On the back of its best-ever year in Australia, jumping from ninth to seventh in overall new-vehicle sales and grabbing a handy 5.1 per cent market share, Kia is powering along on an impressive growth spurt – soaring close to 60,000 units.
Unlike some SUV-besotted mainstream marques, Kia places considerable importance on its passenger car line-up, perhaps because it doesn’t have the depth of SUV products to work with.
Now Kia has launched into 2019 with the introduction of a GT-badged 1.6-litre turbo of the brand’s best-selling model, the small Cerato Sedan and Hatch.
It’s a variant with an enthusiasts-focused ride and handling package, seven-speed DCT transmission, larger brakes, retuned steering and subtle styling differences including a comfortable, well-equipped cabin.
Benchmarked against the highly regarded (and pricier) Peugeot 308 GTI, the Cerato GT’s locally-tuned suspension is an acknowledgment that Australian drivers demand driving fun and spirit to go with features and practicality.
Unlike the torsion-bar regular S and Sport versions of the Cerato, the new GT has an independent multi-link rear end. It’s one of many improvements.
But if you’re an old-school purist with a preference for manual gear changing, you’ll be disappointed. DSG paddle shift only.
Both new GTs – Hatch and Sedan – are mechanically identical with the same equipment and same 10 colours available.
The only other differences between the Hatch and Sedan GTs are tiny. The Sedan is a little longer but at 1370kg it’s 25kg lighter. The sedan (due to its four door-construction) is also stiffer. The Hatch has a slightly higher centre of gravity and rear roll centre — not that you can feel it.
The most obvious visual difference is around the boot/luggage compartment: the Sedan offers 502 litres (SAE) of cargo space, the Hatch 428 litres.
What’s it cost?
Driveaway pricing for both the GT Sedan and Hatch is $31,990. The only option available is premium paint at $520. There is just one engine/transmission combo offered.
In the contemporary cabin space are paddle shifters, alloy sports pedals and a flat-bottomed leather sports steering wheel. The sports seats in charcoal perforated leather with red piping have excellent bolstering. The driver’s seat has eight-way power adjustment (including lumbar) and two memory positions. Very effective climate control air and ventilated front seats are standard too.
Well loaded like all Kias, the Cerato GT is offered with standard Autonomous Emergency Braking (pedestrian and cyclist), forward collision warning, lane keep assist, rear view camera with guidelines, driver attention alert, front and rear parking sensors, 18-inch alloys, drive mode select, six airbags, tyre pressure monitor, speed limiter, and smart cruise control.
Infotainment levels will satisfy that army of buyers who prioritise connectivity and in-car sound. There’s an 8.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with voice recognition, wireless phone charger, and an eight-speaker JBL sound system with Bluetooth connectivity.
The styling changes are intended to change perceptions of what a Kia should be, with more visual menace. LED headlamps, tail lights and daytime running lights are part of the look and safety offerings.
What’s it go like?
The engine is lively; the chassis even better.
Grip levels are stunning with the premium 40-profile Michelin Pilot rubber riding on 18s playing their part in providing swift, reassuring transport with barely a hint of understeer and no tyre squeal. Front drive cars are supposed to understeer, but this trait is so well disguised by the suspension tune, direction changes are made beautifully without protest or weight transfer.
Make no mistake; the suspension is firm but beautifully contains any potential body roll under hard motoring. Yes, at modest speeds, it will acknowledge and transmit some of the sharper edges in the bitumen, but not once on our lengthy drive through rural Victoria did the Aussie suspension (broadly, 40 per cent stiffer) bottom out. The faster you go, the better the GT feels.
The Kia Australia target was to create a dynamically capable front-drive machine, the most fun-to-drive Kia ever. Not so much a hot hatch (and sedan) but a warm one, dynamically somewhere between the Hyundai i30 N Line (formerly called SR) and the i30 N.
The local boffins had to work with basic damper and spring choices, and no limited slip diff. The result is commendable.
Still, it’s a car with serious poise and even the electric steering mapping offers more road feel and response. Not perfect, understanding the challenge of trawling through 80,000 tuning parameters. They will never please everyone. But not bad. So good is the grip and balance that we found ourselves yearning for another 30kW.
The proven four-cylinder 1.6-litre turbo engine, producing 150kW at 6000rpm and 265Nm of torque from 1500-4500rpm, is the same as that in the Hyundai i30 N Line), does its thing through an in-house seven-speed DCT gearbox.
The Drive button gives the driver choices of Comfort, Eco and Smart modes, which use different throttle response and transmission shift tunes. The Smart mode is an active arrangement that reacts to driving behaviour.
A fourth (Sport) mode is accessed by tapping across the gear lever towards the driver, to call on more aggressive shifting from the DSG, and a sharper steering map.
The GTs both have larger 305mm by 25mm ventilated front rotors to compensate for the greater urge. We couldn’t unearth any sign of brake fade during out several hours of spirited motoring. The GT’s cabin is a pleasant place to be whether having a fang or just bopping along through picturesque rural areas. The seats offer tall blokes excellent support, the plug-in Apple Car Play is a breeze even for a numpty, and exhaust sounds are muted unless you go looking for revs close to the red line. That’s when you are hit with a pleasant induction noise.
Claimed combined fuel usage is an excellent 6.8L/100km. We easily achieved 7.0L/100 cruising about, and even when using the right boot with abandon managed 8.6L/100.
What we like?
Sharp road manners
Keen drive away pricing
That industry leading seven-year warranty
What we don’t like?
Aw, a manual might be fun . . .
Wouldn’t knock back some more grunt
The bottom line?
Kia reckons Aussies are up for a good-value compact GT.
Unlike its slow-selling predecessors, the Koup and Pro_ceed GT, this one is not a stand alone model. Rather it’s a halo edition, that sits aspirationally at the top of the range — more enticing, more practical with four doors and more user friendly with an auto to change gears.