Kia Cerato Hatchback LX 2011 Review

The Cerato is proving to be the slow burner of the Kia range with another variant now on offer – a hatchback. The four-door hatch will join the sedan and Koup in the Cerato range. But there’s more to this story than just whacking a different body shape on to Kia’s well serving Cerato platform. Kia’s new hatchback represents its full-scale entry into the most popular and hardest fought market category in NZ. Facing down more established rivals like the Mazda3, Ford Focus and VW Golf is no easy task, so how can the Cerato hatch expect to hold its own? By implementing the same strengths that run throughout the entire Kia range, distinctive design, high equipment levels and aggressive pricing. Car and SUV spent some seat time in the new Cerato hatch LX to see if its got what it takes.

In the past few years Kia has become intensely design-focused with very good results and the Cerato hatch doesn’t let the side down. While it uses the same wheelbase as the sedan, the hatch body is 190mm shorter due to less rear overhang.

At the front the two variants look almost identical both using a chrome-ringed Kia corporate grille and recessed fog lamps in a wide lower air dam. From the A-pillar back the hatch is its own car and has been styled with a modern, sporty focus. Broad shoulders, an upswept window line and bulky bumpers give the Cerato hatch a wide, athletic look and genuine road presence. At the rear the angles sharpen, and there’s attractive features like large two-piece taillights, a hatch spoiler and a black plastic diffuser.

Even on our lower-spec LX tested model there are some nice touches like colour coded door handles and indicator repeaters in the side mirrors. Standard spec wheels are 16-inch 5-spoke alloys that are unique to the hatchback and a good fit. Overall, the hatch styling is a success, it’s not overtly aggressive but it has the right triggers to attract the eye and couldn’t be called boring.

Into the cabin and it’s all about dark plastics and metal-look trim in what’s a very contemporary and curvy dash design. The layout is ergonomically considerate with all switchgear well spaced out and logically located. The driver’s instrument cluster is large and very clear in a sporty three-ring design. The orange and black illuminated control screen functions flawlessly but is beginning to age, with many carmakers now shifting to larger full colour displays. The steering wheel is a highlight, being finished in thick-stitched leather and puts cruise control and audio buttons at the driver’s thumbs. General interior quality is much improved from when the Cerato sedan was first released. The soft touch plastics on the dashboard look and feel high-grade but the contrasting metal-look and gloss black trim are much harder and may not prove as durable.

Interior space is excellent, the hatch feels quite large inside and the space is divided up well. There’s class-leading headroom for the front and back seat passengers and three adults can populate the rear pew without any major issues. The front seats aren’t deeply contoured but are comfortable and there’s height adjustment for the driver. Cargo capacity in the hatch is big at 385-litres which puts most rivals to shame. The loading area can be further extended by dropping the 60:40-split rear seat.

Offering high equipment levels at a low price point has been an important factor in Kia’s success and for the $30k price our tested LX Cerato hatch packed in a fair amount of kit. Features include a 6-speaker CD stereo with full iPod integration, air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, remote central locking with folding key, trip computer, heated mirrors and a second row armrest with integrated cup holders.

Under the bonnet, the Cerato hatch is powered by the same four-cylinder Theta II petrol engine as the sedan and Koup. At 2.0-litres in displacement it’s larger than many competitors and produces a healthy 115kW of power and 194Nm of torque. This power figure trumps the standard models of the Ford Focus (107kW), Mazda3 (108kW) and Hyundai i30 (105kW). Fuel economy isn’t bad either with the hatch drinking 7.9l/100km combined.

The Cerato hatch is available in NZ with Kia’s new six-speed automatic transmission, if you’d prefer manual they can order you one. The auto transmission has replaced the old 4-speed and the improvement is vast.

On road the hatchback performs well, the engine revs freely and gets along with a nice hum. While 9.8 seconds to cover the 0-100kph sprint doesn’t sound quick, the hatch moves off the line quickly and only sounds stressed when pushed to high rpm. There’s enough power there for it to stay relaxed at open road speeds and it’s got enough pep for darting through suburban traffic. The six-speed auto has nicely spaced ratios and while it’s not quite as smooth as some others in the market, it’s certainly responsive and helps give the hatch a lively feel. If you think that you can change gears better yourself there is a sequential shifting option through the gearstick.

Steering is an electric power assisted set-up; it feels solid and very direct with just 2.8 turns lock to lock. This helps give the Cerato hatch a nimble feel and with a tight 10.32m turning circle it’s well suited to suburban duties.

In terms of handling the hatchback’s suspension tuning has been set for “Australasian” roads and the results are impressive. The spring rates and damping have been recalibrated and offer good compliance on most road surfaces. The Cerato keeps fairly flat mid corner and only understeers wide when pushed hard. Grip and agility is good but it can’t beat segment leaders like the VW Golf and Mazda3 on twisty roads. That said, the ride is more comfortable than many hatches that have suspension tuned for a Euro-feel and it’s the right compromise between ride and handling ability.

Refinement is impressive and it’s clearly an area Kia has worked hard on with increased sound deadening. The engine does sound coarse at high rpm and it becomes audible in the cabin but wind and road noise is always minimal.

Safety bases are covered with features that include an electronic stability programme, front, side and curtain airbags, seatbelt pretensioners, three-point seatbelts for all passengers and ABS brakes with EBD.

Can Kia’s Cerato hatch steal sales from more established competitors? You bet it can. The exterior design is modern, distinctive and will have broad appeal, the interior is thoughtfully appointed and despite some hard plastics, feels well built. The cabin is also very spacious and with plenty of headroom doesn’t feel confined. The engine is well proven and strong, it’s not as refined as some, but the new six-speed auto transmission has given it a new lease on life. Dynamically, the hatch has an impressive ride quality and handling ability that’s competent if not outstanding. With Kia’s 5-year/100,000kms warranty the Cerato hatch makes a lot of sense.

Even if you’re still a badge snob towards Kia’s vehicles, a test drive in the Cerato hatch will quickly reveal a credible rival to better known competition.

What we like:

  • Deceptively large interior
  • Impressive ride quality
  • Thoughtfully styled inside and out
  • Six-speed auto transmission

What we don’t like:

  • Some interior plastics still feel hard
  • Engine sounds raw at high rpm

Who will buy this car? It has appeal for a wide range of lifestyles. Would be a very useful smaller second car for families and also suitable for empty-nest couples.

Cool factor: Passing grade, the styling is sharp and while it’s not a hardcore performer it gets around well. Other people who know how good Kia’s current range is will be suitably impressed.

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

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