Kia intends to outpace UK market frontrunners on the road and in the showrooms with turbo-diesel versions of its new Cerato hatchback and saloon range.
It has singled out Ford, Vauxhall, Peugeot and Renault as the prime targets for a trio of diesel models which have just gone on sale with 100bhp under their bonnets, full-feature packaging and prices starting at less than £11,000.
Boasting a CO2 figure of 129g/km, the 1.5-litre CRDi Euro III-compliant engine allows the Cerato to beat the Focus 1.6 TDCi 90 and the Astra 1.7 CDTi 16v on emissions and, despite its higher output of 100bhp, it returns similar combined economy. Its 18% company car tax rating leaves a standard-rate taxpayer liable to annual payments of between £400 and £429, depending on specification level.
Priced from £10,245, the new model also boasts on-the-road cost savings of £3,600 over the Vauxhall and £3,150 over the Ford, even though it is better equipped.
Badged GS, the entry-level hatchback has anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, front, side and curtain airbags, air conditioning, remote locking, a CD player with MP3 capability and front and rear electric windows.
At £10,995, the LX comes in saloon or hatchback and adds alloy wheels, body-coloured side mouldings and front fog lights. Kia is on course to sell 44,500 cars this year and 55,000 in 2006, following the launch of all-new Rio and Magentis along with replacements for the Sedona and Carens models.
Behind the wheel
STIFF competition across the sector is promised from this new line-up, which has attractive bodywork providing particularly good rear seat legroom and spacious accommodation for five.
First impressions on the road bear out Kia’s claims that the Cerato is strong on quality and refinement and the engine, developed in-house and owing nothing to the similar-capacity unit from sister brand Hyundai, remains subdued until the rev counter needle sweeps beyond 3,000rpm.
Though performance is adequate rather than sparkling, the CRDi pulls away smoothly from just 1,000rpm in top gear.
Reasonable roadholding comes with a supple ride to make the car acceptable long-distance transport.
Compared with its lacklustre predecessors, the Cerato represents a massive step forward. Pricing may be pared back, but there’s little bargain-basement feel about a model which has much of the feel of the Toyota Corolla – the car it was developed to match in key areas.
While it falls short of its rivals in ultimate handling finesse, there’s nothing shoddy about this car, which displays basic engineering well up to class standard.
BUDGET-conscious company and family motorists are unlikely to be disappointed with this car, which looks smart and is finished to a good standard. A choice of body styles and a low premium of £495 for the diesel over petrol versions should allow the Cerato to win sufficient interest in the business car sector to turn up the pressure on Ford and Vauxhall.
Engine (cc): 1,493
Max power (bhp/rpm): 100/4,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 174/2,000
Max speed (mph): 108
0-62mph (sec): 12.5
Fuel consumption (mpg): 57.6
CO2 emissions (g/km): 129
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 55/12.1
Transmission: 5-sp manual
Service interval (miles): 10,000
On sale: Now. Prices (OTR): £10,995
Kia boss enjoys rocketing sales
WITH fleet sales up a staggering 209% so far this year, Kia is rapidly becoming a rising star of the business market.
Total sales are up 31% year-to-date, giving Kia a 1.4% overall market share. The company has had a busy year with new launches including the Picanto, Sportage and Cerato.
But it is not just an influx of products that has led to such a large increase in sales, according to UK managing director Paul Williams.
He said: ‘Sales are up for a number of reasons. The new models have been a catalyst but it’s not only new products. We are more established as a brand, more recognised, we have a bigger dealer network and we are more capable.
‘Products such as the Cerato diesel give us a big opportunity in fleet. It is really well priced, has low CO2 figures and dealers also understand the product a lot better.’
Historically, Kia has concentrated instead on the sub-25 sector. Williams said: ‘We haven’t tried to look for big fleet volumes.
‘The company car market is more conservative and we have been getting the infrastructure right before we make a big fleet push.’
Kia doesn’t have specific fleet people at its dealerships but has launched the Kia Pioneer Programme – training for people working in dealerships who want it. This includes aftersales, general management and corporate customers.
Williams said: ‘We are not planning to have a big fleet field force. Our dealers know the local market and why do the work which the contract hire and leasing companies know anyway?’
Although contract hire and leasing companies are wanting to do more business with Kia, Williams says he prefers to do business with preferred partners as ‘there is no point chasing every contract hire company’.
He said: ‘We don’t need to have a big fleet department. We need the right policy and dealer network to support us as the needs of fleet are not that different to retail. The main issues for us are making sure we have the right product, a strong dealer network and establish relationship with people in the market who know it better than we do.’