Friday, December 02, 2011
Any car maker releasing a new model into our small car class, who does not have a hatchback in their line up, is a bit like someone batting in cricket without any pads or other protective equipment.
They are not going to post many runs on the sales scoreboard and are likely to end up fairly bruised in the process. To stand any chance of success in our fiercely competitive small car arena, manufacturers much have a decent hatchback in their line up. The reason is simple, hatches account for over 70 percent of sales, whether it is a conventional hatch or one masquerading as a trendy urban SUV.
Kia has found that not having a hatch makes that mountain to small car sales success an awful lot harder to climb, as they discovered in 2009 when they launched the Cerato in sedan form only. The addition last year of the trendy Koup aka a two-door Cerato boosted sales a little, but not to the extent a hatchback would have. Finally a five-door hatch has joined the Cerato range giving Kia the fire power to turn the heat up its rivals.
A decent dose of new technology, including a sophisticated 6-speed sequential shift automatic give the Cerato hatch the jump on a number of its competitors who getting by on dated and less efficient four-speed autos. Although its overall width, height and wheelbase are the same as the Cerato sedan, the hatch has its own unique roof, rear side panels, C-pillar, tailgate, rear bumper, light clusters and roof spoiler. The rear combination lamps feature etching-processed lenses, are split across the tailgate shut line while a sporty rear diffuser showcases the exhaust tailpipe.
Two models, both six-speed autos are offered, with the price leading LX retailing for $30,490 and the range topping SX supplied for this road test selling for $34,490. Interestingly Kia has opted out of their drive away pricing. Suzuki is the only manufacturer here that still uses drive away pricing, something I like because it lets buyers know the exact cost of driving their new vehicle away.
Performance from the 115kW, 2.0 litre engine with a six-speed auto to nudge it along, makes for a more satisfying drive than you get from the Cerato sedan and Koup that have the older four-speed auto championing their causes. I was surprised at just how much a couple of extra ratios in an automatics bag of tricks, could transform what is essentially a run-of-the-mill two-litre motor into one with a bit of passion and purpose. Throttle response right along the rev continuum is noticeable quicker stronger and the overall smoothness and refinement of the motor, appears to have gone up another notch.
At open road speeds the car is a comfortable cruiser carving of the kilometres on a long trip with almost big car like ease with little in the way of irritating wind noise. The only intrusive sound comes from the rumble and grumble of the tyres, when they lock horns with rougher chip sealed roads, taking a little of the gloss off a hatch, that in most other respects is a fairly polished performer.
The six-speed sequential automatic with almost laser precision gear shifts gives the engine the sort of urgency to prosper in the cut and thrust of the tough and combative small car class. This excellent transmission has really elevated performance to a happier place where it will leave owners with a satisfied smile.
For useable passenger and cargo space the Cerato hatch outpoints its sedan sibling. The rear seat cushion and backrest are split 60/40, with the cushion flipping forwards and the backrest folding down to create a completely flat cargo floor. A spacious cabin easily seats four adults. It is possible to get three people across the back seat without things getting to up close and personal. A generously proportioned rear cargo compartment holds a decent stash of luggage making this a genuine family sized hatch.
In top of the line SX form the Cerato hatch pretty much gets the “Full blown” luxury model menu with keyless remote central locking with alarm, power windows, steering wheel-mounted cruise control/audio controls/Bluetooth and alloy wheels. Leather upholstery, paddle gear shifters on the steering wheel to row the car along also help to drive home its flagship model status.
The Cerato 5-door’s sophisticated suspension system has been further fine tuned by Kia for Australasia, a card the company also played the new Kia Sportage launched here a year ago. Superficial tweaks have been made to the suspension to inject more of a ride and handling edge. Up rated dampers and wider ‘L’-shaped lower-arms improve stability at higher speeds. For all Kia’s endeavours, the net result is tidy road holding and ride comfort, not a tough new benchmark for its competitors to beat, something the company might have hoped for.
What’s the verdict? Good looks, plenty of standards features plus lively performance see Kia hatch another winner.