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We drive Kia's sharp new Cerato

Minesh Bhagaloo in Dubai, UAE

Kia is on a roll. It’s the world’s fastest growing automotive brand; it cracked a spot for the first time last year in the top 100 Global Brands survey (87th); and it sold an impressive 2.75-million vehicles worldwide in 2012.

At the world launch of the all-new Cerato in Dubai last week we were told the focus going forward is on quality, and to prove it the Koreans will be introducing two facelifts for every new product’s lifecycle going forward - which in the bigger picture means 51 new and facelifted models between now and 2016.

The latest arrow in the carmaker’s quiver, the third-generation Cerato, launched in sedan form (with 5-door hatch and 2-door Koup coming later in the year) is also Kia’s most successful model to date - accounting for 2.5-million sales alone since its introduction nine years ago. And if looks are anything to go by, the latest Cerato should have no problem maintaining that top-podium spot.

It’s a stunner, with design guru Peter Schreyer creating what must be the most futuristic-looking car available to the C-segment, small sedan buyer. The brief was “dynamic muscularity”, and the result is a coupé-like roofline, shorter front and rear overhangs, a very distinctive “tiger nose” up front, and less overall drag.

CLASS-LEADING SPACE

It’s also longer, lower and wider than its predecessor, and boasts an extended wheelbase which Kia says is the same as in its Sorento SUV. These, combined with various other tweaks to the Cerato (which includes a lower floor), makes for a roomier cabin and slightly more boot space - both of which the manufacturer claims are class-leading.

On the comfort front seats are wider and more comfortable, ventilation has been improved, and the feel of the interior is both modern and upmarket - with soft finishes and curvy designs. Spec levels, as we’ve become accustomed to with the Koreans, is generous and there’s been a focus on storage nooks with even the glovebox swelling in size. For better noise and vibration-harshness levels the engineers have introduced a stiffer bodyshell (torsional rigidity is 37 percent better), better vibration damping and thicker noise-lowering linings - even the cabin floor gets a sound-insulating coating.

On the safety side buyers can get electronic stability control, hill-start assist, vehicle stability management, parking sensors, and up to six airbags.

ONLY PETROL, FOR NOW

Powering the new range are four petrol engines, but most of the planet, including SA, can bank on a choice of two - a 1.6-litre making 95kW and 157Nm, and a 2-litre good for 118kW and 194Nm. The fuel-injected engines - each mated to either 6-speed manual or 6-speed auto ‘boxes - feature lightweight technologies and variable valve timing. Diesel is on the cards, but is a long way off.

The 1.6 version is claimed, in manual guise, to get to 100km/h in 10.1 seconds, has a top speed of 200km/h, and should consume around 6.5l/100km. The 2-litre will take 8.5 seconds for the 0-100km/h dash before topping out at 210km/h, with consumption in the region of 6.9 l/100 km.

The problem with Dubai is that although it may have a healthy population of supercar owners, it lacks anything remotely exciting in the way of mountain passes and scenery.

Our test drive last week involved arrow-straight cruising on mega-highways, and to make matters worse, in convoy at regulated speeds.

On offer was just the 1.6 auto, so there’s little to report back on in terms of performance. What this car really needs is a small, force-fed engine to match those sharp looks, and the answer could be coming in the Koup later in the year. with a 150kW 1.6 turbo powerplant that could feed into the rest of the range.

Like in other Korean products, the steering is still not perfect either. It offers three settings (Normal, Sport and Comfort) which softens or hardens feedback - but in any of the modes it still feels too artificial and detached.

The Cerato sedan reaches SA in May, followed by the hatch in the third quarter and the Koup in the fourth quarter, with pricing to be confirmed then. -Star Motoring

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