Kia’s best-selling car in Australia gets a facelift. Where have improvements been made?
We’re fans of the Kia Cerato range here at CarAdvice. It also appears that the Australian market shares the same sentiment given that it was one of the top 10 best-selling cars of 2020.
For 2021, the brand has given its small car a midlife update, which we had the pleasure of sampling on a quick drive through the Southern Highlands and South Coast districts of New South Wales.
The range remains the same with hatch and sedan body types coming in four core variants: S, Sport, Sport+ and GT.
Each features a carryover engine as per the 2020 range, meaning the three entry versions use the same 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine with torque converter automatic, and GT the same 1.6-litre turbocharged motor with seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
What’s not the same is the price. Firstly, the manual transmission option has been deleted, which makes the entry point more expensive. The cheapest Cerato in the range now costs $25,990 drive-away, or $2500 more than an outgoing $23,490 Cerato S with a clutch pedal.
Secondly, what also doesn’t help is that prices are up $500 to $1000 across the board depending on the version. We’ve included a handy table below that outlines the nitty-gritty.
|2021 Kia Cerato S||2021 Kia Cerato Sport||2021 Kia Cerato Sport+||2021 Kia Cerato GT|
|Engine||2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol||2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol||2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol||1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power and torque||112kW at 6200rpm, 192Nm at 4000rpm||112kW at 6200rpm, 192Nm at 4000rpm||112kW at 6200rpm, 192Nm at 4000rpm||150kW at 6000rpm, 265Nm at 1500–4500rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed torque converter automatic||Six-speed torque converter automatic||Six-speed torque converter automatic||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||7.4L/100km||7.4L/100km||7.4L/100km||6.9L/100km|
|Boot volume (hatch/sedan)||428L/502L||428L/502L||428L/502L||428L/502L|
|ANCAP rating||Four stars (2019)||Four stars (2019)||Five stars (2019)||Five stars (2019)|
|Warranty||Seven years/unlimited km||Seven years/unlimited km||Seven years/unlimited km||Seven years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3, Hyundai i30||Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3, Hyundai i30||Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3, Hyundai i30||Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3, Hyundai i30|
|Price as tested (drive-away)||$25,990 (+$500)||From $27,990 (+$500)||$31,690 (+$500)||$36,990 (+$1000)|
It’s not all take, however, as Kia has boosted safety equipment and standard features across the range. A few nice callouts include all variants now receiving rear air vents as standard, as well as new active safety tech including lane-following assist, advanced driver-attention alert and auto high-beam headlights.
Also included, depending on the model, is one of two new infotainment systems. The entry-level Cerato S version receives an 8.0-inch screen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, whereas all other versions feature a larger 10.25-inch system with wireless Android Auto but wired Apple CarPlay.
Most of the cabin experience remains the same, except for GT models now receiving an opening glass sunroof for the asking price. Being the same is not a negative at all, as the Kia Cerato had no previous issues in terms of interior quality, design or presentation.
The inclusion of a digital instrument cluster in higher-grade models would’ve been nice, but it appears this technology has been reserved for the brand’s domestic market only. We managed to sample both the top-spec GT and entry-level S variants during our drive, so we’ll focus on those two in this review.
We begin with the entry Cerato S. The most noticeable change at grade is its new front fascia, introducing a pair of revised headlights, a new grille and new branding. The new Kia logo looks sharp and modern, as does the overall updated look, but it’s a shame to see that halogen bulbs are still used.
Given there are new exterior hard parts, it’s a missed opportunity that LED headlights did not make the cut. Some respite comes from the Cerato S now flicking between dipped and full-beam automatically, but this system is still not as good as a pair of dipped LED beams.
Lighting aside, it’s an enjoyable car to drive. Kia Australia’s ride and handling guru Graeme Gambold mentioned that the COVID-19 pandemic has made local tuning efforts more difficult than before.
When the local Australian division adjusts a vehicle for the Australian market, it does more than change suspension and chassis hard parts. The vehicle’s steering system is also recalibrated with each revision – work that can only be carried out by an engineer from the motherland. With the borders closed, the team must work with theory and order parts, as opposed to flying said engineer out to make live changes on the fly.
Due to the time constraints around re-tuning a car that was already still meeting expectations, the Australian suspension tune remains untouched on S, Sport and Sport+ variants. As was the case before, it still sits on the more firm and sportier end of the spectrum.
Our drive route took us along a stretch of highway first, which the Cerato S remained comfortable on. The biggest downfall at speed is the level of tyre noise that finds its way into the cabin, especially when the road becomes coarse chip or striped with repairs.
Visibility in all directions is excellent, as are a pair of larger side mirrors that assist quick lane changes. Through the twister sections of the drive loop, the Cerato’s inherent qualities again impressed. Despite being the cheapest version in the range – complete with 16-inch steel wheels and a torsion beam (joined) rear suspension layout – it felt well mannered, and most importantly safe.
Mid-corner bumps are handled excellently at speed, and not causing the car to ‘skip’ sideward across the road. It’ll also manage mass well under heavy braking, meaning the car is easy to handle in an emergency-stop situation.
Halfway through the drive we stepped into the GT model, which has had its unique suspension tune fettled for its 2021 update.
The GT model benefits from a more sophisticated independent rear suspension layout. Upgrades to its handling tune for 2021 see overall suspension firmness dialled back to make the car more palatable day-to-day. The resulting feel is better suited, as the Cerato GT now feels plusher during humdrum commuting – likely where it’ll spend 90 per cent of its time.
It comes across as a more mature package, and not one that’s continuously squabbling with the road to let you know its intent. That’s something better discovered on a good road, where you notice none of its previous ability has been sacrificed because of becoming less firm. In fact, I’d argue that the Cerato now feels more trustworthy than before, feeling more malleable and in turn inviting to drive at speed.
It’s a warm hatch that’s ironically become warmer now it’s softer. If you value a cheeky punt down a good road on the weekends, but can’t afford the stretch to a $40,000+ hot hatch, or don’t see the value in commuting in something of that ilk, then consider a Cerato GT.
The range is more expensive than before, but it does come with added safety gear and equipment to warrant the ask. One clear omission from the model offering is a hybrid version, when the rival Corolla does so well with its hybrid range, but there’s nothing planned for this generation, although it is looking likely in the distant future.
Overall, first impressions see the facelifted 2021 Kia Cerato still hitting the mark. It’s a small car that manages the inner city and rural environments equally well, feeling easy and comfortable to drive over varied surfaces and speeds.
Most important of all, however, is the confidence it gives in higher-speed environments, which makes it great for people who cover higher than average kilometres yet still prefer a small car.