Ride, Handling & Performance
Interior Comfort & Practicality
Technology & Safety
Value & Ownership
In what is shaping up as a big year for small cars, Kia has decided to channel Jeff Horn and throw the first punch. This is a business where a head start makes a significant difference.
The third-generation 2018 Kia Cerato has arrived to shake up the small car segment while in the background a shadow looms large, taking the shape of a new Toyota Corolla. One could say the game is afoot.
With all the hype (not underserved) that surrounds the Stinger and the increasing uptake of the Sorento and Sportage SUVs, it’s easy to forget the Cerato is an important local model for Kia. Over the years it has been a consistent performer for the brand and accounted for 38 per cent of Kia’s volume in 2017.
Kia is keen for everyone to know how much the design of the Stinger has influenced the new Cerato. As the brand’s hero car, the Stinger is likely to be mentioned in many a press release as Kia rolls out its updated design language.
While the new Cerato can’t match the Stinger for presence, it’s a far sharper looking sedan than the one it replaces. The proportions have been changed to give the car a fastback silhouette, the length has grown by 80mm, the majority of which has extended the rear overhang.
It’s not all about the aesthetics, plenty of work has been done to improve the Cerato’s aerodynamic efficiency by reshaping the front bumper and incorporating air curtains which aim to better channel the air around each wheel and underneath the car.
As a result of the changes, the drag coefficient has improved, however, much like myself, the Cerato needs to avoid carbs. As the Cerato is now larger and slightly heavier these efforts haven’t paid any dividends when it comes to consumption.
To compensate for the increase in size, the transmissions have been updated to optimise efficiency meaning the official consumption figure on the combined cycle for the auto is now listed at 7.4L/100km (up 0.2L). We will need to arrange a longer test to properly determine how this translates into real-world driving.
Moving to the interior reveals a much nicer dash and centre console. The coherent theme and layout will be appreciated by owners far more than the redesigned exterior. The minimalistic approach has produced a very clean look that just works. Nothing unnecessary has been left to linger, it’s a design philosophy that will suit millennials looking to enjoy the aroma of fresh trim.
There are some nice changes to cabin ergonomics, the best of which is the raised centre console, it's now 31mm higher making it a more comfortable place to rest your arm.
Reshaping the body panels and restyling the cabin conceal the major engineering changes that aim to provide better occupant safety and ride comfort.
Bodyshell rigidity has increased with the use of more high-strength steel, hot-stamped steel components and more liberal use of structural adhesive. These measures stiffen everything up and should provide greater protection for those in the cabin should things go wrong.
The additional benefit of a taut body is a more controlled ride, on our drive through town on reasonable road surfaces, the Cerato is a comfortable car to drive. City buyers will find the ride to be compliant with an impressive level of refinement.
When rougher rural roads are encountered the locally-tuned suspension feels busy and could be softened up further to insulate the cabin from the bumpy stuff.
All Cerato variants get the familiar, and according to Kia, well proved 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that powered the outgoing car, it still packs 112kW and 192Nm.
If given a push to get away from the lights and the inevitable smell of burning rubber from the VT Commie in the next lane, the engine note is on the raspy side but it easily does the job.
There is a drive mode selector that allows drivers to swap between Eco, Comfort, Sport and Smart. Based on our time behind the wheel Comfort is the ideal option for the majority of civilian driving situations. The Sports mode doesn’t add much of a sporty feel, but it will make the car squeal a little more by holding on to each gear for longer. 
Power is directed to the front wheels through either a six-speed manual or six-speed auto in the base model Cerato S, while the Sport and Sport+ are only available with the automatic.
We were fortunate enough to experience both transmissions in the S trim level, the stick shifter is lovely to use, however, the automatic better suits the car and the lifestyle it’s likely to be subjected to. Think about it, do you know how complex it is to work a stick while sipping an almond milk latte?
The heavies at Kia forecast only five per cent of Cerato buyers will keep it old-school. Even that figure seems optimistic when you consider the cost difference to own the automatic is only $1500, it’s not much in the scheme of things.
So which one? Of the three Cerato trim levels, the value of the base model S auto at $21,490 is impossible to ignore. Autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane keep assist along with front and rear parking sensors are all standard inclusions. The interior gets a premium feeling cloth trim and an 8.0-inch touchscreen that’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible. The only thing that looks out of place is the 16-inch steels wheels.
Pleasingly, Kia has made an optional pack available to Cerato S buyers which brings a higher spec autonomous braking system with pedestrian and cyclist recognition, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, folding mirrors and a leather steering wheel. For only $1000 more it’s a very sensible box to tick on the order form.
When it comes to the overall ownership stakes, Kia is the trailblazer. The brand still holds bragging rights with a seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty, seven years of roadside assistance, along with seven years of capped price servicing, which can be transferred to subsequent owners.
Mainstream rivals are yet to mount a serious challenge to Kia’s aftersales package. Holden continues to flirt with the idea, but it’s like dating a commitment-phobe, locking the deal in for the long term is proving elusive.
The third-generation Cerato is a better car than the one it replaces. The additional space, safety measures, greatly improved cabin and fresh exterior design easily justify the modest increase in price for the automatic versions.
In a pound for pound contest, all the important features can be found on the S variant with the option pack selected, this is where the smart money will head. With the new Cerato, Kia has landed an early blow, over to you, Toyota.
2018 Kia Cerato S Specifications
Price from $21,490 drive-away (auto) Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol Power 112kW @ 6200rpm Torque 192Nm @ 4000rpm Transmission six-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 7.4L/100km Tank Capacity 50L Length 4640mm Width 1800mm Height 1440mm Wheelbase 2700mm Turning Circle 10.6m Tare Weight 1332kg Service Intervals 12 months/15,000km Warranty seven year/unlimited kilometre