I am a great fan of the three-box sedan concept in car design which, I suppose, sets me up to be accused of boring conservatism.
That does not worry me – I’m long past caring what people think about my opinions, but in this case, the critics would be missing a few points.
First, the three-box design, if executed well, appeals to our instinctive need for symmetry. We use it all the time in the media business – the best photographs follow the rule of threes, with composition divided into three equal parts, vertically, horizontally or both. Then good writing, and public speaking will never leave you isolated, confused or hanging by including just two terms of comparison.
So it is with a well-designed three-box car: there is balance, there is harmony, there is completeness. That is why, with few exceptions, sedans age better than hatchbacks. My 1989 VW Jetta looks balanced and elegant in a way that a hatch from the 1980s, like an Opel Kadett, does not.
Our long-term-test VW Jetta continues in the same vein, still setting the benchmark for family sedans, in all areas: design, comfort, efficiency and load and passenger capacity.
Yet having spent time with Kia’s excellent Cerato, I think the Germans are going to have to start looking over their shoulders.
The new Cerato is a cleaner, more flowing design than the previous model, which was not at all bad for a car from an Asian company.
What Kia has achieved with the new version is a better balance between the lines and the curves, resulting in the impossible – a combination of striking beauty with athleticism and aggression.
It follows its smaller sibling, the Rio, in establishing Kia as being ahead of its sister company, Hyundai, when it comes to design – and it shows a good many other brands the way.
This Cerato looks European, in a good way, with all that this entails in elegance and design grace.
Inside, the Cerato more than lives up to the promise of its outer looks. The cabin design is relaxing yet ergonomically efficient and subdued enough to compete with many Europeans when it comes to understated elegance. Granted, it is not quite yet an Audi, but it truly is not a long way off.
The instrument cluster and ancillary equipment are all logically laid out, easy to use and easy on the eye, as is the steering wheel, with its leather covering and satellite controls in the top version.
Fit and finish are, as we have come to expect from the Korean brands, as good as anything out there. The Cerato is also well-equipped and the top-of-the-range model has all sorts of toys, including auto-on lights and wipers; Bluetooth connectivity (and USB-equipped sound system); cruise control; Xenon headlamps, park distance control; rear-view camera; keyless ignition; sunroof and variable power steering.
As a family car, it offers comfortable leather-clad seats (in the top version), with good legroom for rear-seat passengers and a large boot.
The Cerato sedan is a far better bet as a family car than its sister SUV, the Sportage, which has less leg room, less boot space, doesn’t handle as well, and is not as economical. Mind you, the same can be said of most front-wheel-drive SUVs, which are still the biggest motoring con in this country after hybrid cars.
What lets down many Kias is their engine-transmission combination. In this 2.0 litre Cerato, the engine is better than I expected, although it is not as smooth as many and does not feel like it has the 118kW the manufacturers claim. The six-speed manual gearbox is a pleasure to use, which is a good thing because you have to rev the engine and change gear a lot to make satisfactory, quick progress.
Handling is also good, with safe, wash-out understeer (when the front wheels won’t follow the steering) setting in at higher speeds. The steering, whose assistance can be varied, is not bad either.
Overall, the Cerato is a great family car and its does the job with some flair. At R290 000 for the top model, it’s not the bargain it used to be, but it’s catching up to rivals like the Jetta and deserves consideration. -Saturday Star
KIA CERATO SX
Engine: Four-cylinder, 2-litre naturally-aspirated, 118kW.
Fuel requirement: 95 Octane unleaded petrol.
Fuel consumption: Interestingly, Kia doesn’t publicise fuel economy figures for the Cerato, on its website or in press releases. In our hands, it was using between 10 and 11 litres to 100km in the city and just under 8l/100km on the open road at the national limit. Not the most economical, then.
CO2: 194g/km (official figure).