FIRST DRIVE: Kia brandishes two new sporting heroes
INSPIRED by the success of its Stinger fastback sedan, Kia has introduced two sporty firebrand variants.
Kia is brandishing a "get mean" mantra led by the turbocharged Cerato GT in both hatch and sedan guises with a price-tag of $31,990 drive-away.
Packed with kit, while adopting firmer suspension and sharper steering that has been honed by Australian engineers, it's aimed to deliver a "warm hatch" experience.
Also adding to the South Korean carmakers repertoire is a manual only Picanto GT motivated by a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo for $17,990 drive-away.
Kia last launched a go-fast hatch in 2014 with the three-door manual-only Proceed, but slow sales saw it hooked from showrooms.
Since then the marque has growth to become the seventh most popular manufacturer in Australia with sales nearly doubling over four years. Which is why Kia Australia boss Damien Meredith believes the timing is right for a GT assault.
"We are in a far more robust position with the brand and with acceptance of the public," he said.
"I think Stinger has been incredibly vital. Stinger has been successful in Australia because when you look at private sales we sell more cars some months than Holden's Commodore."
From the outside the Cerato GT variants can be spotted via a body kit with black skirts, mesh grille with red ascents, 18-inch alloys and dual exhausts (sedans also have a lip spoiler), while inside it has alloy sports pedals as well as flat-bottom leather sports steering wheel with paddle shifters.
Standard gear incorporates eight-way electric driver seat adjustment with two memory positions, eight-inch touchscreen infotainment display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with voice recognition, wireless phone charger, eight-speaker JBL Premium sound system with Bluetooth connectivity and a sub-woofer in the boot, climate control air-conditioning and ventilated/heated front sport seats.
The only colour which doesn't attract a $520 premium is white from the 10-hue palette. It's also available in white pearl, silver, grey, graphite, two shades of blue, black, red and a GT-exclusive orange.
Ceratos have a split crash rating due to varying levels of autonomous emergency braking - functionality which can apply the brakes if the driver doesn't act quick enough to a frontal collision. The GT gains five stars due to having AEB which uses a camera and radars which can detect both cyclists and pedestrians (some base models only use a camera).
Other inclusions are radar cruise control, forward collision warning, lane keep assist, rear view camera with dynamic guidelines, driver attention alert warning, along with front and rear parking sensors.
Picanto GT mirrors GT-Line specification, and comes with a four-speaker audio system with smartphone mirroring, body kit and twin exhaust. Colours include white, and premium options silver, black and red.
Punchy with strong sprinting abilities, the Cerato GT's straight line ability is rewarding without being neck-snapping.
The 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo partnered to a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission is the same unit employed by sister company Hyundai and used in its i30 N Line derivative (although that version costs $34,990 plus on roads).
Kia has purposefully developed a more sporting derivative of its Cerato - and the ride is particularly firm to offer adept cornering.
"From an engineers point of view I would love the car to have adaptive damping (suspension) but the market pricing doesn't allow that," said Graeme Gambold, who leads Kia's Australian engineering team.
"We have to make a make a decision on whether we make a comfort car or a sports car, so we went the sports direction."
It has ample ability to carve up the corners, sitting 5mm lower than your standard Cerato and armed with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber, bigger front brakes, as well as a more sophisticated independent rear suspension rather than a more conventional torsion beam set-up.
Certainly capable, the Cerato will push to performance realms that buyers rarely, if ever, venture.
Under power there's a strange exhaust note with Kia using an artificial accentuator for an improved soundtrack under power. It doesn't work well...offering a gravelly note which lacks athleticism.
Behind the wheel of the Picanto, the micro machine is designed to amp-up the fun factor.
Rather than slicing through rural roads it makes mince meat of the urban jungle.
The 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine is happy work, and the manual transmission enables the driver to explore the rev range.
Kia has entered hallow territory, using the VW Golf GTI and Peugeot 308 GTI as primary benchmarks. The Cerato GT offers a lot of kit and performance for the coin, but the compromise is a firm ride. For those looking for a motorbike with four wheels the Picanto GT is a fine choice - as long as you are prepared to swap cogs yourself.
AT A GLANCE
Kia Cerato GT sedan and hatch
PRICE $31,990 drive-away
WARRANTY/SERVICING Seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty, servicing annual or 10,000km with capped price services over five years $2051
ENGINE 4-cylinder 150kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo petrol, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
SAFETY 5-star, six airbags, Autonomous Emergency Braking Pedestrian and Cyclist), radar cruise control, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Rear View Camera with dynamic guidelines, Driver Attention Alert Warning, front and rear parking sensors, tyre pressure monitor, speed limiter
THIRST 6.8 litres/100km
SPARE Space saver
BOOT 428 litres
AT A GLANCE
Kia Picanto GT
PRICE $17,990 drive-away
WARRANTY/SERVICING Seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty, services annual or every 10,000km with capped price services over five years $1838.
ENGINE 1.0-litre 74kW/172Nm three-cylinder turbo petrol, five-speed manual
SAFETY AEB, six airbags, ABS, ESC, Hill Assist Control, Vehicle Stability Management, Torque Vectoring Brake Based, Forward Collision Warning and Straight Line Stability
THIRST 4.8 litres per 100km
SPARE Space saver
BOOT 255 litres