Kia's wallflower not short on attractions

By David Linklater

Kia's Cerato - a top-seller almost everywhere but here - owes its good looks to ex-Audi stylist Peter Schreyer.
Kia's Cerato - a top-seller almost everywhere but here - owes its good looks to ex-Audi stylist Peter Schreyer.

That "other" Korean brand, Kia, is doing remarkably well at the moment. Global sales figures are up 17 per cent compared with last year and it's not hard to see why: as a niche alternative to parent maker Hyundai, Kia often seems to take the high ground on styling - thanks to ex-Audi stylist Peter Schreyer - and equipment. The biggest-selling Kia worldwide is the Cerato.

While Kia is booming in almost every major export region, the New Zealand division is pretty much where it was last year. Which is nowhere much at all. Certainly a second-tier brand with less than 4 per cent of the market, and outside the top-10 auto brands on the sales charts.

How come? If I knew that, I'd probably be the boss of Kia New Zealand right now. Kia does not have the brand recognition of big names like Toyota and Hyundai and lacks the marketing muscle to buy it. Supply has been an issue for some new models like Sportage and Optima. Being a Kiwi distributor owned by an increasingly proud and successful brand, I suspect Kia New Zealand also lacks the discount-ability to do serious fleet business in the local environment.

For a variety of reasons, Kia just isn't clicking in New Zealand. That's a shame, because the cars have really come of age.

As a Corolla alternative, Cerato brings a lot to the table. It got more than its share of press when it was launched in sedan form back in 2009 - largely because it was Schreyer's first new Kia model. The introduction of the equally handsome hatchback version last year also brought a new six-speed automatic gearbox, steering/chassis tweaks and extra noise-suppression.

A driver's delight it's not. But at $34,990, our SX hatch is a stylish and fairly sophisticated small hatchback relative to the rest of the class. Dynamically it's competent and responsive, the six-speed automatic has given the 2.0-litre petrol engine a new lease of life (Corolla still has a four-speed automatic, remember), and it's pretty quiet on our notorious coarse-chip roads - certainly much more so than Hyundai's new Elantra.

For this money you get leather upholstery, climate-control air conditioning, Bluetooth cellphone connectivity, full iPod integration and rear parking radar. The quality of the cabin materials is still disappointing - the colours are dark, the plastics brittle - and the interior architecture seems a bit workaday for a car that's so stylish on the outside.

Still, if you had any doubts about Cerato, Kia's outrageously good five-year, 100,000km warranty should seal the deal. Except that it hasn't.

At least not enough to get it noticed among the likes of big-selling small cars like the Corolla, Mazda3 and Hyundai i30. In the second-biggest new-car segment in New Zealand, that's cause for concern. Suggestions in an envelope to Kia New Zealand head office, please.

The bottom line:
Easy on the eye, decent to drive, well-equipped and with a killer warranty package. Hard to imagine why Cerato isn't selling. Except that when buyers think about small cars, they tend to imagine established brands like Toyota, Hyundai and Mazda.

Model behaviour
While Kia hasn't exactly taken the New Zealand market by storm, it isn't letting up on the model launches - especially in the small-car sector.

Next week Kia New Zealand will introduce a revamped version of the Picanto city car with a number of new features including stop-

Later in the year comes a stylish replacement for the rather staid Rio supermini.

The quirky Soul hatch-cum-crossover continues, albeit in a single price-leading 1.6-litre manual model.


Hyundai i30 Elite

Mazda3 GSX

Mitsubishi Lancer VR

Toyota Corolla GLX

Renault Megane

- NZ Herald

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