Test Drives

Kia Cerato Review 2018: Just in time

SINGAPORE — Sometimes a new car appears and you just know it’s going to be a hit, and the Kia Cerato is one of those cars.

The numbers back this up; apparently, more than 700 people made enquiries about the new Cerato before it was even launched in Singapore.

With the lowest step on the Cerato ladder set at S$77,999 (that’s with Certificate Of Entitlement, folks), it’s priced to sell well. The real question is, does it deserve to?

Wait, the real, real question is: where’ve the “K3” and “Forte” parts of its name gone?
Don’t know! They’ve just mysteriously disappeared. Maybe that’s Kia’s way of reinforcing that this is a new Cerato, and not a facelift. Park it next to the old Forte, and it’s clear that the two cars don’t share any body panels. Even the wing mirrors are different. It all looks, well, new.

Yet it’s strangely familiar…
Maybe you’re seeing hints of Stinger GT in there. There’s been some deliberate fiddling around with the proportions to give the body some suggestion of fastback swoopiness.

It’s 80mm longer but unchanged in wheelbase, for example, all the better to accommodate a long bonnet, like the Stinger’s.

The front bumper has a lower apron and air dams in shiny black (like the Stinger), while the slender front grille and slim headlights help to further the illusion that the two are sister cars. (They’re not, by the way. The Stinger is rear wheel drive.)

It looks bigger than the last Cerato, anyway.
That’s because it is. Extra length aside, it’s 5mm taller and 20mm wider than before. Doesn’t sound like much, but there’s enough extra metal to give it some added presence on the road.

The rear end is much more distinctive than before, too, with the bootlid tapering nicely to a sporty edge, along with some eye-catching lighting signature lines.

Nice. And the inside is just as new?
More so, if anything. The functional atmosphere is still there but the Cerato feels way less basic than before inside.

There’s a broad strip of metallic trim and slim air-con vents to visually widen the dashboard, and you’ll notice the new freestanding 8-inch touchscreen audio system — yours with all but the cheapest version of the Cerato, more on which later.

Elsewhere, there’s piano black trim and fancy jet turbine-inspired air-con vents, plus soft-ish plastics on the dashboard itself. So while the Forte didn’t feel cheap, the new Cerato does feel like a small step up in quality.

Even the steering wheel and its controls look and feel a bit posher than before, thanks to subtle metallic inserts. Amazing what a bit of shiny stuff can do.

Is it more roomy, though?
It actually feels more spacious, particularly in the back. That’s unexpected because, as we mentioned, the wheelbase is unchanged, and a 5mm increase in height is, well, it’s just half a cm.

Yet, the Cerato does feel like a roomy car in the back for its class, and with three-point seatbelts it’s liable to be a proper family workhorse. The boot is a perfectly serviceable 502 litres in size, too.

But the last one was only OK at best to drive.
If so, that makes this one better than OK. There’s an obvious step forward in terms of steering feel — now there’s some. In fact, the steering is quite weighty and it feels pretty direct.

The engine, largely carried over from before, really needs revving to get going. It’s a bit flat until 2,000rpm, but just over 4,000rpm is when it finds its fighting spirit. But that’s also where it finds its voice, and it isn’t a cultured one.

That said, things are helped by the six-speed auto. It’s decently smooth, and it helps the Cerato take off from standstill fairly smartly. It does feel quicker than the 0 to 100km/h time (12 seconds) suggests.

And the handling?
It’s actually been set up quite well. The last one squirmed a bit under you at times, and this Cerato feels more solidly planted. It combines that with a modicum of sharpness, so this is a car that tolerates being driven with aggression quite well.

Maybe it’s helped by a stiffer (by 16 percent) bodyshell, which in turn resulted from greater use of high-strength steel (54 percent of the body is made of the stuff now).

The ride isn’t cosseting, especially in the back, but it isn’t awfully jarring either. Unless you’re used to a luxury car’s composure, you won’t find riding in the Kia a problem.

So, not a driver’s car, then?
Cars like this are meant to be appliances, so it’s enough that the Kia isn’t awful to drive. It offers three driving modes (sport, eco and comfort, naturally) but eventually you’ll forget the selector button is even there.

Getting the claimed 6.6L/100km fuel consumption does seem like a long shot, though. Let us know if you buy one and manage it.

Er, but should I buy one in the first place?
Yes, if you want a car that’s a car and not a crossover or Sport Utility Vehicle, and if you care about equipment more than a fancy badge, especially at this price point. We tried the range-topping SX model, but there are two more to consider.

And these are?
Let’s start with the basics, literally — the L model props up the range. It’s a rental car special, really, without the 8-inch touchscreen. You also have to live with cloth seats, simpler head and tail-lamps, manual seats and 15-inch alloys.

At least there are two airbags and rear parking sensors. Not bad for S$77,999. Bear in mind, the Suzuki Swift (a much smaller car) was launched at S$83,900.

But the next model up, the EX, throws in plenty of worthwhile kit for seven grand more. There’s the fancier sound system, for starters, which is worth having because it has Apple CarPlay. Never used that before? Plug your iPhone in and you can use Maps, Spotify, Podcasts and so on by tapping the Kia’s touchscreen.

The EX pack also adds keyless entry and engine start, rear air-con vents, a multifunction steering wheel, some LED daytime running lights, a boot that opens itself if your hands are full and, most important of all… 16-inch wheels. We kid, of course. If wheels are that vital to you, then it’s the SX model or nothing.

Why so?
17 inches of alloy glory, baby. Alright, that’s not huge. But things get properly nice in the Cerato SX, anyway. Like, luxury car nice. There’s a glass sunroof, for one thing. It’s great for ambience.

The driver’s seat also gains power assistance (with two memory settings), and both front seats are ventilated by unobtrusive but effective suction fans.

Then there’s wireless charging for compatible smartphones — nifty, but it would have made more sense if it also came with wireless CarPlay.

You also get a reverse camera and, just in case, front and rear parking sensors. Also just in case: six airbags.

And to spice things up that teeny bit more, you also get full LED headlights. Four bright lights do the daytime running duties, which is amusing — they light up in a similar pattern a Porsche’s DRLs.

That said, the Cerato SX is a well-featured car, and not a luxury one. A true premium car exudes more refinement, so it’s important to keep in mind what you’re buying. Also, its costs S$92,999, which is a budget that opens up a broad array of alternatives.

So many Ceratos to choose from! A little help, please?
Most people go for the EX model. Makes sense to us — it avoids the bargain basement spec of the L version, but doesn’t cost that much more. The downpayment is only S$2,100 higher for the EX, and the monthly payment over seven years is S$832 versus S$763.

Sounds like a no-brainer.
Not so fast. There are alternatives to consider, of course. For instance, Kia’s sister company (or parent, depending how you look at it) Hyundai has a range of Elantras that offer the same proposition for slightly less money, except with a smaller boot and less exciting styling.

That said, you can probably buy according to which of the two cars you like the look of better — as appliances, they’re equally adept.

Newer cars tend to attract more buzz, of course, and the Kia arguably has more exciting styling on its side.

It helps, too, that it has arrived at a period of relatively low COE prices. In a market like Singapore, good timing can be way more important than good looks.

NEED TO KNOW Kia Cerato SX 1.6L

Engine 1,591cc, inline 4
Power 128hp at 6,300rpm
Torque 155Nm at 4,850rpm
Gearbox 6-speed automatic
0-100km/h 12 seconds
Top Speed 195km/h
Efficiency 6.6L/100km
VES / CO2 B/152g/km CO2
Agent Cycle & Carriage Kia
Price TBC
Available Now


about the author

Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.