We just attended a launch event at the Dubai Autodrome, although the car we were there to drive doesn’t really belong on a track . There is a new Kia Cerato in town for the 2019 model year, building on the best qualities of the previous model.
And they literally did build on the previous model, starting with a platform that has the same wheelbase as before, at 2700mm. However, the overall length grows by 80 mm, to 4640mm thanks to longer overhangs. It also grows 5mm in height, although somehow the new model manages to look more bloated than the previous one, even with 17-inch alloys on the top model.
Details such as the available LED lighting are nice, but then there are oddities such as the indicators in the rear bumper (which would be expensive in a simple fender-bender). It’s a more generic-looking car overall.
However, the cabin is where things look up. In the top-spec model, you get leatherette-upholstered seats available in two-tone colours, stitched-leather effect on the soft-touch dashboard and door panels, a BMW-style 8-inch touchscreen (while base models get a 3.8-inch screen and buttons), smart key, LED headlights, rear camera and even vented front seats with memory function.
The general ambience inside is of a car that costs more. However, while the panels on the rear doors look good as well, it’s mostly just hard plastics sneakily made to look like leatherette, with fake stitches moulded in.
There is very good space inside, even in the back seats. And the boot is relatively huge for a compact car.
If you’re wondering where Kia skimped on, it’s the engines, as they are largely carried over. The motors on offer are a 126 hp 1.6-litre with 154 Nm of torque, and a 150 hp 2.0-litre with 192 Nm of torque. Both are still reasonably competitive, and offered with a 6-speed automatic (or 6-speed manual if the dealer chooses to order them). However, Kia says a 201 hp 1.6-litre turbo Cerato GT model with 265 Nm will be available later with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic (or 6-speed manual potentially).
Automatic Cerato models come with a drive-mode selector that can vary the engine response and steering weight. Front brakes are vented discs, while the rear brakes are drums in base models and discs in higher trim levels.
Out on the track, we were hammering it as hard as we could get away with.
Everything feels slower at the wide-open track, so we couldn’t even tell you what engine our Cerato had (1.6 or 2.0), as there’s no badging on the cars and even our hosts didn’t know.
Engine response is actually good at low speeds, so it should be a good city hopper. There are no obvious delays in responding to pedal inputs either.
It handles surprisingly well in conjunction with the ESP nannies, as the car was kept neutral through all the fast corners, even as we tried to induce understeer and oversteer. Body roll is present, but the car regains its composure after a turn very cleanly rather than wallowing around like older Kias used to do.
The steering was well-weighted at speed and even had some feedback, artificial or otherwise. And it rode smoothly over the ridges at the apex of corners. It was reasonably quiet and the brakes responded linearly as well as strongly.
So that’s the new Kia Cerato for you in a nutshell. It’s lost the good looks of the previous model, but it has become an overall-better car in the process as well. If prices are held at last year’s levels, it should be a good deal, even if it won’t go on anyone’s wall as a poster.
Photos by Mashfique H. Chowdhury and Kia.