A surprise is something that catches you off guard, throws you off a little bit. Kia’s marketing slogan carries the phrase, "The Power to Surprise" and, as someone who's made a fair number of promises before, I know you had better make good on your promises. And that’s exactly what Kia's Cerato is - a rather surprising package.According to Kia, the new Cerato has been recreated from the ground up and the engineers concentrated on a few key areas - styling, fuel economy and competitive performance.The Cerato is up against some stiff contenders namely the ever-popular Toyota Corolla and the new kid, Chevrolet’s Cruze. In the family sedan segment you’re not expecting fireworks or features and designs that wow you. What you want, is a car that works when you need it to, so practicality and reliability are going to be a manufacturer’s major selling points.So of the, dare I say, top "average" contenders, how does the new Cerato fair?DesignThe stylish new Cerato resembles a mish-mash of existing models belonging to other manufacturers. The front light cluster and grille, for example, appear to be lifted directly from the Honda Accord, while the taillights resemble both the Chevrolet Cruze and Civic sedan.However, it is one of those rare occasions where the marriage of all these different elements results in the love child being very capable at holding its own.Driving itI wasn’t expecting to be wowed when I got behind the wheel of the Cerato, but I was pleasantly surprised as the car seemed robust and comfortable, albeit a little dull in points.The 1.6l manual derivative puts out 91kW at 6300 r/min with a torque figure of 156Nm at 4 200 r/min.The Cerato feels solid and confident on the road. The gear shifts are smooth and the brakes are right up there with the best in this segment.The overall feeling is of a relaxed with a comfortable space in which to travel, not offering innovation, so much as practicality. The steering on the other hand is a disappointment. There’s too much play on the steering wheel and the over-assisted power steering makes one feel extremely from the whole driving experience. All models have impressive safety specifications that include ABS, EBD, power steering, driver, passenger and curtain airbags, active headrests, and a high-mounted brake light.Fuel economy is rated at 6.6l, and compared with some of its competitors namely the Corolla (6.9l) and Cruze (6.7), one can gauge how well it matches up. InsideInside the Cerato is spacious, with loads of leg room. The two-tier console, though it hints of Mazda 3, and instrument layout are attractive and straightforward. You get the sense that the interior was designed with logical control placement in mind and the red backlit instruments add a nice touch.Contrasting with the interior trim is a soft metal finish for the doors, steering wheel and centre console.Standard kit includes central locking, electric windows, a fully-adjustable steering wheel, front and rear fog lamps, a six-speaker audio system made up of radio/CD/MP3 with USB and iPod connectivity, 60/40 split rear seats and the vehicle 415l of boot space.The three-spoke steering wheel with remote audio controls also adds a welcome sporty edge to the interior.Among the interiors it ranks right up there above the Corolla and Cruze's drab two-tone black on grey colour scheme. The backlit instruments and chrome finishes - while not really adding to the Cerato's performance - does make all the difference since you’re likely to be spending more that 90% of your time inside the confines of your vehicle. I know they are gimmicky, but it makes all the difference when compared to its competitors sombre colours and monotonous interior design.The interior on the 1.6l is done in a black one-tone fabric while the 2l derivative features leather trim. It’s not exactly brimming with bells and whistles, but as far as features go, Cerato offers good value for money.PricingThe Cerato 1.6l manual sells for R179 995. Compared, once again, to some of its closest rivals the Cruze (R174 192), Corolla ( R187 500) or Mazda 3 (R197 320) the Cerato may not be the cheapest of the bunch, but it’s definitely one of the most affordable given it features and performance. Another incentive to purchase the Cerato might be when I called up Kia's Cape Town branch for a price qoute and was told "It is R 179 995 for the 1.6 sir, but we can give you a considerable discount as we're eager to move stock".OverallWith the new Cerato you get the sense that Kia has grown up. The manufacturer has shrugged off the cheap Korean alternative tag and assumed a more fitting mantle – one worthy of competing in the mid-sized sedan segment.All Cerato models come with a price-inclusive 100 000km warranty and a four-year/90 000km service plan, two crucial incentives which on their own are enticing enough to elevate the Cerato's status.Let’s hope the Cerato is one of the models to earn Kia the kind of respect it finally deserves.