The Kia Cerato is a compact car comparable to what’s referred to as a C-segment or small family car, which sits between subcompact and mid-size cars. It has been manufactured by Kia Motors over four generations since 2003 to the present. It was built in coupé, sedan, and hatchback body styles, albeit not all three styles were available in all markets or in all generations.
The Kia Cerato has succeeded the Kia Sephia (aka Kia Spectra and Kia Mentor), and interestingly, it is also known by some of these names. For instance, it is also called Kia Spectra in the United States and North America, and Kia Sephia in Latin America. The hatchback model of Kia Cerato is also branded as Kia Spectra5 in North America and Malaysia.
Five years after its launching, Kia Cerato was replaced by the Kia Forte, but the Cerato nameplate was retained in certain markets around the world.
1st Generation: 2004-2009
The Kia Cerato debuted in South Korea in 2003, replacing its predecessors—the Sephia sedan and the Shuma hatchback. It was manufactured through a platform-sharing venture between Kia and Hyundai. Thus, the Kia Cerato shared many similarities with the Hyundai Elantra (XD), aka Hyundai Avante, with which it shared a common platform. It was powered by Hyundai’s Beta II G4GC CVVT I4 petrol engine.
2004 - 2006
In North America, the 2004 model year of the Kia Cerato sedan was called Kia Spectra, while the hatchback was named Kia Spectra5. In Latin America, the name Sephia remained until 2005, after which it was dropped in favor of the marque Spectra.
In Australia, only the Kia Cerato sedan was available and only in base trim package. Power was churned by a 2.0L petrol engine attached to either a 4-speed auto or 5-speed manual transmission (101 kW and 185 N⋅m). In 2005 through 2008, both sedan and hatchback models were offered with the same powertrain and base trims on both.
Meanwhile in Europe, Kia Motors replaced the Cerato in 2006 with the Kia Ceed (short for Community of Europe with European Design), which was intended solely for the European market.
In 2006, the Cerato received a more stylish exterior revamp that included redesigned taillights, bumper, and headlamps. It was fitted with an upgraded Hyundai Gamma engine.
The first-generation Cerato debuted in Malaysia as Kia Spectra5 in 2007. It was assembled locally by NAM, a Malaysian car builder. The local version came as a hatchback with a single trim level only, and was powered by a 1.6L 16V DOHC CVVT petrol engine attached to a 4-speed automatic transmission.
In China, the face-lifted version Kia Cerato R was sold alongside the second-generation Kia Forte to attract more sales in the local market.
In 2016, an electric car remake of Kia Cerato R, called Horki 300EV, debuted at the Guangzhou Auto Show. It was created using the same platform as the first-generation Kia Cerato.
2nd Generation: 2009-2013
The second-generation Kia Cerato began production in mid-2008 as Kia Forte, replacing the Kia Cerato/Spectra series.
In Europe and North America it was called Kia Forte, but the name Cerato remained in several international markets, like Australia, Costa Rica, Brazil, South Africa, Iran, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
In Singapore and Colombia, it took the name Cerato Forte, while in Malaysia it was named Naza Forte.
The following were the changes in the second-generation Kia Cerato:
- longer wheelbase and wider gauge
- longer and wider body
- reduced ground clearance for improved road-hugging capability
- streamlined rear suspension – from an independent multi-link suspension to a semi-dependent double-wishbone suspension – for excellent riding quality and better car handling
In Australia, three body styles were available—coupé, hatchback, and sedan.
- The coupé had a 2.0L Theta II I4 petrol engine mated with either a 4-speed auto or 5-speed manual gearbox (115 kW and 194 N⋅m). It was offered in base trim level only.
- The hatchback had the same engine as the first-generation, and was offered in base trim only.
- The sedan was offered in five trim levels, namely: base, limited edition, S, Si, and SLi. The base trim was powered by the old engine, while the higher trim levels were fitted with the 2.0L Theta II engine.
These initial offerings were enhanced in the succeeding years. In 2011, for instance, the coupés and sedans were available in several spec levels which included choices of 5- or 6-speed manual or 4-or 6-speed automatic, while the hatchbacks were offered in 6-speed auto or 6-speed manual transmission.
3rd Generation: 2013-2018
The next generation of Kia Forte, which replaced the Kia Cerato/Spectra since 2008, was unveiled in July of 2012 and took several names in the international market. It was called the K3 in South Korea, Shuma or the Forte K3 in China. In Australia and other parts of the globe, the name Cerato remains in use.
The Kia Forte model year 2014 unveiled a sleeker and sportier design than in previous years, with a longer and wider body, and lower base for greater handling and road-hugging capability. It also welcomed new LED headlamps and taillights, and a more fuel-efficient Hyundai NU engine, which came in two variants:
- 1.8L DOHC MPi 4-cylinder (110 kW, 178 N⋅m)
- 2.0L DOHC GDI 4-cylinder (129 kW, 209 N⋅m)
The Forte model had three variants: 2-door coupe, 4-door sedan, and 5-door hatchback.
In Australia, what was called Kia Forte in other international markets, remained as the third-generation Kia Cerato. Below were the initial Cerato offerings in 2013:
- Coupé: Koup Si and SLS spec levels – previous 2.0L Theta II I4 petrol engine, but paired with 6-speed auto or 6-speed manual transmission (115 kW and 194 N⋅m)
- Coupé: Koup Touring and Turbo spec levels – new 1.6L Gamma G4FJ MPi turbo I4 petrol engine, 6-speed auto or 6-speed manual (150 kW, 265 N⋅m)
- Hatchback and Sedan: S level – new 1.8L Nu MPi I4 petrol engine, 6-speed auto or 6-speed manual transmission (110 kW, 178 N⋅m)
- Hatchback and Sedan: Si, SLi, and SLi Nav levels – new 2.0L Nu GDI I4 petrol engine, 6-speed auto or 6-speed manual transmission (129 kW, 209 N⋅m)
- Hatchback and Sedan: SiR level – previous 2.0L Theta II 14 engine, 6-speed auto or 6-speed manual transmission (115 kW and 194 N⋅m)
In 2015, the previous 2.0L Theta II I4 petrol engine was phased out. In 2016, the 1.8L Nu MPi I4 petrol engine was also discontinued. Below were the engines used for the Australian-released Kia Cerato from 2016-2017:
- 2.0L Nu GDI I4 petrol engine (129 kW, 209 N⋅m)
- 1.6L Gamma G4FJ MPi turbo I4 petrol engine (150 kW, 265 N⋅m)
- (new) 2.0L Nu MPi I4 petrol engine (112 kW, 192 N⋅m)
For 2018, these were the engines used for the Cerato:
- 1.6L Gamma G4FJ MPi turbo I4 petrol engine (150 kW, 265 N⋅m)
- 2.0L Nu MPi I4 petrol engine (112 kW, 192 N⋅m)
4th Generation: 2019-present
The fourth-generation Kia Cerato (or third-generation Kia Forte) made its first appearance at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan in January 2018. It hit the market in autumn of the same year and became Kia Cerato/Forte’s 2019 model year compact sedan.
This model appears sleeker and more elegant in a coupe-like, fastback outline with a short trunk lid. Compared to the outgoing model, it is much longer and broader, with a more spacious trunk and higher headroom.
In Australia, the engines used for the 2019 model year are a carry-over from the previous year—the 1.6L Gamma G4FJ MPi turbo and the 2.0L Nu MPi engines. This time, however, only the hatchbacks and sedans are offered. The 1.6L engine is available only with a 7-speed automatic gearbox. The 2.0L engine is available with either a 6-speed auto or 6-speed manual transmission, but only for the S and S Safety trim levels. For the other levels (Si, Sport, Sport Nav, Sport+, Sport Safety, Sport+Safety), the 2.0L engine is paired with 6-speed automatic transmission only.