Over the past five years Korean automaker Kia has shifted from “desirable reliability” to “reliably desirable” with a range of aesthetically pleasing products in SA. Just check the Picanto, Rio, Optima… The “desirable” punch is largely due to the efforts of former VW designer Peter Schreyer who turned his brilliance to the latest addition to the Kia stable – this new Cerato.Image galleryEarlier in 2013, Wheels24 editor LES STEPHENSON got to grips with the new Cerato in Dubai. Now, May 2013, Kia has launched the third generation Cerato in South Africa, part of a local triple-play which will include a hatchback and stylish Koup within the year. SCHREYER DOES IT AGAINThe new model is launched with two petrol engines (1.6 and 2.0) and is available in two spec grades – EX and SX. Such is the reputation of the automaker’s designer that there’s great anticipation ahead of a new model launch (of late anyway) with fans of Kia pondering: “What’s Schreyer got in store for us this time?”The new Cerato doesn’t disappoint as Kia continues to push boundaries with cutting-edge design and improved overall quality, inside and out. The new model is 25mm lower than before (1.4m), is 5mm wider (1.7m) and is 30mm longer (4.5m). The model rides on a 50mm-longer (2.7m) wheelbase, an that’s as long as the Sorento launched locally in February 2013.Front and rear overhangs are 15mm and 5mm shorter respectively, yet boot space increases to 67 litres from 415 to 482 litres.The new model borrows styling cues from its siblings, especially the Rio and Quoris. The new Cerato continues the bold styling ethos expressed in Kia’s models of late. The “‘Tiger Nose” front is framed by diode headlights and along the sides it borrows the sweeping lines exhibited by partner Hyundai’s Elantra. Overall it’s a great looking ride with a low, curvy appearance that makes its stand out among some of its boxier peers in the SA C-segment. DRIVING ITThe Cerato is powered by a 1.6 of two-litre petrol engine. The 1.6 produces 95.3kW at 6300rpm and 157Nm at 4850rpm. The 2.0 produces 118kW at 6500rpm and 194Nm at 4800. Both can be mated to a either a six-speed manual or auto. Sadly, no mention of when a diesel derivative can be expected.The 2.0 accelerates to 100 in 8.5 seconds in manual guise, 9.3 n auto, and on to 210 km/h. The 1.6 has a top speed of 200 and reaches 100km/h in 10.1 (11.6 auto).Kia’s engineers have increased torsional rigidity by 37% and the car has a revised Macpherson strut front/torsion beam rear suspension setup. This results is vastly improved handling and road manners.What’s it like to drive? In short – comfortable, though missing some much needed oomph.At launch in Durban I got behind the wheel of the 2.0 auto SX. The engine is revy (read loud) and the gearbox performed adequately. The model is certainly comfortable to drive and a pleasure on the open road, which should appeal to its “married-with-kids” target market. The suspension soaked up undulations and deformations in the dreadful KZN roads and the car remained assured through corners. It’s not exactly spirited driving but the same can be said of Hyundai’s Elantra and i30.In keeping with Kia’s tagline “The power to surprise” I’m still surprised by the lack of power. I suppose we’ll have to wait until the Koup arrives later in 2013 for some excitement within the Cerato range.As seen on the Hyundai i30, the Cerato sports the group’s 'flex steer' system. There are three settings – normal (default), Comfort (lighter steering for parking) and Sport (stiffens the steering wheel for taking on twisties).INSIDEPart of Kia’s upmarket shift can be seen inside the new Cerato. An emphasis on quality and refinement is clearly evident with soft-touch leather, high-grade plastics and metallic throughout the interior. The previous Cerato was very bland and decked out in hard plastics. The new one shows a marked transition towards competing against luxury vehicles with quality materials across the range.The cars have differing instrument clusters – the 1.6 EX has an LCD cluster also used in the 2.0 EX, though it offers a broader range of information. The 2.0 SX has a colour LCD with a 10cm screen. The entry level 1.6 EX has manual aircon, auto headlights, Bluetooth, cruise control, front and rear power windows and a six-spearker CD/MP3/iPod/USB compatible audio system with Bluetooth. Even the base model has rear air vents. The 2.0 EX builds on the 1.6 EX spec and adds leather seats as well as an optional sunroof. The 2.0 EX also receives the flex-steer system.The range-topping 2.0 SX also benefits from xenon headlights, smart key with stop/start and a reversing camera with front and rear park distance control. RIVALSThe Cerato takes on some rather well established C-segment competitors. From the West it contends with Chevrolet Cruze and Ford's Focus. From the East it battles Toyota's Corolla, Honda's Civic and the Mazda3. The Cerato will also have to make a name for itself against Korean partner Hyundai’s offerings - the Elantra and i30.Not to miss out on its slice of the SA action is the Renault Fluence.‘YOU’LL BE PLEASANTLY SURPRISED’There’s no denying that several years ago Kia was struggling locally with generic, boring vehicles that were quite frankly an eyesore. In 2013 the automaker is in the midst of a renaissance with customers eagerly looking forward to the next product.Case in point - product supply is struggling to meet demand locally and abroad. David Sieff, national marketing manager of Kia SA, said: “In the past, our models weren’t pretty to look at but they were bulletproof. They’d get you to where you needed to be. Now they’re visually appealing and the quality has improved."It began with the Picanto, Rio, Optima and now we have the new Cerato. We have another weapon we can throw at the enemy. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.”So Kia’s reinvented itself with stunning models, improved quality and a great warranty but something’s still missing… the element of connecting with ones ride.“We have the design and the quality but we need to enable buyers to form an emotional connection with our vehicles."OVERALLThe new Cerato is another a bold step forward in terms of quality and design for Kia and will no doubt entice the buying public to steer away from American or even rival Korean products.The Cerato will be bolstered by the introduction of the hatchback (August 2013) and Koup (November 2013).MORE FROM KIAYou may have noted the new-model onslaught that Kia has conducted over the last half-decade, with new or facelifted models introduced locally. Well, the automaker isn’t about to back off yet as the Sorento and Cerato are the first salvo of a “55-model” barrage due to be released over the next five years.The company plans to achieve this by creating shorter life cycles (12 -18 months) for its products. So expect plenty of product enhancements over the next half decade.PRICESKia Cerato 1.6 - R219 995Kia Cerato 1.6 a/t - R229 995Kia Cerato 2.0 - R249 995Kia Cerato 2.0 a/t - R259 995Kia Cerato 2.0 SX - R279 995Kia Cerato 2.0 SX a/t - R289 995All models are sold with a five-year or 150 000km warranty and five-year or 90 000km service plan.