SO the facelifted Kia Cerato. Modernised it may be, but still quite plain and inoffensive in design and one all the cool kids will no doubt walk straight past. To that end, great work Kia.
You see Kia knows Cerato buyers are typically made up of the over 45s, with a good chunk of that number being firmly in the grey-haired retiree brigade. And guess what, they all need cars.
While certain competitors in the small car class are eagerly trying to court a younger demographic with pointy out-there body design - we're looking at you Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla - the Cerato sedan and hatch quietly look the unfussy and introvert alternative.
Throw in reasonable value, specification, space and comfort and you struggle to put a black mark against any area of this car. Then there's Kia's unbeaten seven-year warranty. Compelling argument, no?
The Korean battler isn't doing half bad of late. Kia's line-up is flush with impressive offerings, and is so far this year our 11th best-selling brand (ahead of Honda for example) with a market share of 3.4%.
And while the small car segment may be in seemingly permanent decline, Cerato is on the up. In 2013 it was the 12th best-selling small car in Australia, while last year it was up to a stellar sixth. With this third generation and its mid-life facelift Kia is aiming (and likely) to achieve fifth place behind rivalling Mazda3 ($20,490), Hyundai i30 ($20,990), Toyota Corolla ($19,790) and VW Golf ($22,490). Stellar company.
So what's new? The Cerato's 1.8-litre engine has been dropped so all models feature a new 112kW normally aspirated 2.0-litre. Exterior styling has been revamped, tech and safety kit are boosted and the driving dynamics have been tweaked for a better and quieter ride.
Four Cerato grades are offered in both sedan and hatch body styles - S, S Premium, Si and SLi - and unlike some rivals, Kia has managed to keep its entry level at under $20k. In fact, the bare-bones 'S' variant can be had with free auto gearbox for $19,990 drive away from launch. Little wonder it makes up 60% of total Cerato sales.
While there is no extra space inside the revamped Cerato, Kia has tried to offer a more upmarket feel.
The cabin is simple and a tad dark and austere (European-inspired, apparently), but your main touch points are all soft plastics, mixed with the less pleasant hard stuff. Cloth seats for the entry grades are firm in a good way, meaning a good three-hour drive stint returned no discomfort in the back or behind. Leather trim arrives in the Si and SLi (heated and ventilated in the latter) to add premium feel, but the cloth seats serve you well enough not to need them.
Nice touches include the piano black surround for the gear shifter, subtle waves in the dash above the glove box and the 7-inch touchscreen's ease of use, with navigation through the menus quite fast and user-friendly.
Rear passengers are quite well serviced, with decent leg and head room for two adults, but three would be a bit cosy for comfort. Young families? No worries here on the space front.
On the road
The new 2.0-litre has ample guts for town and country alike, proving zippy enough through Sydney city traffic and getting up to speed after a bit of persuading when on the open road.
Ceratos are unlikely to be asked to perform sporting duties, but with the manual gearbox - which is incredibly light and simple to operate - you can coax the four-cylinder into action a bit quicker than with the auto. The latter is at times slow to respond, but does swap cogs in a smooth unfussy manner, ideal for the Kia's target market.
The previous Cerato already had specific suspension tuning for Australian roads, and the new model has gone through thousands of kilometres of local testing to find more improvements.
A decent balance of comfort and handling has been reached; it is serene on freeways and feels nicely balanced and assured when thrown into a turn, while only the harshest of road bumps cause discomfort in the cabin. Importantly it feels safe and competent throughout the range - again spot on for your typical buyer - and cabin noise is impressively quiet; tyre rumble being the biggest, but hardly terrible, offender.
If safety kit is your bag you really need to move up the range and spend around $30k. Your suite of safety services preventing crashes is impressive, especially in the range-topping SLi, but prepare to be beeped at regularly.
Practicality and running costs
A mighty storage bin in front of the gear shifter swallows phones and sunglasses with ease, while there's another deep bin under the armrest and ample cup holders throughout. The rear seat split-folds for decent cargo space, while boot-only you score 482-litres in the sedan and 385-litres the hatch, but the latter has a far wider load area.
Fuel economy isn't really a match for modern smaller turbo engines or some rivals. A petrol Mazda3 returns 5.7l/100km and VW's Golf 5.4l/100km, while Cerato's is up at 7.1l/100km, a tad more than Toyota's Corolla and Hyundai's i30. We returned an average of 7.8-litres/100km on our lengthy road test.
But Kia's trump card? A seven-year warranty. Its main rivals can't come close here.
What do you get?
Entry-level "S" models get some decent goodies despite the low price. No alloy wheels, but you do get cruise control, parking sensors, keyless entry and bluetooth.
Keeping this car under 20 grand drive away was key so the fruit had to stop there, but drop another $500 (if you've optioned the auto gearbox) and you get a 7-inch touchscreen, reversing camera and Android Auto: you'd be a fool not to.
Kia's waiting for licensing agreements for desirable Apple CarPlay to join Android Auto in the smartphone integration for Cerato. As long as you've the 7-inch screen fitted it can be software flashed at the dealership (for free) when the Kia and Apple money men strike a deal, and hey presto, CarPlay is yours.
S Premium buyers get 16-inch alloys, the 7-inch touchscreen, sat nav and rear view camera; Si adds leather trim, rear air vents, smart key with push button start; and range-topping SLi has 17-inch alloys, paddle shifters, dual-zone climate, heated and ventilated power driver's seat, sunroof, HID headlights and LED daytime running lights.
Safety-wise all new Ceratos get six airbags and hill start assist, while you score Blind Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert in the Si and SLi, the latter also adding Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning systems.
Modernised to fit with Kia's current styling philosophy, the Cerato's front grille has been made more prominent to boost muscular style; headlamps are sharper and more slender; rear lights are updated for the sedan and wheel designs are all new.
They add up to a body design that's unfussy and clean if a tad uninspiring, but not everyone wants to be driving a style statement. Choose which suits you best, but we reckon the hatch is the better looker.
Just a very good all rounder that deserves its place knocking on the door of the small car top table.
Does most things very well without being spectacular, the Cerato nails it for giving its typical buyers what they want - a good value, comfortable, quiet, safe and practical machine with no obvious compromises. Aussie-specific ride plus tech and safety upgrades are commendable.
The entry-level drive away price and excellent warranty remain the Cerato's trump cards, making it foolish to overlook this increasingly impressive small Kia.
What matters most
What we liked: Cheap entry-level price, included specification, quality all-round ride, excellent warranty.
What we'd like to see: Improved fuel consumption, more inspiring cabin.
Warranty and servicing: Seven-year warranty, 7-year capped price servicing and 7-year roadside assist.
Driving experience 14/20
Features and equipment 15/20
Functionality and comfort 16/20
Value for money 17/20
Style and design 14/20
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