[This article was first published on businesstimes.com.sg]
A new Cerato gives value-conscious buyers something to consider, but for Kia itself it stands for much more.
EVERY carmaker has its coming-of-age model, and for Kia it's the Cerato. Peter Schreyer, an ex-Audi designer of some renown, gave the 2008 version a handsome face and neat proportions, and that was enough to help it sell like Korean hot wings. It topped the sales charts in Singapore for two years.
Today sees the launch of a new Cerato here (meaning a facelifted version of 2018's model), and it still has a chiseled face and torpedo-like proportions. But having been the car that established Kia, the Cerato is now symbolic of the brand's desire to reinvent itself for a changing world.
It's the first model adorned with Kia's new logo, which is meant to look like someone's signature. Evidently, the logo is a signed "commitment to becoming an icon for change and innovation," the carmaker's president and CEO Ho Sung Song said last year.
The irony is that the logo is making its debut here on a conventional car. The Cerato may be many things, but "innovative" isn't one of them. Peek under the bonnet and you see a 1.6-litre engine with no turbocharger and no fancy hybrid tech. Stick your head under the rear and you see the kind of simple twist beam rear suspension that's been popular for half a century.
But the Cerato has been a champion at taking innovations from luxury cars and slipping them into the mainstream world, and the newly-facelifted car is no exception, especially where the premium GT Line version is concerned.
This time around, it comes with driver aids such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist, meaning if you press a few buttons, the Cerato can automatically follow the car ahead at a set distance, and steer itself to stay within its lane. I remember encountering those features for the first time in a Mercedes S-Class and Audi A6, respectively, and it's a little mind-blowing that you can now have them in a Kia.
Also new are the systems to keep you from crashing into stuff in front of you or steering into an obstacle beside you, but what's more likely to impress your pals is the 10.25-inch touchscreen. Its displays are slicker than Brylcreem, and it has a row of touch-sensitive keys that puts major functions within jabbing distance. The air-con controls are still physical knobs and buttons, which is something you would cheer if you ever had to grapple with a menu-based interface like, say, Volvo's.
The Kia also has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which have become must-haves to anyone who's used them, and it retains a feature that few premium cars have, which is something you never knew you needed until you tried it: ventilated front seats.
The car underneath all those features is still a capable family mover, given how the Cerato is roomy in the back and its boot is enormous. But its chassis is showing its age, with a thumping ride over bumpy roads, and the engine complains loudly when made to work hard.
Given that the GT Line lacks the sporty performance to match its sporty appearance, dropping one trim level to the Cerato EX might be clever. You lose the small boot wing and the racy flashes of red in the front grille, but its smaller wheels provide a more comfortable ride, and you save S$6,000 up front. You would have to do without the ventilated seats, however, and the way the climate is changing, you might not want to.
If the roomy cabin and big boot are all you're after, the basic Cerato L costs S$87,999 with Certificate of Entitlement. Whatever the version, the Cerato does embody Kia's mastery of maximising value. Reshaping sheetmetal is expensive, so Kia made the Cerato look fresh by changing bolt-on parts instead, yet the facelift manages to make it look radically different from before (at least by car standards).
There's a sleek new interpretation of Kia's signature tiger nose grille, and strikingly modern headlamps. Whether it still counts as a coming-of-age car for Kia, the Cerato is hiding its age well.
[Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction. ]