Korean carmaker Kia needs no introduction, as the masses already know them as a brand that has transformed from virtually nothing into a fairly strong game-changing contender in almost all of the hotly-contested car segments, all in a surprisingly short span of time. In recent months, Kia has been rolling out several new models, and their latest offering is the all-new 2014 Kia Cerato, which was officially launched at a media test-drive event in Dubai.
The launch event was held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City. Following a simple breakfast and a presentation session by the top men from both Kia Motors Korea and Kia Middle East, we were led to a huge number of parked Cerato sedans, and were asked to hop into any car we like. The presentation earlier had revealed the availability of both the 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre variants. However, judging by the fact that the test cars were all the top-spec models, it was hard to tell the difference between the two engine variants.
Starting from the stunning visual aesthetics, Kia now seems to be taking several other aspects of the vehicle more seriously, such as the engine performance, noise levels, fuel-efficiency, creature comforts and so on. The interior styling is very ‘European’ inspired, but the materials are mostly hard plastics, as with many other models from Kia. Only part of the upper dash, and the upper door panels of the front doors get soft-touch materials. The gauge dome and steering wheel are leather-stitched. Although the fit and finish appears to be good, those hard plastics dumb down the premium feel, while the dash reflects on the windscreen under direct sunlight a little too much.
Our top-spec tester seems to be a serious threat to the segment contenders in terms of features alone, which includes a 6-speaker audio system with a 4.3-inch colour TFT touchscreen, with AUX and USB support, Bluetooth, three power-steering modes from “comfort” to “sport”, 10-way power-adjustable driver seat with two memory presets, cooled glove-box, dual-zone climate control a/c with rear vents, front and rear parking sensors with reverse camera, 6 airbags, traction and stability control systems, daytime running lamps, self-leveling HID headlamps, LED tail lamps, intelligent smart key with push-button start, an optimum gear-shift indicator for vehicles with manual transmission and so on.
The front seats in the Cerato are all leather-clad and even ventilated. While the driver seat gets both cooling and heating functions, the front passenger seat does away with seat heating only. The front seats are moderately bolstered, and are comfortable. Legroom and headroom is good for the front occupants, while the rear legroom may not appear to be so impressive to six-footers, especially with the hard plastic on the front seat-backs. Rear a/c vents is another laudable feature in the Cerato, which most cars lack in the compact segment. The boot space is good too.
The drive comprised of some scenic routes running through the middle of some desert in the outskirts of Dubai. There were media representatives from all over the Middle East and Africa, and the convoy drive felt more like some sort of NASCAR racing event. What started off as a battle between only two cars for taking the position right behind the lead car, soon turned outrageous when almost every other car in the convoy spread over the highway, overtaking and battling each other all throughout the drive event, only to be right behind the lead vehicle. We initially did our bit and even secured the spot behind the lead car for some time, but later left the battle considering others and our own safety, and to spend time knowing the car rather than getting sucked into the poor driving habits of foreign journalists.
Unknowingly, we had hopped into a 1.6-litre automatic variant, thinking it is a 2.0-litre sedan. While there was no badging of any sort to differentiate both the variants, we later found out that the 2.0-litre model came with a boot-lip spoiler, while the 1.6-litre model did not. Nevertheless, the folks at Kia were kind enough to allow us to drive the 2.0-litre automatic and even the 1.6-litre manual models, after the convoy drive had concluded.
The Kia Cerato was an impressive car when it came to ride quality and high-speed stability. With low-profile rubbers wrapping the 17-inch alloys, the ride was remarkably smooth, with only a slight tinge of firmness. The car was stable at speeds as high as 175 kph, even in crosswinds. Body-roll is moderate at most, and handling is pretty good, though there seemed to be a slight tendency for the rear to step out at the limit on tight corners. The stability control always seemed to act a tad bit late, but always made the necessary corrections just in time. There were slight vibrations felt in the cabin during idling, but this was noticed only in our fresh 1.6-litre automatic tester, as the other models appeared to be all fine.
The manual model has a gear-shift indictor, which recommends the optimum shift point for shifting gears. There is mild feedback from the steering, and the vehicle sports adjustable steering modes, which varies the steering weight according to your preference. In “sport” mode, the steering stiffness is increased, while in “comfort” mode, the steering is light. Leaving the steering mode in “normal” mode, results in the steering weight being varied based on the vehicle speed. Visibility is good overall, but reverse-parking may become an issue with models without a reverse camera, as the rear sits high. There is almost no throttle-lag, a problem that afflicts many other cars with drive-by-wire tech.
The 1.6-litre “Dual CVVT” engine in the new Cerato is mated to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. In casual driving, the 1.6-litre engine with the automatic gearbox seemed lazy, and the vehicle always preferred to stay in higher gears, presumably tuned for economy. It does, however, have adequate low-end juice which will not leave you gasping for power while entering busy roundabouts. Passing power at highway speeds require downshifting a couple of gears, but without the need of flooring the accelerator pedal. The manual variant, in comparison, seemed noticeably sprightlier.
The 1.6-litre engine is rated for 128 hp, and while the automatic version took a leisurely 12.6 seconds to hit 100 kph from standstill in our casual timing, the manual version managed to do the 0-100 kph dash in 11.4 seconds. The manual stick-shifter was slick, and the clutch was feather-light. Fuel economy, as observed by the vehicle trip computer, was a consistent 7.4 l/100 km in the automatic variant, and 6.8 l/100 km in the manual one.
The 2.0-litre “Dual CVVT” engine, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, is the one to go for. While the low-end power is only adequate, it has very good mid-range kick. With an impressive 159 hp on tap, the 2.0-litre Cerato accelerated from 0-100 kph in 9.3 seconds, as per our casual run.
So Kia is set to storm into the compact segment with a car more competent than ever. And while it has succeeded in making a winner in terms of style-factor as usual, they seem to have improved several other important aspects of the car, such as the ride quality, fuel-efficiency, driving pleasure, and so on, by a significant margin. The new Cerato already poses a major threat to most cars in its segment, in terms of features alone. If brand bias and reliability issues do not come into play, then there is no reason why the 2014 Kia Cerato will not become a success story for the Koreans.