Kia Cerato 1.6 Test Drive

DSC_0308(resized)Once upon a time, Kia cars were known to be inferior to Japanese cars. Then came the Forte in 2009. With an improved design and great value, many hearts were won over. But still the majority of car buyers remained skeptical and preferred to put their money on more expensive but lower spec-ed Japanese models. With the launched of the Cerato in Q3 of 2013, it might be what Kia needs to convince the people that they are indeed on par with the Japanese.

The exterior design is a love or hate matter. I think it looks elegant and sexy, but some of my friends think it looks hideous. Interior wise, a few months ago when I first saw pictures of the dashboard, it looked cheap and poorly designed with the big empty spaces between the different components. When I got into the car though, the dashboard actually looks quite nice in real life, with a certain European feel to it. Fit and finish is top notch.

DSC_0298(resized)We didn’t get to test the ventilated seats as only the 1.6 liter model was available, but it has a memory seat for the driver that automatically moves backward when you open the door, makes it easier to get in and out. The side mirrors also fold out automatically with welcoming lights when you go near it with the smart key. Temperature control is dual-zone automatic (driver and passenger), with two rear seat blowers that is set to the driver’s temperature. These little touches definitely give the car a more premium feel.

DSC_0299(resized)Although our car was not the 2.0 model I was expecting to test, the smaller 1.6 liter engine did not dissappoint. Acceleration was more than enough for city driving. When pushed for overtaking on the highway, it still provides enough power to do the job albeit being somewhat loud.

The car is most impressive when cruising at highway speed. We got onto the highway straight away during the test drive. At one time I thought I was doing around 90km/h, but a glance on the speedometer showed close to 120km/h. The car feels stable. During harder-than-usual braking, nose pitch was kept under control. Wind and engine noise were well insulated, but road noise was evident at high speed, perhaps a better set of tyres can overcome this?

Our route was mostly straights; I can’t tell if it’s just as impressive on the corners. But I can tell you that the Cerato feels more refined than the Elantra, a car that shares the same platform. More fun and control too with the pedal shifts, a feature not present in the Elantra.

The driver's seat is adjusted to my driving position.

The driver’s seat is adjusted to my driving position.

As always, a test drive review is never complete without some nagging. Because of the aerodynamic shape and the sloping roofline, the front and rear windows have a smaller than average viewable area. Headroom is adequate for my 5’7” build, but anyone taller than 6” might find the rear headroom too little for comfort. The center aircon vents are too spread out, causing them to almost blowing directly at my hand on the steering wheel. Cold fingers are very annoying. There is some throttle delay, but so do a lot of other cars in this category.

“There are those who follow. And then, there are those born to set new benchmarks”. This is Cerato’s tagline on Nazakia’s website. So, did the car set a new benchmark? I would say yes, benchmark on value. At RM99,888 the 1.6 model costs considerably less than its Japanese competitors (the 2.0 model costs RM118,888), yet it offers more features. At this price range, the Japanese only give 2 air-bags, but the Cerato comes with 6 as standard! If you are not brand-biased (which so many Malaysian are), buying the Cerato is really a no-brainer.

Update (8th Jan 2014): I read from a few other reviews that the different Flex Steer settings don’t really change the steering feel, and if they do the changes are very minute to make any difference. This is indeed true at high speeds. But at stationary (and low speeds to some extend), the different steering weight becomes very obvious. Parellel parking becomes a breeze in Comfort mode.

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