SINGAPORE – The idea of a slightly sport-ified East Asian sedan has been thrown around before. In fact Honda’s class-leading Civic Turbo could probably fall under that guise, and the countless Civic VTI-S of days past prove this idea a lucrative one.
Kia has actually tried this before, with the local special ‘Cerato R’ from two-generations ago, which included a louder exhaust, sports rims, rear wing and body kit, though this effort is best left forgotten.
More recently, Kia itself has unveiled the concept of a sport pack in its GT Line series, although so far the only car to feature that locally is the impressive Sportage GT Line.
The Kia Cerato K3 Sport is like none of the cars mentioned above, despite the ‘Sport’ moniker, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less worthy of consideration.
The Cerato is, as we know it here, now in its third-generation. The first Cerato a solid, if somewhat boring, budget offering in its first 2003-2008 iteration. The second one was emblematic of Kia’s huge progress from 2008 onwards, with the second-gen 2008 model the best-selling car in Singapore two-years in a row in ‘09 and 10 – it hit the sweet spot of price, looks and equipment.
Then the Age Of Higher COEs came along and decimated the Koreans – the idea being that people weren’t willing to pay more than $100k for a Korean car, but it was somehow still alright for a Japanese one. Sadly COEs are, by our guess, never going to return to sub-30k levels, so we’ll all have to get used to the idea of a ‘budget’ car costing $80k at the very least – and even then you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel with cars like Mitsubishi’s Space Star.
So it’s a good thing that the Kia Cerato K3 SX Sport, at a shade above $100k, never makes you feel like you’ve skimped on your choice of ride. It’s the most expensive K3 variant, it being a step above the upper-spec EX model, itself above the entry-level L model.
The third-gen K3 debuted in 2013, and has already had the first of two facelifts – going by Kia’s policy of giving two facelifts to each model in its life-cycle. Not much difference this time around, but the ‘Sport’ moniker does mean you get a bodykit as part of the price (there’s even a nicely-executed rear diffuser) and thankfully it complements the already sharp looks of the car without being ostentatious.
Under the bonnet, it’s K3 business as usual with the 1.6-litre, naturally-aspirated engine mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. The quoted figure of 130hp feels overstated, since this is a car that does 0-100km/h in 12.1 seconds it’s not fast by any measure, but it’s more than enough for city and highway work here.
The good thing is that it still feels decent, doesn’t sound wheezy and is about a smooth as you could wish in this price range, while the ride and refinement is exemplary for this segment. It’s not on par with the latest Civic of course, but does give the Hyundai Avante and Toyota Corolla Altis a run for their money. The only niggle, dynamics-wise, is the anaesthetic steering, which feels artificial and lifeless, but to make up for it the K3’s body control and handling is otherwise very good.
There’s reams of room for rear passengers and cargo, and the car still impresses with the amount of space it manages to conjure for the price. The build quality is solid, the ergonomics un-complainable, and Kia’s red-and-black theme makes for a sporty tone on the inside too.
But where it really hits the spot in bang-for-buck is equipment. As mentioned, the Sport is the top-spec K3 now, so it gets the body kit, HID headlamps, sunroof, auto-dim mirrors, six-airbags, all of which the EX model lacks. The fun doesn’t end there, as there’s also aircon seats, keyless entry and start, electric front seats, cruise control and dual-zone climate control.
As mentioned before, we’re a huge fan of air-conditioned seats, but the Cerato Sport can also boast of being the only car in its price range to pack Android/iPhone integration courtesy of CarPlay/Android Auto capabilities in its colour, 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system – again another feature lesser Ceratos lack.
All of those niceties would cost more than the premium if added separately, so it makes the most dollars and sense to go straight for the Sport variant – it’s only $10k more than the EX and the experience is quite superior, ditto for the rock-bottom $87k Cerato K3 L model, which is the least expensive Cerato on offer. Your sweaty posterior at the very least, will thank you.
Kia Cerato K3 Sport
Engine 1,591cc, 16v, inline 4
Power 130bhp at 6,300rpm
Torque 157Nm at 4,850rpm
Gearbox 6-speed automatic
Top Speed 195km/h
0-100km/h 12.1 seconds
Fuel efficiency 6.8L/100km
Price $103,999 without COE