The Kia Cerato Sport sits one rung from the top of the range.
The Kia Cerato Sport sits one rung from the top of the range. Warren Kirby

New Kia Cerato Sport offers impressive European value

FIND a better small sedan deal than the Kia Cerato, grab it with both hands. You must have snared a bargain.

Once you consider the all-new design, latest safety technology, long warranty and infotainment system, the Cerato has elevated itself to the number one position for value with a starting price of $21,490 drive-away featuring an automatic transmission.

Released in June, the new Cerato may not look dramatically different but it's been completely overhauled under the guidance of star designer Peter Schreyer - whose past resume has included the Audi TT, the modern VW Beetle, as well as Kia's new brigade of stunners headlined by the Stinger sportback.

Looking decisively European with refined lines, the Cerato cuts a stunning figure among rivals which include the Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Subaru Impreza.

There is only one problem. It's a sedan. Notchbacks, and small cars in general, face popularity decline which rivals Donald Trump.

SUVs are the flavour of the moment as Aussies are loving the taste of the high-riding machines.

Although with a sizeable boot bigger than many SUVs and an impressive list of basic gear, the Cerato is a compelling package.

Sitting one rung from the top, the Sport model we tested had a retail price is $25,790. Yet the current drive-away offer is $23,690.

VALUE

Rolling on 17-inch alloy wheels (the base models only comes with steelies and hubcaps), it also gets an eight-inch colour touchscreen with digital radio, reverse camera, lights which turn on automatically when it gets dark, front and rear parking sensors, manual aircon, full bluetooth connectivity, improved quality cloth trimmed seats as well as Apple Car Play and Android Auto which makes integration with your smartphone easier.

Premium paint costs an extra $520, and applies to every colour (pearl white, silver, black, graphite, grey, red, dark and light blue) other than a flat white.

Kia maintains the industry's best warranty at seven years and unlimited kilometres. Roadside assist is free for the first year after it leaves the showroom, but it can be renewed for free by returning to a Kia dealer for the scheduled servicing. That's applicable for up to eight years.

Capped price servicing is available - prices do rise over time with escalating costs so servicing will be slightly more expensive than the forecast - with the first three services totalling $923. Expect a spike at the four year/ 60,000km mark ($487). Average price over seven services is $409.

Services are also annual or 15,000km, better than the six or nine month schedules on some rivals.

The Kia Cerato Sport sits one rung from the top of the range.
The Kia Cerato Sport sits one rung from the top of the range. Warren Kirby

ON THE ROAD

Substantial sheet-metal changes didn't translate to the drivetrain. Under the new skin is the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.

The exterior design may be racier, whereas the four-potter is the antipodes. Serviceable and honest, the performance is predictable without ever feeling too quick, nor sluggish.

Key to the performance is a standard six-speed automatic, with Kia maintaining existing technology rather than opting for a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to try and gain fuel consumption improvements. CVTs often feel listless and all noise with little action, and while the Cerato is no firecracker, you know what to expect when pressuring the right pedal.

All Kia cars receive Australian tuning tweaks ... a team here make suspension and handling alterations which are made at the factory before being shipped here. Once again they've done a stellar job.

Attack a corner and the Cerato hangs on with surprising ease, with strong road holding and impressive dynamics when pushed. It's not race-track sharp, and it certainly has no need to be, but the Cerato possesses ability beyond its remit.

Rural and highway travels saw little cabin noise, with reasonable space for those front and back. Adults can find comfort in the rear seat, three can fit at a pinch, while there are three top tether points for child seats and two Isofix points.

The interior is an indicator of its price-point with nothing too flashy, with manual aircon controls and no fancy dual zone digital set-up. Predominately black and basic, the dark dash styling is punctuated by the colour screen and touches of chrome. Only the range-topper has a push-button start.

Analogue gauges flank a digital display for the driver who can toggle through various screens and menus - which includes a digital speedo.

There is a sizable boot, more than 500 litres, bigger than an old Commodore, Mazda CX-5 or a Honda HR-V, but while it has an opening button on the key fob there is no small knob under the boot lid (like the old model).

The Kia Cerato Sport sits one rung from the top of the range.
The Kia Cerato Sport sits one rung from the top of the range. Warren Kirby

SAFETY

Stepping up its game in this realm, standard across the range is city autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with forward collision warning, lane-keeping assistance, along with parking sensors front and back.

Optional for $1000 are radar cruise control, a bolstered AEB system with pedestrian and cyclist detection, rear cross-traffic alert and blind spot warning.

A space-saver is standard as a spare, but for those who travel long distances you will soon be able to option a full-size spare. It will be available within a month, work is currently being done on an aftermarket wheel housing solution.

The Kia Cerato Sport sits one rung from the top of the range.
The Kia Cerato Sport sits one rung from the top of the range. Warren Kirby

HEAD SAYS

Sedans may be out of favour but I'm a fashion trailblazer, I'm ahead of the hipster curve.

HEART SAYS

The svelte good looks don't translate to on-road performance, but I'm not about going fast or doing circle work.

The Kia Cerato Sport sits one rung from the top of the range.
The Kia Cerato Sport sits one rung from the top of the range. Warren Kirby

ALTERNATIVES

TOYOTA COROLLA ASCENT FROM $23,490 DRIVE-AWAY

About to be updated with an all-new model, the Corolla is a rock-solid option for longevity. Running a 103kW/173Nm 1.8-litre 4cyl with a CVT, it also doesn't have anywhere near the tech of the Cerato. But it's among Australia's top sellers for a reason, insanely solid and reliable.

MAZDA3 NEO SPORT FROM $23,490 DRIVE-AWAY

Another big seller for its good looks and strong features list. Comes with a punchy and more fuel efficient 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl engine it has slightly more driving appeal.

THE VERDICT

Difficult to fault, the Cerato sedan lays an outstanding foundation for the hatch derivative due later this year. Excellent safety technology, it's a car which is easy to drive with more technology you would expect at this price.

AT A GLANCE

Kia Cerato Sport

PRICE $23,690 drive away (top value)

WARRANTY AND SERVICING Seven years unlimited km, 12 months/15,000km services, $923 over 3 years (impressive)

ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 112kW/ 192Nm (good enough)

SAFETY Not yet rated, 6 airbags, city AEB, lane keeping assistance, rear camera, front and rear sensors (excellent)

THIRST 7.4L/100km (thirsty)

SPARE Space-saver (full size soon an option)

BOOT 502L (large, 60-40 folding rear seats)