Kia Cerato Koup Msia 7

What do you look for in a car? Posed to an enthusiast, the largely intangible “driver appeal” will rank high, while there are some of us who chant the “manual or nothing” mantra. We may be part of the latter dying breed, but understand very well that there’s a real world out there who doesn’t give two hoots about three pedals and steering feel.

Just like with humans, it’s undeniable that how a car looks is an important (if not the most important) part of the charm offensive. We’re visual creatures, and if a good looking car is well equipped and priced attractively, it’ll find suitors.

The Kia Forte Koup, introduced here in 2011, was such a car. The previous-gen Forte was pretty handsome to begin with, but the Koup threw away two doors to great effect, its visual appeal elevated by the lack of coupe options in our market. Never mind that it didn’t have the performance to back up the sporty style, it looked good. Still does.

Enter the Kia Cerato Koup. The formula is the same, but this time around, there’s go to match the show. The two-door Cerato will be offered here with a turbocharged direct-injection engine, Naza Kia’s first petrol turbo offering. A 1.6 litre T-GDI motor with 204 PS and 265 Nm of torque makes the Koup an interesting proposition at an estimated RM150k.

Like the Forte Koup, the Cerato Koup is based on Kia’s global C-segment sedan. The footprint of the coupe isn’t significantly smaller – there’s not much difference in terms of width (1,780 mm), and the 2,700 mm wheelbase is identical, but the Koup is 30 mm shorter than the sedan at 4,530 mm. This car’s roofline is also 25 mm lower, at 1,420 mm.

Just a sedan with two less doors? Not really, because Kia has put considerable effort into differentiating the Koup from the saloon. Unlike the old two-door Forte, this one gets a unique face.

While the sedan’s front end is dominated by a large radiator grille sitting on top of a slim lower grille, the coupe’s inverse arrangement sees a slim radiator grille (pinched in the middle to make a ‘tiger nose’) above a gaping lower intake. It’s a sportier, more forceful image that’s appropriate for the sexier sibling. Kia even manufactured frameless door windows, a classic coupe cue, for the Koup, so it’s an ‘A’ for effort.

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The long headlamps – with distinctive LED daytime running light ‘eyebrows’ – are shared with the sedan, but there’s more night-time jewellery here in the form of LED rings outlining the fog lamps.

That’s part of the Koup T-GDI package (normally-aspirated Koups are available elsewhere), which also includes horizontal bar grille inserts (as opposed to honeycomb), gloss black door handles and wing mirror caps, twin tailpipes and carbon fibre-look trim for the front bumper bar and rear diffuser. The sportier look is finished by 18-inch alloys in a unique flower spoke design.

The Cerato Koup, which goes up against the Honda Civic Si and Scion tC in the US, looks stylish enough, but I personally prefer the sharp lines of the Forte (and by extension, Forte Koup) over the more organic shape of the K3. If I had to describe the Cerato Koup with an S-word, it’ll be ‘sophisticated’ instead of ‘sporty’, despite the Turbo add-ons. This format’s limitations considered, Kia’s coupe looks very good. Check out the Honda and Scion to see what we mean.

Kia Cerato Koup Msia 8

You might have noticed that the Koup’s roofline is not the most daring, and the side profile shows a rather squarish rear section aft of the B pillar. The more sedate shape is by design, and it pays dividends inside, especially at the back.

The Cerato Koup works well as a four-seater (three abreast at the back should be left for emergencies, lack of width and shape of the bench not being conducive) and this 175 cm writer survived a Korean highway journey as rear passenger without emerging with cramps. The daylight opening is kind to backbenchers and rear passenger vents are a surprise find in a such a car. Coupes are generally seen as selfish buys, but this one will be easier to justify to the spouse.

Both will be seated comfortably in front, thanks to sizeable leather chairs with CF-style trimmings unique to the T-GDI, plus seat ventilation for the driver. The latter, a practical luxury also found in the Cerato sedan, is a real boon on hot days and will put an end to sweaty backs.

No one will feel claustrophobic in here, as the windscreen and windows are large, and one doesn’t sit very low. Not nearly low enough for this driver, in fact, with the height adjuster pumped to the max. The high perch, coupled with the big windows, means that some Koup drivers will feel like they’re sitting on the seat rather than sinking into it.

The dashboard is per the Cerato K3, which means that the basic design isn’t very sporty. Odd even, with waves of curves emanating from the instrument cluster, including two such lines on the panel in front of the passenger. It’s simply not evocative enough for a car with sporty aspirations, but the Koup has to make do with what it has been handed – I understand.

The all-black cabin environment is also very business-like despite the carbon-style trim on the dashboard and seats. Mazda, in its bread-and-butter models, does the classy-sporty blend a lot better, with seating that also caters to keen drivers.

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The Cerato Koup is no longer just about style. For Malaysia, only the T-GDI (turbocharged-gasoline direct injection) variant will be available; the 1.6 litre four-pot producing 204 PS at 6,000 rpm and 265 Nm of torque from 1,750 to 4,000 rpm. It’s the same unit used in the recently-launched Hyundai Veloster Turbo, but the blown Gamma in that car is in a 186 PS/265 Nm tune.

The downsized turbo engine compares very well with the 2.0 litre Theta II in the Forte Koup. The old timer delivered 156 PS at 6,200 rpm and 194 Nm at 4,300 rpm – that’s 48 PS and 71 Nm less for RM290 more in road tax. Paired to Hyundai-Kia’s in-house six-speed torque converter automatic with paddle shifters, the Cerato Koup does the 0-100 km/h sprint in 7.4 seconds. Top speed is 222 km/h.

Figures aside, the T-GDI blesses the Koup with pace, something its predecessor never had in abundance. There’s a hint of lag from take off and when flooring the throttle at speed, but not of deal breaking proportions. But if you’re expecting serious kick in the back bursts of acceleration, Golf GTI-style, you won’t find it here.

Speed accumulation happens in a more measured way in the Koup T-GDI, and the six-speed auto has a similarly leisurely gait. The motor is smooth enough, but there isn’t much aural stimulation – so while this Kia is fast, it’s not very furious.

Those who attempt a furious approach will find that rewards are scant. For me, the steering is the biggest discouraging factor, with inconsistent assistance and a general lack of connectedness. As usual, Hyundai-Kia’s Flex Steer system is present, offering three levels of assistance – Comfort, Normal and Sport. Comfort is pointlessly light, and the difference between Normal and Sport is just an added dollop of weight for the latter, with the original flaws intact.

The MDPS (motor-driven power steering, Hyundai-Kia’s term for EPS) isn’t very confidence inspiring, but we pushed on in the name of research. The Koup doesn’t corner as flat as the best hot hatches, but that’s expected. It’s also not fond of mid-corner crests or expansion joints, and shows displeasure via a slightly floaty tail and/or small hops off the original line; ESP came out to greet me once when I wasn’t expecting it to, so there’s a slight mismatch between the Koup’s dynamic ability versus the speeds it’s capable of.

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When expectations are aligned, the Koup’s good ride comfort and general refinement come to the fore, although the 225/40 Nexens won’t be the quietest rubber around. These two qualities may not sound very exciting, but can be appreciated daily, as opposed to the once-in-a-blue moon B-road blast.

They also complement the car’s decent range of amenities – above-mentioned leather and ventilated driver’s seat aside, the Koup comes with a sunroof, dual-zone auto air-con (with cluster ioniser), keyless entry and push start, front/rear park assist with reverse camera, cruise control and Bluetooth, among other things. Well covered on the safety front too, with six airbags, ESC and Isofix child seat anchors for the rear seats.

As you can probably tell by now, Kia’s sportiest product in Malaysia isn’t one to rival the hot hatch brigade. ‘Driver appeal’ isn’t a strong suit, but the Cerato Koup offers good coupe looks with uncoupe-like space and comfort, generous amounts of kit, plus turbocharged pace to avoid being embarrassed by small family cars. It’s a boulevard cruiser, not a backroad bruiser.

The Kia Cerato Koup T-GDI will be launched in Malaysia soon, and is now open for pre-orders. The red car you see here is exactly what we’ll be getting in terms of spec. Estimated price is RM150,000.

Kia Cerato Koup in South Korea