2013 Kia Cerato Review

The best car in the segment?
By Imthishan Giado
2013 Kia Cerato

The impeccably-complete Optima was the first warning shot over the bows of the Japanese auto manufacturers. Now with the new Cerato, the warning shot has turned into a 21-gun barrage; the Koreans are here, they mean business and they intend to take market share from their rivals right where it hurts the most.

Our first drive began at a special launch event at the swanky Intercontinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City, the kind of upscale venue which could be charitably be described as being beyond the reach of drivers of previous Ceratos. With this new model though, Kia has downscaled the Audi-esque styling of the Optima to the D-segment, with predictably flawless results.

2013 Kia Cerato

This is a car with premium-styling (if not a premium price) and sharp angular features that even hotel valets won’t be able to ignore. Cleverly, the midsection is an anonymous Elantra-style space-maximising blob, while the front and rear fascias are another well-executed version of the sharp, angular Kia corporate face and tail. Another current trend is character lines and the Cerato’s one starts near the top of the front of the wheel arch and then shoots off up the side, through the arrow-head door-handles and ending at the tip of the spear that is the tail light.  You won’t probably won’t notice because you’ll be too busy ogling the gorgeous 17” five-spoke alloys – which incidentally, trivia fans, is the exact same 215/45 size as the ones on a stock Toyota 86.

2013 Kia Cerato

It wouldn’t be a modern Kia without an absolute cruise-liner’s worth of kit – and the Cerato doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it’s safe to say anything that there’s very little the Cerato does without. Want a tilt/telescopic steering wheel in addition to your ten-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-position memory? You got it. Oh, would Sir also want those seats to be heated and cooled? No problem! What about a 4.3” touchscreen for the audio system which comes with AUX and standard Bluetooth Audio? Absolutely. Paddle shifters? Cruise Control? Dual-zone climate control? Parking sensors? Rear view camera? Six airbags? Auto-dimming rear view mirror? Push-button start? This car wants for nothing.

2013 Kia Cerato

It’s becoming such a Kia cliché to say that the dash design wouldn’t look out of place in an Audi, but it’s the truth. However, while the build quality is generally quite good and you get the sense that nothing’s going to fall apart, the Cerato is not going to challenge Audi material quality any time soon. All the cabin plastics have that slightly shiny quality beloved of Japanese automakers in this segment and few surfaces are soft touch, with the gearbox surround particularly low-rent. Curiously, the one exception to this rule is the steering wheel which is clad in a leather so smooth and slippery that it’s actually hard to hold onto it. Seriously, Kia, good idea to have your most common touch point be coated in the most expensive surface but next time add some texture please? Holding this wheel was like trying to hold onto a baboon coated in butter.

For the driving experience, we took a very long drive on Dubai’s many highways and byways or as I like to call it, the place where Ceratos will spend 99% of their existences. The base four-cylinder engine is a 1.6-litre unit with 129bhp and 157lb/ft of torque available with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. Top spec cars get a 158bhp 2.0-litre motor with a somewhat meatier 147lb ft of torque, which comes with the automatic as standard.

2013 Kia Cerato

The launch cars featured all the available combinations of gearboxes and engines; I went straight for the car that’s going to be the volume seller, the 1.6-litre with the automatic box. Visibility from behind the wheel is excellent and you have a nice commanding view of the road. Perhaps too commanding – the seat feels like it’s mounted a couple of inches too high. The steering wheel is another one that subscribes to the theory, ‘too many buttons is just enough’ and indeed, it’s hard to hold it without pressing something. The rest of the fascia is easy enough and the HVAC system scores points for being both particularly easy to operate and being very powerful on a somewhat hot January day with temperatures in the low 30s.

2013 Kia Cerato

On the road I would love to tell you that that the Kia, with all its technology and its killer cyborg shark looks is a fabulous drive. Sadly, it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the Cerato will not embarrass itself on a corner and hangs on gamely through the bends – although a lot of that is definitely due to the grip from the big 17” alloys. It’s just that the car never seems to have any fun doing it and the electric steering is always numb in your hands. Kia has provided three modes, Comfort, Normal and Sport but all they end up doing is making it heavier without any accompanying rise in feel so I just left it in Comfort all day long. At least the brakes are very good, if unexpectedly sharp for a car in this segment. Pushed hard, the Cerato understeers quite aggressively – this is not a playful front-wheel driver in the vein of my favourite, the Mazda 2 but an little car that wants to drive very much like a bigger one.

2013 Kia Cerato

I’ve avoided talking about the engine because well…it was just kind of there. The 1.6 hauls the car around without much enthusiasm and as soon as you’re off the line, the automatic dashes for the highest gear like Usain Bolt at an track meet. Low range torque is adequate but the midrange feels thin and the top end simply isn’t worth exploring at all. Best to drive calmly because you won’t be getting anywhere in a hurry. Worth noting however, that the little Kia does ride rather well on the highway with a nice planted feel and noise levels that are surprisingly low. It’s a trait we’ve seen before on the equally Little Big Car-esque Rio.


2013 Kia Cerato


The unstoppable march of the new-generation Kias continues with the release of this new Cerato, a car that brings a mountain of equipment and great styling to an moribund segment. About the only black mark I can level against it is that it is an exceptionally mediocre car to drive; but for most buyers of compact cars this frankly isn’t a consideration.

Well-built, well-equipped, well styled – why would you buy a Corolla or a Civic when you could have this instead?  Ah, but there’s an all-new Civic that’s just landed on our shores. Not to mention a hot-looking Corolla on the way as well. Things are about to get real interesting…

Kia Cerato 1.6
How much?
Kia Cerato 1.6  (manual) – AED54,900 ($14,945)
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder, 16-valve, 128bhp @ 6300rpm, 116lb ft @ 4850rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: 6.8L/100km
Performance: 0-100kph 11.6 seconds, Top speed 195kph
Weight: 1192kg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.