Kia Soul Hatchback

Price range

$21,490 – $29,990

Overall

Good: Truly individual styling & great fuel economy. Urban dwellers who were thinking of buying a MINI now have another choice at a much lower price point.

Not so Good: Compared to Kia’s more restrained Cerato Small family car, you’ll still be paying more per kilo for a Soul.

Design and Engineering

Good : Arriving Down Under in April 2009 the Kia Soul has bold and distinctive looks; from the side profile it successfully achieves the design concept of ‘urban toughness’ (the blackened A-pillars help); you can choose one that comes with a dragon-like decal that covers half the bonnet and nearly all of the side panels!?

Not so good : The rear isn’t the Soul’s most attractive angle… the unusual tail-light design let it down…

Interior and Styling

Good : The concept car styling continues inside – you can select seats in funky Houndstooth pattern or the dash & door trim in bright red (or a slightly more restrained creamy white). The cube-shaped exterior translates to a roomy interior; from the outside it looks as if headroom may suffer in the rear, but luckily it gets the thumbs up from those over 6 feet. iPod compatible audio in all grades, a big glovebox that will easily swallow your odds ‘n’ ends and with the rear seats folded down this little Kia Soul can fit nearly 1000-litres of luggage inside.

Not so good : Whilst it’s roomy inside it still doesn’t have true MPV flexibility. The steering wheel lacks reach adjustment (in and out) on the entry level grade. It’s also a shame the base-grade Kia Soul lacks the body-coloured dashboard that truly livens up the interior.

Performance

Good : The Kia Soul range comes with the choice of three engines.

There is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol that produces 95kW of power and 157Nm of torque.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol manages 122kW of power and 200Nm of torque.

And rounding out the engine range is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel that produces 94kW of power and 260Nm of torque.

The 1.6L Turbo Diesel’s generous torque figures means it never feels underpowered in traffic, yet provides fantastic fuel economy figures.

The 2.0-litre petrol also feels quite peppy, sinking your right foot and the 2.0-litre springs to life. Also, when driven sensibly fuel economy figures aren’t that far behind, so if every dollar counts don’t discount this engine.

Not so good : Unfortunately, the Turbo Diesel engine is significantly more expensive than the 1.6-litre petrol which has to work harder, and when matched to the auto it is by no means sporty.

Ride and Handling

Good : The chunky steering wheel feels great and firmly sprung suspension results in low body roll. You can throw it around corners and ride quality is still satisfactory. Its firm seats offer decent support over long drives. It handles better than most SUPERMINI’s

Not so good : It ain’t no Hot Hatch though, as it’ll tend to understeer when pushed (not everyone ‘pushes’ though, as we often need to remind ourselves!). The electric/hydraulic power steering isn’t bad, but when pointed straight ahead – it doesn’t provide much feedback.

Buying and Owning

Good : Over 30 customisable accessories! It feels well-built, and being a modern Kia we wouldn’t expect to hear of any rattles or bits falling off should you choose a Soul as your next car; kids love it, too. It’s damn practical and we think it would be an easy car to live with.

From September 2010 the previous three grades have been simplified down to a choice of two trims – Soul or Soul+. It’s now better value for money than before. Soul+ adds the following over the entry level Soul grade – 16-inch alloys, front fog lamps, roof rails, telescopic steering, steering wheel mounted audio controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, driver’s seat height adjustment and a windshield sunband. The diesel Soul+ also adds cruise control and a catalytic particulate filter on the automatics.

Not so good : Not for the shy or retiring types. Also, make up your mind as to what your budget is before walking into a showroom as it’d be easy to go a little crazy ticking the accessories boxes. You will pay more for the funky design over the more traditional Kia Cerato, or significantly more than the Kia Rio SUPERMINI (but it’s way better than the Rio).

Kia Sportage SUV

Price range

$26,990 – $40,990

Overall

Good: Sharp looks; spacious cabin; high levels of standard features; impressive 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine; great value for money.

Not so Good: Poor rear vision; 2.0-litre petrol suffers under a full load; dynamics are below the class leader.

Design and Engineering

Good : Arriving Down Under in August 2010, the current generation Kia Sportage sits on a new global platform shared with the Hyundai ix35. It has a great stance which is less than surprising after reading the following changes in dimensions over the previous model – it’s longer, a little wider and a significant 60mm lower. Also important for good looks is a wide stance and this one has front and rear tracks that are over 70mm wider than before.

The sleek headlights, the rising waistline, small side glass profile and the backwards sloping C-pillar creates an almost coupe like profile. It may well be our favourite compact SUV in terms of styling on the market today!

Not so good : Whilst it’s by no means offensive, we think the rear styling doesn’t look as cool as the rest of the vehicle. Also the rising waistline and small rear windscreen doesn’t help with rear visibility from the driver’s seat.

Interior and Styling

Good : The smart styling continues inside. The instrument cluster is a funky three-pod arrangement, the steering wheel is a chunky four-spoke design and the centre console design is different to most.

Most people will be comfortable behind the wheel thanks to the big, nicely sprung driver’s seat with height adjustment and up front there is plenty of storage cubbies and space to stretch the legs out.

Rear seat legroom is also good; actually the entire cabin is roomy as the large boot holds a healthy 740 litres and grows to over 1,500 litres with the rear seats folded down.

Not so good : The steering wheel adjusts for rake (up and down) but not reach (in and out) and the front seats wouldn’t miss a little more side bolstering. Much of the dash surfaces are of the hard and shiny plastic variety but considering the high levels of standard features and the competitive pricing, this is unlikely to deter many customers. The fixed rear bench seat lacks individual sliding or removable rear seats (but only a few players offer this) and rear vision is poor thanks to the narrow shaped rear window.

Performance

Good : Three 4-cylinder engines on offer, two petrol and one turbo diesel. The 2.0-litre petrol (the only engine without all-wheel-drive) generates 122kW of power and 197Nm of torque, the 2.4-litre petrol manages 130kW power and 227Nm torque while the 2.0-litre diesel produces 135kW and a whooping 392Nm of torque. All engines are teamed up to a smooth shifting six-speed automatic transmission, with the entry level 2.0-litre petrol also offered with a five-speed manual gearbox.

Whilst the 2.4-litre petrol offers brisk enough acceleration, if you can afford the extra outlay the 2.0-litre turbo diesel is definitely the pick of the range. The performance on offer is very good (performing strongly across the rev range), it feels significantly smoother than the two petrol engines, displays minimal turbo lag and is also the most frugal.

Not so good : The 2.0-litre petrol engine must be worked hard with five aboard and becomes noisy as the revs start to rise. The diesel also suffers a little from noise under heavy load, but is fine when cruising in sixth gear on the highway.

Ride and Handling

Good : This generation Kia Sportage has underwent significant Australian suspension tuning before going on sale here. Aussie road surfaces are unique and as a result the Sportage has the best yet balance between ride and handling for Kia (note: as at vehicle launch – Aug 2010).

The handling is predictable and stable and we have no significant issues with the ride – even on the bigger 18-inch alloy wheels. Over a twisty background the Sportage won’t turn into a wobbling mess, it’s much, much better than the previous model. The steering is nice and light for the intended target market but importantly at higher speeds the feedback remains relatively consistent with what’s going on underneath the surface.

Not so good : Much better than the previous Sportage, but still missing that final touch to scare the very best handling compact SUV’s (but to be truthful, only a tiny percentage of buyers would probably value better driving dynamics than the already healthy levels on offer). As a result the name ‘Sportage’ is probably still a bit misleading.

Buying and Owning

Good : Ticks the safety box with standard anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, traction control, electronic stability control, hill-start assist control, downhill brake control and six airbags.

The quality of finish is impressive and all grades have excellent levels of standard equipment. The entry level Sportage gets air-conditioning, a six-speaker CD/MP3/USB audio system with steering-wheel mounted controls, cruise control and remote central locking with an alarm.

The SLi adds to the interior features with a leather finished steering-wheel and gear shifter, a rear-view camera with a display in the rear-view mirror, auto-on headlights, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, a trip computer and an electric driver’s seat.

The top-dog Platinum grade adds leather seats, an upgraded audio, auto-on wipers, a cooled glove box, heated front seats, keyless entry and an engine start/stop button, a panoramic sunroof as well as other goodies.

Not so good : The top of the range Platinum grade with the turbo-diesel engine is good value, however the asking price is heading north – as a result we don’t expect this grade to have the best resale value.

Kia Optima Sedan

Price range

$30,490 – $38,790

Overall

Good: Brilliant coupe-like styling that competitors can’t beat, powerful direct-injection 2.4L engine that offers 6 cylinder power with 4 cylinder economy, stylish and feature packed interior with impressive refinement, the full-length panoramic sunroof creates a lovely airy cabin ambience, ticks in all the boxes on the safety front.

Not so Good: Kia’s ride and handling is much improved but not yet a worry to the class best, and entry level grades won’t arrive until late 2011. A super frugal hybrid variant is even further away from arriving on our shores.

Design and Engineering

Good : Arriving Down Under in January 2011, the sexy Kia Optima sits low on the road with a wide stance, and big 18 inch alloys pumped out for that desired, sporty look. It turns heads with its aerodynamic, class leading styling and coupe-like looks. This model is longer, wider, lower and roomier than previous big Kia’s, and is built on the same new Hyundai-Kia group global, mid-size platform that underpins Hyundai’s i45. With the Optima gaining unique steering and suspension systems developed in Australia for our unique road conditions.

Not so good : At the moment Australia misses out on the hybrid and turbo variants, however a less expensive and less powerful entry level grade isn’t far away.

Interior and Styling

Good : The great design continues inside. From the moment the doors close with a good quality thud, you can’t miss the impressive refinement, extra space up front, and many storage spots. Soft-touch plastics and imitation stitched leather around the dash are nice touches.

From a sporty driving position, you can better enjoy the comfortable seats that offer good levels of support. The steering wheel adjusts for both rake (up and down) and reach (in and out) and clearly marked gauges sit in a driver’s panel that looks unsurprisingly similar to that of the luxury brand Audi, as Kia’s chief designer is the highly regarded Peter Schreyer, former lead designer at Audi and Volkswagen.

Further enhancing the serenity is a quality Infinity sound system with eight speakers, MP3, USB and Bluetooth connectivity.

A huge, full-length panoramic glass roof adds to the luxurious feel and the longer wheelbase equates to more rear legroom with the wide rear bench seat carrying three adults.

There is also a big boot with 505 litres of capacity, and the rear seats can fold down (60:40 split).

The Platinum’s features include leather seats with 8 way power adjustment and memory trim for the driver, dual-zone climate-control, cruise control, mood lighting on the centre console and doors, woodgrain gearshift and door switch surrounds, a 3.5 inch colour screen for the feature laden trip computer, keyless push-button start and remote central locking.

Not so good : Fit and finish is still not class best with some of the interior plastics. Still a way off Volkswagen Passat levels of quality.

The unattractive feeling interior door handles and climate and audio read-outs look less than premium. Steering wheel leather also feels a little slippery.

Even as an option there is no satellite navigation, and although there is a foot operated park brake, we prefer the conventional hand brake lever or the newer electric park brake button.

Rear headroom is only average and rear vision is slightly restricted due to the small rear window. Little kids in the back might not like the high side window line, but love the panoramic roof.

Performance

Good : The four cylinder 2.4-litre petrol engine produces a healthy 148kW of power and 250Nm of torque, and is linked to a six-speed automatic transmission. The fact it replaces the outgoing petrol V6 says more power, less fuel consumption.

An ECO setting activated by a big button on the dash can cut fuel consumption by a manufacturer claim of 7.5 per cent. The official fuel consumption is a respectable 7.9L per 100kms.

This engine offers a healthy amount of oomph, and is happy clocking up big highway miles at low revs or accelerating with enthusiasm out of a corner.

Not so good : The 2.4-litre engine needs to be given a boot for sports car like acceleration, with fuel economy coming out worse. It also sounds buzzy at higher revs.

Road noise is more evident than in some of the competition, most noticeable over rough road surfaces.

Ride and Handling

Good : The unique steering and suspension systems were developed in Australia for local conditions, and equate to a smooth ride over most surfaces which is supple at lower speeds, and noteworthy considering the low profile 18 inch tyres. Steering is nice and direct with decent levels of feel.

The Optima Sedan handles way better than Kia’s previous medium cars, sitting flat through corners.

Not so good : Undesirable steering ‘kick-back’ is evident over bumpy surfaces and the steering is still not at the level to scare the best sports cars.

It can’t intimidate an Accord Euro or Ford Mondeo when the road turns twisty.

Buying and Owning

Good : The highly specked Platinum grade is priced significantly lower than the competition’s top of the range variants, yet often shames them for features.

The Optima ticks the safety box with six air-bags, active front head restraints, seatbelt reminders for all five occupants, stability control and a reversing camera as standard.

Comes with a generous five-year / unlimited kilometre warranty.

Not so good : Strong global demand in the first full year of sales has lead to delayed deliveries for many buyers.

Satellite-navigation is not yet available, but is expected to become an option soon.

Kia Rio Hatchback

Price range

$15,290 – $19,990

Overall

Good: Handling dynamics; Generous level of standard equipment; Value for money.

Not so Good: Interior plastics; Lack of touch screen / Satellite Navigation; Road roar.

Design and Engineering

Good : The fourth-generation five-door Kia Rio hatch arrived in Australia in September 2011, with sedan and 3-door hatch versions joining the line-up in February 2012.

The fourth-generation Kia Rio is definitely a step up from the previous gens’ styling. From the front the Kia Rio features some massive air vents that are blacked out with a honey comb pattern mesh, diverting your eyes up the Rio also features a grille that is fashioned into a bow tie shape and is highlighted by a chrome ‘look’ detail.

Depending on grade, the sinister looking headlights are made even more so with daytime LED running lights.

From side on the Rio features flared wheel arches and a sharp upward arching crease line that continues from the bottom of the door up to the shoulder line and all the way through the rear tail lights. Depending on grade the Rio’s side profile is completed with 15-inch steel wheels, 16-inch alloy wheels or 17-inch alloys – that’s right people you read it right, 17-inch alloys!

From the rear the Rio features a sporty stance, the rear roof lip spoiler and black detailing on the rear bumper add to the sporty look.

Not so good : The 16-inch and 17-inch alloy wheels look great, but they are susceptible to gutter rash while parking.

Interior and Styling

Good : The Kia Rio keeps things simple; the interior is modern without being overly fussy. The interior theme is dominated by black with touches of silver highlights throughout the cabin to break things up. Middle and top spec variants feature a soft-touch plastic dash that looks and feels premium.

The cloth seats in the S model feature a funky pattern and all controls and instruments are illuminated with a red light.

Not so good : Quality fit and finish still isn’t quite there yet, but Kia is definitely making great strides in shaking the previous ‘cheap and cheerful’ name-tag.

Performance

Good : The Kia Rio range comes with the choice of two petrol engines.

First up is a 1.4-litre in-line four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 79kW of power and 135Nm of torque when mated to a 6-speed manual fitted as standard or a 4-speed automatic as an added option.

Next up is the 1.6-litre in-line four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 103kW of power and 167Nm of torque when mated to a 6-speed manual fitted as standard (hatch only) or a 6-speed automatic that is an added option on the hatch (standard on sedan). The 1.6-litre is one punchy little engine, it has plenty of get-up-and-go to get the Rio moving.

Not so good : The 1.4-litre feels a little underpowered especially when compared to the 103kW of power of the 1.6-litre.

Ride and Handling

Good : The people over at Kia tell me the Rio underwent comprehensive local testing and fine-tuning to ensure responsive handling while maintaining stability, ride quality and refinement – and, it shows!

The Kia Rio is a superb little all-rounder; it handles well on fast twisty roads but is also quite smooth and easy to manoeuvre in and around town. Now, don’t get me wrong this is by no means a hot hatch; but it’s not trying to be, it’s just a fun little car to drive.

Not so good : If anything the Kia Rio suffers from road roar even with the small wheels, however a different set of tyres should remedy this.

Buying and Owning

Good : The Kia Rio offers up great value for money, even moving up in the variant scale you get a lot for your money – CD, radio & USB/AUX/iPod and Bluetooth connectivity, 15-inch steel wheel with full wheel cover for S models and 16-inch alloys for the Si and massive 17-inch alloy wheels for the SLi top spec.

Si and SLi models feature a Leather wrapped steering wheel, front fog lights, centre console armrest, soft-touch dash and cruise control.

The SLi adds projection front headlamps, LED day-time running lights, static cornering lamps, LED rear combination lamps, auto light control and enhanced brake package.

Safety is covered by six airbags (dual front, front side & curtain) ESC, ABS, EBD, BAS and TCS as standard across the range.

Not so good : Although the Kia Rio is a massive step for Kia, the brand still has a less premium public perception than some of its competitors might and this could affect resale value.

Kia Rio Sedan

Price range

$21,690 – $21,690

Overall

Good: The Rio has improved over its previous model, with non-offensive styling and decent interior space.

Not so Good: Nowhere near class-leading and an uninspiring drive.

Design and Engineering

Good : Arriving in Australia in January 2005, with the very late ‘mid-life’ facelift following in January 2010, the Kia Rio’s` exterior design is an improvement over the previous shape; good exterior visibility.

Not so good: To most sets of eyes the hatch is the better looking member of the Rio family.

Interior and Styling

Good : Generous leg and head-room on offer for the taller drivers out there; large boot; reasonable fit & finish throughout.

Not so good : It’s a little pale and grey on the inside, making it look quite dated against newer competitors; non-integrated audio system.

Performance

Good : The 1.6L is quite powerful for an entry-level SUPERMINI. With 82kW of power and a relatively light body it keeps up with traffic easily.

Not so good : The Automatic transmission struggles to find the right gear, and is too low-geared for highway driving.

Ride and Handling

Good : Steering is decent, making it a breeze to drive around the city.

Not so good : Excessive understeer, and can feel quite ‘bouncy’ when driven on rougher roads. The Kia Rio didn’t really like our spirited driving, which was a shame.

Buying and Owning

Good : 5 year, unlimited kilometer warranty is a big tick here.

Not so good : Unlikely to hold its resale value as well as some of the others in the SUPERMINI class.

Kia Rondo MPV

Price range

$25,990 – $31,990

Overall

Good: Cheap for a seven-seater (and it’s by no means bad!?) Great value for money & a clever interior.

Not so Good: Unrefined Petrol engine and automatic transmission PLUS it lacks performance and isn’t economical enough – the 2.0 litre Turbo Diesel engine option sold in Europe would suit the Rondo more.

Design and Engineering

Good : Smart compact looks (for a People Mover) especially with 17” alloys on EX and EX-L grades.

Not so good : The wide rear pillar can make reversing visibility difficult.

Interior and Styling

Good : The layout of the dash and centre console is modern and practial – there’s a quality feel to dials and buttons and they’re all within arm’s reach of the driver. The outwards visibility for 1st & 2nd row occupants is great, as well as plenty of drink holders for the kids. Plenty of second row legroom. Huge 900 litres of cargo space when 2nd & 3rd row seats are folded down (which fold flat!).

Not so good : Third row seats for kiddies only (but expected considering the vehicle’s compact design). We didn’t love the cheap-feeling steering wheel on entry level LX grade.

Performance

Good : The performance is fine if you’re driving normally on level grounds without a heavy load.

Not so good : Slow, and that’s before the family and luggage comes aboard. The 4-speed auto transmission is not good enough and struggles to find the right gear. The un-sporty and coarse-ounding engine lacks pulling power (torque) if the engine is doing anything other than high revs.

Ride and Handling

Good : EX and EX-L ride well on relatively low profile 17” tyres. The Rondo has a lower centre of gravity than the typical SUV, helping it to ‘sit’ during cornering.

Not so good : The Rondo is no lighter than even a compact SUV – and so handles not much better. The lack of steering ‘feel’ doesn’t encourage spirited driving. The LX grade is fitted with 15” steel wheels and cheaper tyres and therefore has noticeably worse grip and body control…

Buying and Owning

Good: Inexpensive to buy and comes with plenty of standard equipment, including: ESC (electronic stability control) and 7 lap/sash seatbelts fitted.

Not so good : Considering it’s a basic 2.0L 4-cylinder it’s too thirsty (also blame the cars hefty weight and the four-speed auto). Only the range-topping EX-L grade comes standard with 6 airbags. Most shoppers still tend to lean towards a trendy SUV (when truthfully a small People Mover would better suit their actual needs)?

Kia Sorento SUV

Price range

$37,490 – $50,390

Overall

Good: The Sorento – smart styling; excellent Turbo Diesel engine; high levels of standard features & safety equipment; value for money.

Not so Good: Firm ride over rougher surfaces; third row seats are really only ‘kid friendly’; 2.4-litre petrol engine must work hard.

Design and Engineering

Good : Kia’s second generation Sorrento arrived in Australia late in 2009 and brought along some big changes – gone is the previous generation’s ‘old school’ ladder-frame chassis & separate body – in comes a monocoque (passenger car style) platform. With this change comes improvement in ride & handling (necessary for a 21st century urban family vehicle). The exterior styling is also entirely modern, and yet adheres to Kia’s successful new design direction.

Not so good : 4×4 purists may deride the move to a car-based platform (however they now only make up a tiny per cent of SUV buyers, so the change to become an improved all ’rounder is the correct way forward according to the marketing department).

Interior and Styling

Good : This interior is a huge leap forward over the previous Sorento – the dash design is modern, with all the buttons logically laid out and easy to use. Seven seats are standard across the range and the second and third rows also have air-conditioning vents (with the 3rd row having their own control knob). The fact that the seats can be chosen in the colour brown is another sign that Kia is becoming more confident with the brand’s new design direction…

Not so good : The interior plastics are less than premium, with most being of the hard, brittle-to-touch type. The third row seats are best for children only as there’s a lack of legroom space and as with most SUV’s cargo space is sacrificed when the third row seats are being used.

Performance

Good: The new 2.2-litre R-Series four-cylinder Turbo Diesel is an excellent engine – with 145kW of power & 436Nm of torque when matched to the six-speed auto transmission, it shames a number of far more expensive (not to mention, very well known) SUV’s. Not only is the diesel powerful, smooth and responsive, Kia also claims fuel combined economy figures of only 6.6 litres (manual) or 7.4 litres (auto), which for an almost two-tonne big SUV is very, very impressive.

Not so good : The entry-level grade makes do with a 2.4-litre Petrol unit, and its 128kW of power must work hard to shift the Sorento along.

Ride and Handling

Good : A significant improvement over the previous model – refined ride at freeway speeds and handling is what is expected of a largish SUV.

Not so good : The ride & handling combination is still a step behind the best Large SUV’s. When hurried the Sorento is prone to excessive understeer and the ride is not the most composed over rough bitumen… However, for this class and its intended use, the Sorento’s results here are certainly no deal breaker.

Buying and Owning

Good : The smart money is with one of the excellent Turbo Diesel powered grades – and don’t forget the impressive fuel economy figures that’ll keep you grinning as you drive past yet another service station.

Not so good:  Whilst good value for money, the top of the range Platinum grade is at the price ceiling of Kia’s current range – so is unlikely to have the best resale value.

Kia Grand Carnival MPV

Price Range

$38,990 – $56,190

Overall

Good: Excellent amounts of room on offer; lots of features for the asking price; 2.9-litre turbo diesel = good fuel economy; has been Australia’s top selling People Mover for a number of years.

Not so Good: Handling is only class average; all seats should come standard with three-point style seat belts; styling has aged against the brands new design direction.

Design and Engineering

Good : The current shape Grand Carnival arrived Down Under in January 2006 however received its mid life facelift in June 2010. The term ‘Grand’ signifies a bigger body over the Kia Carnival (13cm longer in the wheelbase and 32cm more in overall vehicle length) and seating for eight (the smaller Carnival seats seven). Make no mistake; this is a FULL sized People Mover! Yet unlike a number of competitors the Grand Carnival doesn’t share the same body as a commercial van, so you won’t look like a delivery driver when behind the wheel.

Not so good : More bland than beautiful, but, to be fair creating a sleek looking eight seat People Mover is no easy feat. The current model is no spring chicken with the mid 2010 year exterior changes amounting to not much more than indicator warnings in the exterior mirrors, a refreshed grille and new wheel designs (the big change is the new petrol engine under the bonnet).

Interior and Styling

Good : Plenty of space for eight adults and cargo. So even with the third row bench seat in the up position the amount of space in the rear is impressive and it grows to an enormous amount when the rear bench is folded flat into the floor. The second row isn’t a bench, but three individual bucket seats (much nicer) which can also be removed to create a huge van like flat space behind the two front row bucket seats. The Grand Carnival also features walk-through access from the driver’s seat to the second row.

The Si, SLi and the range topping Platinum feature side windows that open (electrically too) for all three rows of passengers (surprisingly not something a number of People Movers offer).

The mid spec Si grade includes a number of tasty features over the entry level S variant – most notably heated mirrors, roof rails and side folding table for rear passengers. The ‘top-dog’ Plantinum variant gets a load of standard features with a power adjustable driver’s seat, tri-zone climate control air-conditioning (that’s separate controls and outlets for the driver, front passenger and rear), power sunroof and even an electric opening tailgate.

Not so good : The Grand Carnival ticks the box for interior space and most features, however not so promising is the second-row middle passenger seat which features only a lap-belt instead of a far safer three point seatbelt.

The steering wheel adjusts for rake (up and down) but unfortunately not reach (in and out) and the big foot operated park brake encroaches on the driver’s footwell space. Overall the interior lacks a premium feel – however considering the price v. size v. features on offer we shouldn’t be too surprised that most of the plastics are of the hard and shiny variety.

Performance

Good : The June 2010 facelift saw the introduction of a new 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine replacing the 3.8-litre V6 petrol. Whilst displacement has decreased the news is almost all good as maximum power is 202kW up from 182kW for the 3.8-litre and the official combined fuel economy is 10.9-litres per 100kms against a thirsty 12.8-litres for the 3.8-litre. It is also combined with a more impressive six-speed automatic transmission gaining one more ratio than in the outgoing 3.8-litre.

Our pick of the two engines currently on offer is the 2.2-litre four cylinder turbo diesel which might ‘only’ generate 143kW of power however maximum torque is 429Nm smashing the 3.5-litre petrol’s figure of 336Nm. The diesel has strong mid-range response important for overtaking and offers adequate performance even with a full load on board. However, equally important is that the official combined fuel economy figure is only 8.1-litres per 100kms.

Not so good : The 3.5-litre V6 petrol is down on torque (pulling power) over the previous 3.8-litre (336Nm v. 343Nm). And whilst we think the diesel is the better choice for most buyers it is a little too noisy and can lack ‘oomph’ when initially taking off from the lights.

Ride and Handling

Good : When driven at a less than ‘speedy’ manner the Grand Carnival’s soft ride and only average handling is unlikely to be an issue for the target market. Road noise is kept to a minimum over most surfaces and the light steering is a benefit when negotiating a tight spot in the shopping centre car park.

Not so good : Not at its best over a twisting country road (i.e. corners) as the big Kia is relatively high and heavy and displays more body flex than ideal. At lower speeds the suspension doesn’t cope brilliantly with pot holes and bumps and at low and high speeds the steering lacks communication (and the turning circle is excessively large).

Buying and Owning

Good : From July 2010 the Grand Carnival is a safer choice than previously as all grades now come standard with six airbags (dual front, front side and full length curtain airbags). Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and electronic stability control is also standard across the range. Kia’s 5 year / unlimited kilometer warranty is another positive.

Not so good : The lap-only seat belt in the middle second row is a cross against passenger safety and whilst the SLi and Platinum grades come with a reverse parking camera only the range topping Platinum receives parking sensors (which come in handy as the Grand Carnival is over 5 metres in length).

Kia Cerato Koup Coupe

Price range

$23,390 – $29,455

Overall

Good: Fantastic design – decent amounts of interior space – low price. Thank you Kia for bringing back an inexpensive sports coupe to Australia; it’s been gone for too long!

Not so Good: Firm ride. Non-sports car-like engine – with an auto that dulls the performance further.

Design and Engineering

Good: Excellent design – muscular, sexy, aggressive (plus a slightly chopped roof look). Whilst based on the Cerato small family sedan, the Koup receives revised steering & suspension and the exterior design differs from all angles. We quite the little touches such as the aggressive bumper with large sections of black mesh at the front and the twin exhaust pipes at the rear – and the alloy wheels have a cool, retro appearance.

Not so good : Design-wise not much to complain about (maybe a touch ‘bulldog-looking’ to some eyes). This is an aggressively low-priced entry-level coupe so of course it doesn’t have the chassis, suspension or brake capabilities of true sports coupes (which cost about twice the price of Kia’s Koup).

Interior and Styling

Good : Sporty touches include the red stitching on the supportive charcoal-coloured front seats that are set nice & low, plus shiny alloy pedals. Also, just like in the upper-spec Cerato sedan, the Koup has funky red back-lighting in the instrument cluster. Yes, it’s coupe so rear seat space shouldn’t be a high priority – but you can still fit a couple of adults in the back (reasonably comfortably). The rear seats also fold down (easily too, with boot latches) to create a space that will swallow a road or mountain bike.

Not so good : Front seatbelts are tough to reach thanks to the wide front doors and seating position. Seats could be a tad lower to the ground for that extra sporty look & feel.

Performance

Good : For the Koup’s asking price the performance is entirely reasonable; considering the vehicle’s size Kia has done a good job keeping the weight low (which of course always helps with performance). We would have like a bit more power, however for the target market, design is probably more important than extra oomph (and you can only provide so much when you’re charging so little!).

Not so good : Certainly sporty in looks, less so in nature. The naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder Petrol engine isn’t exactly brimming with torque. At high revs the engine also gets loud (doesn’t necessarily go quicker – it just gets louder). The auto gearbox further dulls the performance – so if you can change gears we say go for the manual.

Ride and Handling

Good : Handling improvements over the sedan are evident; the steering feels solid and offers decent levels of feedback.

Not so good : The revised suspension compared to the Cerato sedan is significantly firmer – around town it can feel overly stiff and on twisty country roads it could be more settled.

Buying and Owning

Good : At under 1,300kg the Koup is no heavyweight – so don’t expect it be to taxing on items like tyres. Ownership should be an inexpensive proposition, considering Kia’s excellent 5-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.

Not so good : The Kia badge – the general consensus is that it’s an inferior company; but don’t let that affect your purchase, it’s an improving brand on its way up.

Kia Cerato Hatch

Price range

$20,240 – $29,005

Overall

Good: Neat exterior styling, comfortable interior with a huge boot, six speed automatic transmission and supple ride, all mean good value.

Not so Good: Limited rear seat storage options, the 2.0L petrol engine lacks a little refinement and the steering is vague.

Design and Engineering

Good : The current generation Cerato Hatchback arrived in Australia in October 2010, following the sedan body style which arrived here in January 2009. 19cm shorter overall than the sedan, as a result of a shorter rear overhang, boot capacity is a big 385 litres. The wheelbase, overall width and height remain the same as the Cerato sedan. The styling is modern and attractive; we like the design and believe it will age well. Fortunately unlike a number of competitors, the Cerato’s hatch doors close with a reassuring ‘thud’ rather than a cheap ‘clang’.

Not so good : In detail it’s a more conservative design than say a Mazda 3, but equally this could be viewed as a positive. The Si grade sits on 15 inch steel wheels but we think the 17 inch alloy wheels on SLi grade look far sleeker.

Interior and Styling

Good : The interior has an Impressive fit and finish, and a contemporary dash design with all buttons laid out logically. The dials in the driver’s instrument cluster are clear and legible. The front seats are comfortable with plenty of storage options for front row occupants. The rear seat room is good and has plenty of leg and headroom on offer. And there is a big 385 litre boot (and that’s with the seats up).

The cabin is significantly quieter than on previous generation small Kia’s thanks to added sound deadening material such as heavier-density boot carpet amongst other changes.

Not so good : Some of the dash features semi-premium soft touch style plastics, but much of it is still finished in the hard and shiny variety. Rear seat passengers’ storage options are limited to two cup holders in the middle seat fold down armrest.

Performance

Good : The Cerato is available with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine producing a healthy 115kW of power and 194Nm of torque. On the road this equates to sufficient ‘oomph’ in urban and most highway environments. Both the manual and automatic gearboxes are six speed – class leading at launch in October 2010! This shift from the previous 5 speed manual and 4 speed auto offerings from Kia equates to improved fuel economy. Official combined fuel consumption figures are 7.5 litres per 100km for the manual and 7.7 litre per 100kms for the automatic. Our pick of the two transmissions is the automatic – our testers found the shifting to be smooth over a wide range of conditions, but the manual gearbox is light, shifting gears easily.

Not so good : The engine sounds less refined than a number of competitors, especially competing smaller displacement turbocharged offerings, it can get noisy at higher revs. It also doesn’t feel as fast in the real world as the class leading 115kW of power indicates. The manual’s gear shift is long and lacks the tightness of the class best offerings and the clutch pedal can be difficult to judge as it is so light in feel. Smooth take offs from the lights are no guarantee.

Ride and Handling

Good : The Cerato’s suspension was tuned specifically for Australian roads (unlike previous generation Kia’s) and the differences are noticeable. Both ride and handling are on the money for a small family car. Over most surfaces the ride remains supple and the handling is impressive without quite reaching the levels of the segment best. The steering is light but offers good weighting when cornering and is free of kick-back. Noise insulation is also noticeably better than previous small Kia’s.

Not so good : The rear suspension is a simple torsion-beam set up rather than a newer and more expensive variety, as a result the ride can suffer over rougher surfaces. Driving enthusiasts will bemoan the steering which is still more vague in feedback (noticeable at straight ahead, i.e. highway driving) than the class best. Top spec SLi grade (which rides on bigger 17 inch alloys and lower profile tyres) equates to greater tyre noise over rough ‘broken-up’ bitumen surfaces than the SL grade.

Buying and Owning

Good : Standard safety features include 6 airbags (front, front side and curtain), ABS brakes and stability control.

Both the SL and SLi grades come with side mirror mounted indicators, keyless entry, cruise control, steering wheel mounted cruise control and audio controls, Bluetooth, iPod compatibility and air-conditioning. A full size spare wheel and tyre gets the thumbs up from us and Kia’s 5 year unlimited kilometre warranty is class leading. All-round good value for money.

Not so good : Whilst the sedan body style Cerato is available with an even less expensive base ‘S’ grade, the hatch body style is only offered in SL and SLi trim.

Kia Cerato Sedan

Price Range

$19,390 – $26,555

Overall

Good: Smart design inside & out; decent handling – excellent value.

Not so Good: Average fuel economy; unrefined auto transmission.

Design and Engineering

Good : This Cerato kicked off the brands excellent new design direction: contemporary, modern looks, wide stance and stylish 17” alloys (on the SLi grade).

Not so good : Nothing groundbreaking here; fat rear pillar makes the exterior appear chunky from the rear…

Interior and Styling

Good : Modern design; USB audio input with iPod compatibility. There’s a quality ‘feel’ to the dials and buttons. Many storage options up front and a large 415 litre boot down back.

Not so good : Hard interior plastics (however, at this price it should be expected); doors close with a cheap sound; lack of storage options for rear seat passengers; lack of manual release for boot lid.

Performance

Good : Class-leading 115kW of power (for a 2.0L naturally-aspirated engine) and impressive torque; relatively quiet engine when cruising.

Not so good : Doesn’t like to be hurried and therefore struggles when pushed. The engine lacks refinement and is unnecessarily coarse and loud under heavy acceleration. Manual gearbox is a bit ‘notchy’ and the auto tends to be a bit imprecise.

Ride and Handling

Good : Handling has significantly improved compared to previous Kia’s; relatively refined at highway speeds.

Not so good : Steering is a touch too light for spirited driving (but fine for city driving) and could do with greater accuracy; base-model ‘S’ is a tad unsettled on coarse surfaces.

Buying and Owning

Good: Excellent value for money – competitors will struggle to offer this amount of equipment for the same price PLUS 6 standard airbags and a generous five-year unlimited kilometre warranty.

Not so good: Question mark over whether it will hold its value as well as Japanese competitors.

Kia Carnival MPV

Price range

$36,990 – $36,990

Overall

Good: NOTE: DISCONTINUED IN AUSTRALIA JUN 2011 Lots of space inside; lots of features for the price; when teamed with the Grand Carnival it’s been Australia’s top selling People Mover for many years.

Not so Good: Ageing styling; poor fuel economy; average handling; lap-sash seatbelt for second row centre seat.

Design and Engineering

Good : The current shape Carnival arrived Down Under in January 2006 however received its mid life facelift in June 2010. Whilst smaller than the extra big Grand Carnival, the Carnival is no shrinking violet, being of similar size to Toyota’s Tarago and Honda’s Odyssey. Compared to its similar sized competitors the Carnival has an advantage of eight instead of seven seats.

Not so good : The current model is no spring chicken with the mid 2010 year exterior changes amounting to not much more than indicator warnings in the exterior mirrors, a refreshed grille and new wheel designs.

Interior and Styling

Good: Seating for eight. The second row isn’t a bench, but three individual bucket seats (much nicer) which can also be removed to create a huge van like flat space behind the two front row bucket seats. The Carnival also features walk-through access from the driver’s seat to the second row. Side windows open (electrically too) for all three rows of passengers (surprisingly not something a number of People Movers offer). Plenty of storage compartments and drink holders, plus Aux and USB audio input with iPod compatibility.

Not so good : The interior is as bland as the exterior and there’s a cheap look and feel to interior plastics. 2nd row seats don’t fold flat, they only recline (however, they are removable). The steering wheel adjusts for rake (up and down) but not reach (in and out) adjustment so finding the perfect driving position is unlikely.

Performance

Good : The Carnival soldier’s on with a 2.7L V6 petrol engine that generates 139kW of power and 249Nm of torque. On paper these figures are more impressive than most competitors’ offerings.

Not so good : The V6 is thirsty against other petrol powered competitors and even more so against a number of turbo diesel offerings available elsewhere (including Kia’s larger Grand Carnival which is available with a 2.9L turbo diesel). The official combined fuel economy figure is 11.0L per 100kms (too high for the power on offer, but not really surprising considering this is an ageing petrol V6 engine linked to a four-speed only automatic transmission and the Carnival is a heavy 2,115kg).

Ride and Handling

Good: Driven as a two tonne people mover should be driven (i.e. not too quickly) the Grand Carnival’s soft ride and only average handling should be no deal breaker for most buyers. Road noise is kept to a minimum over most surfaces and the light steering is a benefit when negotiating a tight spot in the shopping mall.

Not so good : At lower speeds the suspension doesn’t cope brilliantly with pot holes and bumps and at both low and high speeds the steering lacks communication (and the turning circle is overly big). Excessive body-roll when pushed, noticeable body flex and the Carnival is heavy – as you may have guessed by now, it’s not the sportiest of People Movers. Better on the straight ahead open road.

Buying and Owning

Good : From July 2010 the Carnival is a safer choice as it now comes standard with six airbags (dual front, front side and full length curtain airbags). Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and electronic stability control is also standard equipment. Lots of features as standard PLUS a 5-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Not so good : Fuel economy is higher than the competition; a lap-only seat belt in the middle second row is a cross against passenger safety and the spare wheel is a temporary space saver instead of a full size wheel.