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First Drive: Kia Cerato – on sale from August



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The launch of the new Kia Cerato – saloon next month and the hatchback in September – could be the most important for the Korean manufacturer. Kia is hoping its new C-sector entrant, which replaces both the Mentor and Shuma II, will be capable of taking on the likes of the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.

It is more likely to be competing with cars like the Daewoo Lacetti and Rover’s ageing 45, but it is a step in the right direction, and Cerato is one of the best value brand models currently available. Its looks are fairly anonymous which is the pattern for the rest of the car. It manages to do everything well and ticks all the right boxes, but there’s little excitement along the way. But then, this is what ‘value’ brands are all about and when it comes to pricing and equipment, the Cerato makes up for what it lacks in panache.

Standard equipment on all models includes twin and side curtain airbags, air-con, remote central locking, ABS with EBD and brake assist and a CD MP3 player. The interior is plain but inoffensive – some of the plastics look and feel a bit cheap.

At launch, there will be two petrol engines, a 1.6-litre unit and a 2.0-litre unit, as well as a 1.5-litre diesel. A 2.0-litre oil-burner may also be made available, although with little difference in performance and power compared with the 1.5-litre, there seems little point.

Behind the wheel the Cerato is streets ahead of the two cars it replaces. The steering is precise, the handling is assured and there’s plenty of grip – throughly competent. A vague gearbox, however, lets the drive down.

Kia’s market share for June reached a record 1.51% with sales outstripping Rover, Hyundai and Mini. It’s aiming to sell 2,000 Ceratos by the end of this year and 12,000 in 2005. With the recent launch of the Picanto and the Cerato close to arrival, the Kia success story looks set to continue.

Strengths: Keen pricing and good specification
Weaknesses: Fairly ordinary inside and out, bland looks
Opportunity: A big advance on the model it replaces
Threat: Will be competing in the toughest sector in the market
The USP: The best from the budget brands so far
Prices: From £10,000 (est)
Engines: 1.6-litre DOHC 105bhp, 2.0-litre CVVT 143bhp, 1.5-litre CRDi diesel 102bhp, 174 lb-ft
Transmissions: 5spd manual, 4spd automatic, fwd
Performance: 0-62 mph 9.0 – 13.0sec, top speeds 107mph – 129mph
Efficiency: 34-41.5mpg combined; 165-198g/km CO2
Rivals: Lacetti, Elantra, Rover 45

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