A handsome and well-priced car with all the basic features and more
When Kia snaffled German Peter Schreyer from Volkswagen to overhaul its design, it was tempting to write him off as a talented designer about to be swallowed by the mighty Korean machine.
But Kia was deadly serious about designing cars to appeal to the world, and the Hyundai-Kia group equally serious about positioning Hyundai as the mature brand, with Kia as its younger and funkier sibling.
Schreyer had that dream job - creating a new language that'd lift the brand to another plane, and earn it real cred on the world stage.
Kia's Soul was the first salvo in what could now be a barrage of new-look cars. Some variants are slightly OTT - the Burner is an acquired taste - but overall it works, without in any way compromising the car's function.
Cerato is the second salvo in Kia's quest for international success. It's a handsome Corollo-class sedan, bigger than the old Cerato with clean lines rather reminiscent of a Honda Civic. Front, side or rear it looks cohesive, handsome, and light years away from the stereotypical Korean car of the recent past.
The cabin's equally well done. It looks good, and works well.
The engine's a 116kW/194Nm 2.0-litre development of its predecessor, mated to a four-speed auto only, and mounted in a body sitting on a Mac strut front and torsion beam rear suspension.
It's not avant-garde, but this car is headed for mainstream NZ, which will appreciate its everyday talents - and its everyday price. The base LX costs $28,990 including on road costs and a five-year warranty, and the SX $33,990 - lineball with the 1.8-litre entry-level Corolla equivalent, less than the entry-level 1.8-litre Honda Civic, and considerably less than Civic's 2.0-litre variant.
That LX has ABS and ESP plus six airbags and cruise control as standard, the SX adding stuff like leather seats, bigger alloys and rear park distance warnings. Those also add a bit of weight and the SX felt a fraction less keen to respond to the throttle. To be fair the launch cars were still being run in, but both cars sampled could use a five-speed transmission to improve acceleration response.
Still, round town and during more relaxed motoring the four-speed did the job, certainly as well as this car's likely buyers will expect.
If you want an involving drive, Cerato may not be for you. But if you seek a handsome and well-priced car with all the basic features plus some, it's certainly worth a look.
If you're after a hatch, though, you'll have to look elsewhere. Cerato is a sedan-only model, and the C'eed hatch on which it's based will not now come to NZ as current exchange rates would price it out of the market.
Hatches take 61% of this segment's sales and sedans just 23%. But that's 23% of what is now the largest segment here. Honda's Civic has taken a dive - leaving Corolla and Lancer sedans as the cars to beat.
The latter can bask in the glow from its Evo sibling; the Kia will soon offset its daily-driver image with the sexy two-door coupe variant to arrive later this year.
Browse new and used Kia Cerato here.