New looks and tech for more money

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Kia is the latest maker to move away from bargain drive-away pricing on small cars, launching an updated Cerato sedan and hatch that starts at $25,990 for the auto. You could pick up a Cerato auto for $21,990 drive-away two years ago. The new price still undercuts the rival Toyota Corolla by about $1700 and the Mazda3 by about $3000. The generous standard equipment list and class-leading seven-year warranty coverage remain, complemented by a fresh new look, more safety, and better technology. The maker has ditched the cheapest manual option, accounting only for one percent of sales.

The new Cerato has standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, accessed through an eight-inch touchscreen. Strangely, only Android Auto will work with a cord connection. The Cerato will brake automatically for cars and pedestrians and keep you in your lane, gently tugging the steering wheel if you wander. If you want radar cruise control, blind-spot warning, or rear cross-traffic alert, you’ll need to add the optional safety pack costing an extra $1500. The base model gets cloth seats, hard-wearing plastic surfaces, 16-inch steel wheels, rear airconditioning vents, and three USB charging points. The Sport grade costs $27,990 drive-away and has a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen, 17-inch alloy wheels, and a nicer steering wheel, but the safety pack is still optional.

Sport+ versions get all the safety tech as standard, as well as comfy heated leather-appointed seats and auto-folding side mirrors for $31,690. Top-spec GT versions – priced at $36,990 – dial up the power with a 1.6-liter turbo engine instead of the standard 2.0-liter and a sportier suspension tune. There are also heated, cooled, and powered adjustable sports seats, wireless device charging, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a flat-bottomed sports steering wheel. The Cerato has a spacious cabin with plenty of adult room in the rear seats. Cargo space is above average at 502 liters for the sedan and 434 liters for the hatch. The lack of a digital instrument display on any model is disappointing.

The standard 2.0-liter engine makes a respectable 112kW and 192Nm and is paired to a six-speed auto, while the GT’s 1.6-liter unit produces a lively 150kW and 265Nm, mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch auto. The 2.0-liter engine in the cheaper variants has more than enough grunt for city commuting and freeway cruising, although it needs to be revved reasonably hard when overtaking. Kia’s local suspension tune is excellent. It soaks up bumps and grooves of all shapes and sizes, while the cabin is well insulated from road and tire noise. The steering can feel a bit numb, though. Claimed fuel use is 7.4L/100km, but we managed about 8.3L/100km on a mix of urban and twisting country roads. The GT is noticeably sharper to drive, with a strong low-down urge from the turbo engine and rapid-fire gear shifts from the dual-clutch auto. It’s not as thirsty either, drinking just 6.9L/100km. The steering feels more direct, and the stiffer suspension helps to keep it reassuringly planted through corners. The trade-off is a less comfortable ride over pockmarked inner-city streets.

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