There’s no denying the fact that SUVs are poised to take over the automobile world. As sales numbers rise at tremendously high rates, utility vehicles continue their march towards global dominance. Many carmakers have announced that they will stop manufacturing small passenger cars altogether, as sales of these once popular models decline steadily. However, as long as the Toyota Corolla stays at the top of the world’s largest selling cars list as a beacon of hope, there will still be enough automakers still spending time and resources to develop, build and market compact saloons. Kia appears to be one of those manufacturers that does not look at sales growth rates but at current statistics and believes that the passenger car market is still one that will reward players. So, it makes sense that Kia has made a substantial effort in redesigning and overhauling its Corolla rival, the Cerato for the 2019 model year.

Styled at Kia’s American design centre in California, the all-new model sports a much sleeker, more dynamic design that has taken obvious cues from the awesome Stinger GT sports saloon. Much like its larger sibling, the new Cerato gets a long bonnet and longer front overhang and a short rear deck connected by a sloping roofline, lending it a visibly athletic fastback profile. The signature ‘tiger-nose’ grille and large lower air intakes add to the aggressive countenance, while the LED daytime running lights give it a more upmarket appearance than before. While the wheelbase remains the same as before at 2,700mm, there’s been an increase of 80mm in overall length, which stands at 4,640mm now. Overall height has also been increased a tad to 1,440mm. Out back, the tail lamp cluster also gets a redesign, with the two sides joined above the license plate adding to the impression of increased width.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

The cabin too receives updates inspired by the Stinger, featuring a wider dashboard with cleaner lines overall and less clutter than before thanks to the reduced number of buttons and knobs. The circular air vents that are similar to the Stinger’s and the red and black two-tone seats give the cabin an aura of sportiness while soft touch materials used all around add to its overall refinement. It is also one of the most practical and comfortable cabins in its class now, with headroom 985mm in the front and 952mm in the rear, 1,073mm legroom up front and 906mm of legroom at the back. Cargo space also goes up to 502 litres from the previous 482 litres with the 60:40 split-fold rear seat backs contributing to further flexibility.

Our market gets the 1.6-litre engine that produces 128bhp and 154Nm, while some other markets get the 152bhp, 192Nm 2.0-litre unit or even a 204bhp, 265Nm turbocharged 1.6-litre block. Although not the best powertrain Kia offers in this segment, the naturally aspirated engine’s acceleration and power delivery are acceptable, and mated to the six-speed automatic, feels adequate for the Cerato’s size and heft. However, a turbo-powered Cerato would be infinitely better to drive.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

The most impressive aspect of the new Cerato is however its incredibly wide array of technology features and driver aids, some of which are not available even in larger, more expensive models from rival brands. The Drive Mode Select feature offers a ‘Smart’ mode, which monitors the driver’s habits and automatically adapts to inputs, while drivers can manually choose from among Comfort, Eco or Sport modes. Apart from the usual tech features that have become commonplace now, the Cerato offers automatic air conditioning systems with vents for occupants in the second row of seats, steering wheel-mounted audio and Bluetooth device controls, optional Smart Trunk that opens automatically when it detects the presence of the smart key nearby,  rain-sensing windscreen wipers, heated and electrically-controlled door mirrors, tilting and sliding sunroof, electric windows, front and rear Park Assist System and automatic headlamps among others. The ventilated and heated front seats are definitely something unheard of in this class and price point.

And talking about price, it starts from an incredibly low Dh59,000 going up to Dh75,000 for the top trim variant. If you do not need the extra space of a mid-size saloon, go for the top spec Cerato, and you’ll get more features than any car costing 10K more. Possibly the best new car in this price range.