The price difference of over R35 000 implies that you’ll have to do over 60 000 km per year to make up the extra cost from the fuel consumption improvement.