25 September 2023

2019 Kia Cerato GT Hatch – $32,990

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By Karl Peskett.

When Volkswagen launched its first Golf GTI, the term “hot hatch” was born. And ever since then, every car company that has produced a small hatch with a punchy motor has been vying to claim that crown.

Have a look at the Renault Megane RS, the BMW M140i, Audi’s S3 (and even more potent RS3) and Mercedes-Benz’s A 45 AMG, and you can tell that the Golf GTI hasn’t been the only machine to have gained that title.

Hyundai had a good crack at it last year, with the launch of the Hyundai i30 N, creating a five-door sports car that could very well be called a hot hatch. So when sister company Kia created the Cerato – a Golf and i30 competitor – it was only a matter of time before the public insisted on a tweaked version.

Which is where the Kia Cerato GT slots in. Except, we can tell you from the outset, that it’s not exactly a hot hatch. It’s more like a warmed over hatch. But at this price, that’s no bad thing.

The latest generation Cerato is certainly the best one yet, and there’s a lot of space to be had, no matter where you’re seated. In hatch form, the 428 litres of boot space is pretty standard for the segment, but importantly, it’s all usable room.

The sloping roof line doesn’t impede too much on headroom for rear passengers, however like all small hatches, you’ll never seat five adults in absolute comfort. Four people will be fine, though.

The quality is also better than we’ve ever seen. It’s not quite up to Stinger quality (nor i30 quality) and the VW Golf is still the benchmark (with the new Mazda3 a very close second), but the grain on the dashtop looks good and there’s softer surfaces for all the touch points.

Where the Cerato claws back some points is included equipment. While most cars with leather offer seat heating, the Cerato gets heating and cooling. There’s wireless charging, dual-zone climate control, electric seats, Bluetooth, sat-nav with speed camera alert, head up display and safety equipment galore.

Lane change warning, lane departure assistant, autonomous braking, active cruise control, airbags everywhere – it has it all.

Getting it out on the road is the real key, though. Press the start button and the four-cylinder 1.6-litre turbo engine whirrs into life. Producing 150kW and 265Nm of torque, it’s a perky little engine. But with certain caveats.

You see, being a small engine with a turbocharger, there’s not a lot of torque. While the full peak of torque is available from 1500rpm, peak power is only being made at 6000rpm, which as you can tell, means it needs to be revved to get it to go anywhere.

Couple that with a seven-speed DCT gearbox, and there’s a bit of lag from a standing still. But once you’re up it for the rent, it is really quite a quick machine. Certainly, it doesn’t feel like a 1.6-litre, and given its small capacity, it’s decent on fuel as well (Kia says 6.8L/100km).

There’s a Sport mode, too, which changes the gear mapping, making it a bit snappier at the top end and keeps the engine on the boil using higher revs. However, we found that the occasional burst was more than catered for by a heavier right foot, rather than switching it over to Sport.

What’s interesting is that the suspension is actually this car’s highlight. With locally tuned springs and dampers, the ride-handling balance has been tipped in favour of handling. In fact, the first corner you take a little quickly reveals that the chassis is supremely balance, especially for a front-wheel-drive.

You can brake later, turn in quicker and really lean on the outside front tyre without scrubbing or understeer. In this respect, the Cerato GT feels like a hot hatch. Instead, it’s the engine’s lack of torque that means it will only ever be a warm hatch.

However, it’s nowhere near the pricing of the i30 N or the Golf GTI, so it’s actually a relative bargain. You get the pace through the bends of the more expensive cars, but it’s better on fuel, has tonnes of kit and looks great.

It’s cheaper than the i30 N-Line Premium and Golf Trendline, quicker than a Honda Civic RS and Ford Focus Titanium, and leaves the Mazda3 GT for dead. Sadly, though, it’s not on many people’s radar. And that’s actually a crying shame because it deserves a lot more credit.

Most people will remember the funny ad with people making car sounds, but will it inspire them to drive one? Maybe not, but they should. It’s a fun machine with everything going for it.

It may not be a true hot hatch, but for the price it’s as close as you’ll get.

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