Cerato one of the stars that will have rivals worried
Kia is promoting its new small car contender, the next generation of its Cerato sedan, as "the new bold". This is a fair call, as the Korean company has gone from strength to strength, from a brand that built affordable machines to go up against those that sat below the A-list of Japanese manufacturers to become one that can hold its head up in the marketplace with a well-designed and built range with some real stars within its ranks.
And the new Cerato is one of those - now looking like a baby version of the excellent Optima mid-sized sedan, the little four-door has lifted its game. Kia has added higher quality materials to the mix, a pair of well-sorted engines and the promise of more variants to come over the next six to nine months.
We'll see the five-door hatch by the time the winter weather has disappeared, and the little Koup two-door that Driven saw unveiled at the New York motor show will be rolling out near the end of the year.
Last week the Cerato was launched to the press in wild weather in Canterbury and gave us the chance to sample three specifications and two new engines on often wet roads between Hanmer Springs and Christchurch.
Not the ideal weather for the launch of a new car, but considering our endless summer has now given way to the horrors of winter, it was certainly "real world" driving.
Again there will be three main model variants wearing the Cerato badge - LX, EX and SX - with pricing starting below the magical $30,000 mark at reasonably modest specifications and going to a well-loaded machine that won't look out of place in a line-up of the offerings from big Japanese brands or alongside its South Korean stablemate Hyundai's selection.
The only glaring emission from the bits list is satellite navigation, which is "on its way" says Kia's New Zealand boss Todd McDonald. The logistics around fitting the satnav packs to the cars before they leave Korea are being sorted, and will include a live traffic service.
The base Cerato sedan, the LX, is powered by a new 1.8-litre engine, packs six airbags and has parking sensors, auto cruise control and steering wheel controls. The next step up the tree, the EX, is also fitted with the new engine and adds proximity sensors, 16-inch alloys, LED daytime runners and a reversing camera. The $38,490 SX gets a new generation of the GDi 2-litre engine, 10-way power driver's seat, gear paddles on the steering wheel, and dual-zone climate air conditioning, all on top of larger 17-inch wheels. The 1.8-litre proved to be the dark horse - it revs more freely than the 2-litre and only the addition of flappy paddles for gear changes would improve its drivability. The 1.8 makes a very reasonable 110kW of power and 178Nm of torque compared to the 115kW/194Nm output of the two-litre. There's a slight weight difference between the two - 1243kg for the smaller-engined duo compared with 1299kg for the SX, but both return decent mileage. The factory claims 7.1L/100km for the 1800 and 7.7L/100km for the 2.0 - both of which seemed well within reach after our drive programme that encompassed light Christchurch traffic and touring on twisty roads.
The whole range has undergone suspension changes and an extended wheelbase that adds up to a more settled driving experience.
Radical alterations such as moving torsion beams have certainly made country roads easier to handle with large bumps in the road and jarring surface changes soaked up to make transitions far less noticeable than in previous generations.
Kia has borrowed the Flex Steer system from Hyundai for the new car, allowing for a button push to go from a sport setting, which adds weight to the car's steering and makes it feel more positive on the open road.
Interior improvements include less hard plastic, and those areas where harder materials are employed have undergone texture treatments that make it feel far more refined.
The seating is quite high and, although it can be adjusted, only the electrically adjustable seats in the SX were capable of the fine tuning needed to make a lengthy spell of open road driving truly comfortable.