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Kia Cerato review: A Korean car for the price of a Japanese meal
CARS at this end of the market are always about numbers, so how about this? You can have a lovely degustation meal for two at Waku Ghin every month, or own a Kia Cerato. Monthly instalments for the compact car from South Korea start at S$744.
Mind you, that comes after a down payment of S$23,100. Still, the Cerato is about as cheap as it gets if you want a small sedan to call your own. Within this market segment, it is also as good as it gets.
Through the years, it has been known as the Cerato, Forte, K3, or some combination of those, but this time around it is just called the Cerato. That might be Kia's way of emphasising that it's a different car from before.
But numbers tell that story, too. At 4,740mm nose to tail, the Cerato is 80mm longer than its predecessor (and 20mm longer than Toyota's ubiquitous Altis), with more modest gains in width (20mm) and height (5mm).
The wheelbase (that is, the bit between a car's axles) is unchanged at 2,700mm, which tells you that the extra length has mostly gone into the Kia's extremities.
That's helped its boot grow by 20 litres to 502 litres, bigger than in many cars a class above the Cerato in size.
The bonnet also has a stretched quality to it that was not there before - the better to give the Cerato the kind of torpedo-like silhouette that tends to endow a car with thrusting masculinity.
Indeed, what is noteworthy about the Kia is not its length, but its proportions. A long bonnet and relatively short tail are the stuff of classic sports cars, after all, which is why the Cerato has them. Together with a slim, wide grille and stylish new headlamps, they also let the Cerato mimic Kia's hero model, the muscular Stinger GT.
The brawny looks are mostly an illusion, however. The new Cerato carries over plenty of its running gear from its predecessor, so it is propelled by a mildly reworked version of the 1.6 litre engine from the last model.
As before, the transmission has six speeds, so even though the engine bay is not exactly overrun by horses, the Kia lopes along with tolerable zest. If you really want to get going, you have to rev the engine past 4,000 rpm, but you will get an earful from it when you do.
While the drivetrain has not shown progress, there has been an improvement in handling. The previous model could be jouncy at high speeds, and its steering was largely devoid of feel. Kia has fixed both problems - which is important because when a car looks this athletic, it is a cruel let-down if you find out that it does not provide a matching experience behind the wheel.
If anything, the steering has been set up to make the car change direction snappily - and the Cerato bounds this way and that in a well-planted sort of way.
The trade-off is a firm ride over bumps but even in that respect, it is noticeably superior to its predecessor. It used to feel especially jittery in the back, but things have calmed down there somewhat, leaving occupants to enjoy the generous legroom in a bit more peace.
The front of the cabin is nicer, too, with a general absence of cheapo plastics and the same clean, coherent design that makes the exterior look so enticing.
All this means that the Cerato has got the basics right. As for the frills, that is entirely dependent on how much you are willing to spend.
The cheapest L model is like something that you might find in a rental car fleet, so stepping up to the EX version seems worthwhile. For S$7,000, it adds equipment that you should not be without in 2018 - such as a keyless entry and engine start system, rear air-con vents, and an eight-inch touchscreen entertainment system that comes with Apple CarPlay. "Hey Siri, how do I get home?" is now something you can ask a Kia Cerato without looking demented. Who would have thought?
If you are feeling extravagant, the SX model turns the opulence up a notch with goodies such as a wireless charging pad for smartphones, a glass sunroof, a power adjustable driver's chair, and ventilated front seats that can hoover the perspiration from your nether regions.
While those features are nice to have (especially if you are the sweaty sort), they nudge the Cerato's price to S$91,999 - which feels more like a good deal than a steal. In comparison, the cheaper EX model nails the price/equipment ratio.
It also reminds you of one thing. The Cerato is no longer called the Forte, but it reinforces how an ability to build well-engineered, well-equipped cars for sensible prices is Kia's true forte.
KIA CERATO SX 1.6L
Engine 1,591cc, inline 4
Power 128hp at 6,300rpm
Torque 155Nm at 4,850rpm
Gearbox 6-speed automatic
0-100kmh 12 seconds
Top Speed 195kmh
Agent Cycle & Carriage Kia
Price S$91,999 with COE