KIA… not a name that you’d automatically associate with style; sensible MPVs, the odd SUV and a cheerful hatchback here and there, maybe, but style?
Well, that connotation has just been turned on its head with the arrival of the Kia Cerato Koup. Billed as the company’s first foray into two-door coupé territory, the newcomer introduces an element of pizzazz previously unseen in the realm of Korean cars at a phenomenally low price. But just how much sporty substance is there behind the style?
When CAR first tested the Cerato Koup’s saloon sibling in the Dec ’09 issue, everyone was pleasantly surprised at the edgy, yet upmarket, styling treatment the car had received at the hands of Kia’s new design chief, Peter Schreyer – a veritable breath of fresh air when compared with the somewhat dowdy offerings the company had previously produced.
It’s therefore fair to say that the Koup represents something of a quantum leap in terms of Kia’s approach to styling.
This Kia trendsetter manages to look both muscular and sophisticated at the same time, thanks to a decidedly lanternjawed front with mildly upswept wrap-around headlamps, prominent air intakes and a tastefully blacked-out treatment of Schreyer’s “Tiger nose” grille.
The fl uid lines of the flanks flow into a chiselled, snub tail, punctuated by slim, wrap-around brake light clusters and dual exhaust outlets flanking a slightly out-of-place rear diffuser.
Factor-in substantial-feeling frameless doors and a roofline that tapers in such a way that it lends the Koup a purposeful, wedge-shaped profile, along with prominent wheelarches filled with 17-inch anthracite coloured alloy rims and our test unit’s “Racing Red” paint job and you’re presented with a genuine head-turner of a car.
What’s really remarkable is that this low-slung, sporty-looking coupé sits on a platform practically identical to that of the saloon, the upshots of which are a spacious cabin with generous seating for four adults and a sizeable 336 dm³ boot.
The interior appointments are not quite as dashing as the exterior, but there are comfy leather seats with red stitching and a logically laid-out facia with neat, red-illuminated instrumentation. The driving position is quite low and sporty, but reaching back for the seatbelt can be a bit of a neckcraning affair whilst taller drivers may find the belts rubbing their necks.
The use of the Cerato saloon’s underpinnings, powerplant and a tweaked version of the steering set-up do, however, place some limitations on the Koup’s dynamics.
The 2,0-litre, four-cylinder engine develops 115 kW at 6 200 r/min and 194 N.m of torque at 4 300 r/min, which are reasonable outputs. But despite the engine’s free-revving nature it lacks the sort of punch that would have lent the car a sportier edge.
There was also a feeling among a couple of the testers that there is a big jump between 2nd and 3rd gears resulting in a flat spot that mildly blunts the acceleration.
Even so, the gearshift is slick and precise, and we managed to achieve a best 0 to 100 km/h time of 9,69 seconds – not too far from the manufacturer’s 9,3-second claimed figure.
The electrically-assisted power steering, although light and well suited to low-to-medium speed manoeuvres, feels very artificial with a bizarre heaviness around dead centre that suddenly becomes very light on turn-in, which doesn’t inspire confidence when pressing on.
The coupled torsion beam rear axle is also a bit of a hit-and-miss affair: it manages to contain body roll to an acceptable level at speed, but when combined with this model’s low profi le tyres it becomes rather choppy on less-than-perfect surfaces.
The brakes brought the car to standstill from 100 km/h in an average time of 3,06 seconds, earning them an average rating in our evaluation criteria, but there is the feeling that the ABS tends to intervene a little prematurely at times.
Spirited driving also saw the Koup’s other driver aids, such as the ESC and Corner Braking Control, announcing themselves in a surprisingly abrupt fashion that curtails any feeling of sportiness and confirms the notion that driving this car briskly with confidence requires a measured approach.
Drive the Koup under normal, less hurried circumstances, however, and it’s a thoroughly pleasant car with lower speeds doing nothing to diminish its reasonably nimble feel whilst serving up a suppler ride.
So the Kia Cerato Koup’s sporty looks belie its dynamic abilities. Does that make it a bad car? Not in the least. For starters you’ll be hard pressed to find anything in its price bracket (R209 995 at the time of going to print), or even at double its asking price, that is as retina-soothing as this car.
It’s also very well equipped, with such features as cruise control, climate control, a CD sound system with USB and iPod inputs, rear park distance control, auto-on headlamps and others too numerous to list here, as standard.
The majority of potential buyers are unlikely to drive the Cerato Koup to anywhere near its limits, and under eight-tenths of driving situations it’s a thoroughly competent car.
Throw in Kia’s strong reputation for quality and reliability, along with a 5 years/100 000 km warranty and 4 years/90 000 km service plan, and you’ve got a very appealing package at a fantastic price. For Kia’s first attempt at a two-door coupé, the Cerato Koup is a thoroughly commendable effort.