Car reviews - Kia - Cerato - S sedan
Sharp pricing, loads of standard equipment, industry-leading warranty, generous rear legroom and boot, neat interior design, achievable fuel economy
Room for improvement
Lacklustre engine performance, a bit boring to drive, no rear air-vents or map pockets, tight rear headroom, feels cheap inside
Kia does very well on a budget with its feature-packed but boring Cerato S sedan
14 Aug 2018
THE Cerato small car has long been the backbone of Kia Motors Australia’s (KMAu) success. It currently accounts for about a third of Kia’s sales in 2018, which is no small margin for a company that is on track to leapfrog GM Holden for sixth position on the best-sellers ladder.
So it goes without saying that the new fourth-generation Cerato is a key model for the brand. Kia has so far launched the four-door sedan, while the new-gen five-door hatchback will arrive before then end of the year.
Kia has managed to increase the specification – including the addition of critical advanced driver-assist systems – of the Cerato sedan without inflating its entry-level price. But does the range-opening manual S offer a better driving experience than before? Read on to find out.
Price and equipment
Priced from $19,990 driveaway, the manual Cerato S sedan offers incredible value. Despite loading it with more kit than ever, Kia has somehow managed to carry over its razor-sharp pricing. Our test car is finished in Silky Silver exterior paintwork, which is a $520 option. As such, the price as tested is $20,510.
Standard equipment includes dusk-sensing halogen headlights, halogen daytime running lights, rear foglights, power-adjustable side mirrors with heating functionality, 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps, 205/55 tyres and a space-saver spare wheel.
Inside, an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, Bluetooth connectivity, digital radio, voice control, a six-speaker sound system, a 3.5-inch monochrome multi-function display, one 12V power outlet, two USB ports, cloth upholstery, manual air-conditioning, and front and rear power windows feature.
There is no denying that the Cerato sedan is built to price, but that doesn’t mean Kia has skipped out on giving it a spacious and good-looking cabin. In particular, the dashboard design is very pleasing to the eye, with its faux stitching and neatly-integrated 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system bringing the goods. In fact, the latter is one of the better takes on the floating style yet.
However, hard plastics adorn most surface areas, bar the dashboard, which instead wears ‘firm’ trim, while higher-specification variants pick up soft-touch materials for the front upper door trims.
Just below it, the centre stack is simple but does what it has to. Controls for the manual air-conditioning feel good in hand, but the partitioned storage area below them is the real winner. The lower section accommodates two USB inputs, a 12V power outlet and an auxiliary port, plus enough space for a smartphone.
Don’t worry if you have someone in the passenger seat, because their smartphone can sit in the upper partition. A small but incredibly practical touch from Kia.
However, practicality takes a hit when you realise that rear passengers are not treated to their own air vents, while map pockets are inexplicably missing from the back of the front seats. Again, we’re talking about a sub-$20,000 proposition, but these features are expected these days, especially when a model goes through a major generational change.
The plasticky gearshift knob also feels a little too cheap. Minor complaints, we know, but they can add up.
Measuring in at 4640mm long, 1800mm wide and 1440mm tall with a 2700mm wheelbase, the Cerato sedan offers a generous 502 litres of cargo capacity. However, this can be expanded when its 60/40 split-fold second row is stowed. While rear legroom is more than ample behind our 184cm driving position, headroom is a little tight due to the Cerato sedan’s fastback-style roofline. That being said, if there is one thing that it champions, it’s spaciousness. Another notch in the belt, then.
Engine and transmission
The Cerato sedan is motivated by a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 112kW of power at 6200rpm and 192Nm of torque at 4000rpm.
This is the exact same engine found under the bonnet of the outgoing third-generation model. In a world where turbocharged engines have become more common due to their superior output delivery and fuel efficiency, Kia has stayed the course with an atmo engine that wasn’t that exciting in the first place. A very different scenario to powertrains with double the cylinder count.
However, Kia has done a good thing by keeping the Cerato sedan’s six-speed manual gearbox alive, with it exclusively sending drive to the front wheels in our test car. Gear shifts are precise and clutch operation is smooth after the initial teething issues pass. The great advantage of driving an underpowered car, such as the Cerato sedan, is that you get closer to exploring it limits, so it can be quite rewarding … if it’s a manual.
That being said, as pleasing as this gearbox is, it’s let down by its inadequate dancing partner: the engine. As the outputs mentioned earlier suggest, it doesn’t have much to offer down low, meaning its ratios really needs to be rung out to get any sort of purposeful movement. As a result, it can be quite noisy inside the cabin, although it’s a necessary evil.
While the 1295kg manual S can sprint from standing start at a reasonable pace, it’s got nothing to offer when overtaking. Fourth gear is a must when stabbing the accelerator at 80km/h, otherwise seconds and intervals of speed become perfectly in-sync in sixth. Where’s that turbocharger at?
Fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 7.6 litres per 100 kilometres, while carbon dioxide emissions have been tested at 174 grams per kilometres. During our week with the manual S, we are averaging 7.4L/100km over a 450km mix of city and highway driving. This is a rock-solid result for a naturally aspirated unit. While it does lag behind its turbo-petrol rivals, at least its efficiency claims are more than achievable in the real world. Not many can say that.
Ride and handling
The Cerato sedan features a column-mounted, motor-driven electric power steering system, while its suspension setup consists of MacPherson-strut front and torsion-beam rear axles. As always, KMAu’s engineering team took to local roads to ensure the Cerato sedan’s ride and handling meet Australian standards. Needless to say, this investment continues to pay dividends for Kia as ride quality and handling ability are strong if not a little boring.
Specifically, the Cerato sedan’s suspension is comfortable on smooth surfaces and quick to recover when encountering speed bumps or potholes, although its firmer edge does come into frame here.
However, unsealed and uneven roads are dealt with well. Chuck it around some twisty bends and the Cerato sedan performs admirably, with bodyroll pleasingly kept to a minimum. It’s all very safe, and safe doesn’t equate to entertaining.
This experience is exacerbated by the steering, which is quick and well-weighted but doesn’t offer the level of feedback that hydraulic systems of yesteryear did. Matters aren’t helped by the Cerato sedan’s front end, which doesn’t feel as connected to the rest of the chassis as it should be.
Throw it into a bend and it feels a step behind due to its inevitable understeer. Granted the corrections required are very minor, but the driver is by no means rewarded for pushing harder and harder.
Again, the Cerato sedan offers a very safe drive, which will appeal to many buyers, but that doesn’t make it exciting for those that bury their right feet a little deeper and like to take on corners head-first. Nevertheless, it is not a performance vehicle and was never intended to be, even if the firmer suspension tune is a homage to Australian tastes. At the end of the day, it’s a fleet-friendly offering that stands to sell well – again – and that means it doesn’t have to offer the most engaging drive.
Safety and servicing
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) is yet to release a safety rating for the fourth-generation Cerato sedan range.
Standard advanced driver-assist systems in the manual S impressively includes forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, cruise control, a speed limiter, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera and hill-start assist.
Pedestrian and cyclist detection can be added to the AEB system as part of the optional safety package ($1000) for the manual S, which also bundles in blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, power-folding side mirrors and a leather steering wheel.
Other safety equipment in the manual S extends to six airbags (dual front, side and curtain) anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and the usual electronic traction and stability control systems.
As with all Kia models, the Cerato sedan comes with an industry-leading seven-year/unlimited-kilometre factory for private buyers. One complimentary year of roadside assistance is also included but can be expanded to seven if the vehicle’s scheduled servicing is completed at an authorised dealership.
Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Capped-price servicing for the manual S is available for up to seven years or 105,000km, with an average cost of about $410 per visit.
The manual Cerato S sedan shows that Kia knows its market very well. It has managed to load up its price-leading small-car offering with a level standard equipment – including critical advanced driver-assist systems – and an industry-leading warranty that will make its competitors’ eyes water.
While the manual S’ interior features a neat design, most of the materials make it feel like every bit the budget offering it is. Furthermore, its impressive spaciousness and practicality are let down by some omissions, such as rear air vents and map pockets.
The 2.0-litre engine doesn’t stand up to the task and puts the Cerato sedan behind its rivals, both figuratively and literally. However, its manual gearbox is a nice little unit that helps to keep the price below $20,000.
But, despite Kia’s best efforts with local tuning, don’t expect the most engaging drive. Nevertheless, the manual S is still a compelling offering due to its immense value proposition.
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