It’s little wonder that, to the younger set, the Kia brand has become as aspirational as its (traditionally) more stylish European rivals. Arriving on the South African motoring scene in the 90s as a budget unknown from Korea, it was the sort of brand not many gave a second look – certainly not with names like Shuma in its repertoire…
But a lot changes in two decades. Today we have bold, exotically-named models like Rio, Optima… and Koup. And the Cerato Koup, as reviewed here, is one of those models designed to prove Kia has the ability to do chic.
Kia’s made a proper go of it with this third-generation model, too. While the previous model looked sharp and edgy, it was a comparative disappointment when it came to picking-up the pace. This time round, Koup is swoopier and even keener-looking, featuring sporty details like LED running lights in its headlight and (slight overkill) foglight clusters, as well as carbon-fibre-look inserts on the muscular front bumper and rear diffuser. Either side of this diffuser are two large wide-oval exhausts and, on that finely-sculpted rump, another badge – T-GDI.
It denotes that this turbocharged, direct-injection engine forms part of the company’s new Gamma range of engines. In the new Koup, it develops 152 kW power and 265 Nm torque, which – coupled to the notchy, short-throw six-speed manual gearbox – means any previous concerns about performance are well addressed. 0-100 km/h comes up in 7,7 seconds and the engine is otherwise really tractable and virtually lag-free, allowing swift progress in almost all circumstances. It’s a really nice engine, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing for it to sound as muscular as it feels, and a bit less wheezy.
While it now has the go to match a lot of the hot hatches on the road, the Koup is nevertheless still not the sharpest driving tool to be had for the money, a failing I feel is at least partly down to the tyres – it doesn’t feel like there is enough grip in spirited driving or under hard braking. The vehicle itself, though, provides a good balance between stability, control and ride comfort.
The ride comfort is enhanced by a pleasant cabin, in which Kia has tried to continue the sporty theme with carbon-fibre patterned inserts in the leather seats. While these are well-bolstered and provide good support in all the right places, the driver’s seat does not drop low enough, which took some getting used to. Interior space of this swoopy coupe is good, though, with just enough for rear passengers, too.
The Koup’s cabin is otherwise identical to that of its Cerato hatch and sedan brethren, meaning its really well made and solidly put together. Being the halo model of the Cerato range means the Koup is also fully-spec’d; offering keyless entry and starting, a colour screen on-board computer, welcome and follow-me-home lights, a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control and a touch-screen, Bluetooth-enabled infotainment system. Our test car was also fitted with the optional (R7 000) electric sunroof – the only other option available being metallic paint.
A full host of safety features is also standard, including: ABS brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution; traction and stability control; hill-hold (which only seemed to work on steeper gradients and sometimes made the tricky clutch even trickier…) and six airbags.
Kia offers the Cerato Koup with a five-year/150 000 km warranty and five-year/90 000 km service plan, with additional three-year/unlimited mileage roadside assistance. Its retail price of R334 995 places it among some interesting competition that includes a brace of cheaper junior hot hatches like the Renault Clio RS, Peugeot 208 GTi and new Mini Cooper/S, as well as the similarly-styled Opel Astra GTC 1,6 Turbo Sport, Toyota 86, VW Scirocco 1,4 TSi and Honda CR-Z.
Each rival offers its own mix of the sporty style and drive expected of these sorts of cars and, amongst them, the Cerato Koup holds its own. It offers the looks and features, if ultimately lacking in out-and-out performance. It’s a likeable and decent sporty coupe which, at the price, represents a stylishly good buy.