South Korean carmaker Kia continued its product blitz in New Zealand with the launch 48 hours ago of the Cerato sedan, a small-medium offering aimed at mainstream Japanese players.

The carmaker is going hard at rivals such as the Toyota Corolla, Mitsubishi Lancer and Honda Civic with a front-drive package that includes a 2-litre engine, automatic transmission with manual mode, stability control and a five-star safety rating.

The Cerato starts at $28,990 against the 2-litre Lancer's $32,500, 1.8-litre Corolla's $35,090 and 2-litre Civic's $41,200.

Kia Motors NZ general manager Todd McDonald says he aims to hold on to Cerato pricing. "It takes into account the New Zealand dollar changes, whereas many others have yet to see the full impact of the lower exchange rate," he said.

"We've got one of the best looking sedans in this segment of the market - and Cerato will look even better as time goes by."

The four-door is the first Kia to feature a styling look known in-house as the "Schreyer Line." It is named after Kia's global design chief German Peter Schreyer, is based on his philosophy of "the simplicity of a straight line" and will be part of Kia's new design language

It refers to lines that, in styling-speak, give the impression that a car looks as if it is moving even when standing still.

"Design gives a soul to the product and reaches the hearts of the people," says Schreyer.

"The future of Kia products lies in balance, clarity and purpose. Kia is a brand underpinned by quality and reliability. Now on top of that comes this emotional element of distinctive design."

Schreyer was with the Volkswagen Group from 1994 until 2002 and shaped the look of the iconic Audi TT roadster and the classic 1997 Audi A6 sedan. He joined Kia in 2006.

The first sign of Schreyer's signature came a couple of weeks ago in New Zealand with the five-door Soul and its tiger-nose grille.

Tigers, he says, look "powerful, yet kind of friendly."

The nose is "three-dimensional - like a face, not just a surface with a mouth drawn on it. From now on, we'll have it on all our cars".

Cerato sits on an updated version of a Kia/Hyundai platform and gets a bodyshell that rates a drag co-efficient of 0.29, the lowest in its class, claims Kia.

There are two Cerato models for New Zealand, the $28,990 LX and $33,990 SX. Both use a 2-litre petrol four-cylinder engine delivering 116kW at 6200rp and 194Nm of torque at 4300rpm, or 15 per cent more power and 7 per cent more torque than the previous Cerato.

The sedan sits on a popular independent suspension set-up, MacPherson Struts at the front and a torsion beam arrangement at the rear. The LX rides on 16-inch alloys, the SX on 17-inch units.

Safety equipment includes stability control, traction control, anti-lock ABS braking and six airbags.

Entertainment centres around a six-speaker unit offering iPod/MP3/USB connections.

The cabin is bigger than the outgoing model, says Kia, offering 5 per cent more legroom and 17 per cent more shoulder room.

Cerato comes with a five-year/100,000km warranty programme, which includes all on-road costs and 24-hour roadside assistance.

A full tank of fuel and the first 1500km service is included in the purchase price.