Kia Cerato and Mazda3 go head to head

RoyalAuto magazine

The Kia Cerato S Premium and Mazda3 Maxx have been upgraded. But which wins in a head to head? We put them to the test and you can find out who won here.

Report: Greg Hill
February 2017

Rear view of the Kia Cerato S Premium



Price: $24,990 drive-away.
Engine: 2.0L 4cyl petrol.
Safety: Six airbags.
Economy: 9.0L/100km.
Value: ****


Price: $28,466 (approx) drive-away.
Engine: 2.0L 4cyl petrol.
Safety: Six airbags, autonomous emergency brakes, blind spot warning.
Economy: 7.6L/100km.
Value: ****1/2

Rear view of the Mazda3 Maxx

Small car sales are booming, and it’s not hard to see why. The quality and ability continue to improve across the class, and buyers are spoilt for choice.

Mazda3 and Kia Cerato had minor refreshes in 2016. The changes were not massive but have been well directed and delivered noticeable improvements.

Each is available as a five-door hatch or four-door sedan. As the second level in their respective line-ups, our test cars, the Mazda3 Maxx and Cerato S Premium – both in hatchback form – provide a good blend of affordability and features and in both cases are a significant step up from the base models.

Kia lands the first blow with a price advantage; the S Premium is $24,990 drive-away, and the extra dollars above the base S version get you auto headlights and a seven-inch LCD touch-screen incorporating satellite navigation and reversing camera.

Another Kia value advantage is its standard seven-year warranty and seven-year capped-price servicing program.

Mazda3 Maxx drives away at approximately $28,466 but that includes a highly desirable active safety package, including Smart City Braking, now standard across the range, plus an enhanced MZD Connect infotainment system which was already one of the best.

For small cars, both are very roomy. The dimensions have not changed with the upgrade but the presentation has been smartened up and more standard equipment added. New trim materials, with a high standard of fit and finish, give the Cerato cabin a quality appearance but it doesn’t quite match the Mazda’s premium look and feel.

Cerato’s open cabin design and flatter seats give greater useable space if you need to carry five, whereas the Mazda’s more cockpit-style layout and sculptured seat shaping provide a touch better comfort and support when accommodating up to four.

Kia has gone with a 2.0-litre petrol engine in all models, while Mazda uses a 2.0-litre engine in the first three grades and a more powerful 2.5-litre version in the higher levels. Mazda has manual or auto across the range, whereas the only manual Cerato is the S model.

Both 2.0-litre engines match up almost identically on power and torque figures, and each employs a six-speed automatic driving the front wheels. But with different engine characteristics and gearing, the performance delivery of each has a distinctly different feel. Off the mark and under acceleration around town, Cerato is very lively and the automatic responds quickly.

Kia’s new Drive Mode Select system (with Normal, Eco and Sport settings) allows drivers to fine-tune the transmission response and steering load to suit their driving.

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Mazda3 has a more conservative driving feel but flows along easily around town and cruises superbly on the open road. The automatic transmission tends to shift into the higher gears sooner and hold them longer, for better fuel economy. 

Selecting sports mode holds the lower gears longer for a slightly noisier, sportier feel. Cerato’s performance edge around town is offset by the Mazda3’s lower fuel consumption. Its official consumption is 5.9L/100km, while Cerato’s is 7.1L/100km, a disparity also reflected in our real-world consumption figures.

With the upgrades, there has been noticeable improvement in handling and ride. Kia has taken its suspension tuning to the next level, with stiffer front springs and improved damper compliance delivering a firmly comfortable, well-controlled ride, while substantial work has also been done to improve steering response and feel.

As good as the much-improved Cerato is, Mazda3, with minor tweaks to the
suspension and the introduction of G-Vectoring control, has a sharper, more dynamic feel. This creates a reassuring sense of being securely connected to the road.

Some effort has been made to reduce cabin noise but neither car could be described as exceptionally quiet.

A damaged tyre on the Kia early in our test week emphasised the advantage of a full-size spare wheel.

Had the spare been a space-saver (such as in the Mazda boot), we would have been forced to limp to a retailer in the hope of finding a matching tyre for the road wheel.    

The verdict

For practical motoring and value for money, Kia Cerato is hard to beat. The S Premium deserves to be high on your shopping list, as it will more than satisfy most people’s driving requirements.

And the reassurance of Kia’s seven-year warranty should not be under-estimated. As a driver’s car, however, the Mazda3 Maxx’s extra safety features, lower fuel consumption, slightly sharper dynamics and premium presentation justify spending a few more dollars.

Kia Cerato S Premium

Mazda3 Maxx


$24,990 drive-away. Model range $19,990-$32,490 drive-away.

$28,466 (est.) drive-away. Model range $23,925-$39,663
(est.) drive-away.


ESC. ABS. 6 airbags. Reversing camera. Front/rear parking sensors. Auto lights. ISOFIX fittings. Front/rear fog lights.

ESC. ABS. 6 airbags. Autonomous emergency braking. Reversing camera/sensors. Blind spot warning. Front obstruction warning. Rear cross-traffic alert. ISOFIX fittings. Front fog lights.


7” touch-screen. Satellite navigation. Bluetooth. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. CD player. AM/FM radio. USB.

7” touch-screen. Satellite navigation. Bluetooth.  Digital, internet and AM/FM radio. USB.

Vehicle features

Manual air-con. Cloth seats. Alarm.

Manual air-con. Cloth seats.

Star ratings

Pricing                             *****
Features, equipment      ****
Presentation                    ****
Comfort                            ****
Space                                ****
Noise                                 ****
Performance                    ****
Handling, braking            ****
Ride                                   ****
Economy                          ****
Safety (ANCAP)              *****

Pricing                                  ****
Features, equipment    ****1/2
Presentation                  ****1/2
Comfort                               ****
Space                                 ***1/2
Noise                                  ***1/2
Performance                       ****
Handling, braking           ****1/2
Ride                                        ****
Economy                          ****1/2
Safety (ANCAP)                  *****

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