Barely a couple of hours out of Sydney lies the spectacular Blue Mountains with a seemingly never-ending list of bush walks, lookouts, great places for lunch and a coffee, and little villages.
Oh, and let’s also not forget the shops you could get lost for hours poking around in, boutique B’n’Bs and scenic roads to cruise.
On this particular weekend I was behind the wheel of the Kia Cerato Si.
Now, the little Kia may not be the first car that springs to mind when you think of driving to the mountains, but it had been great around the city and with a day-trip to the Blue Mountains already planned, I wasn’t worried about holding on to it for another couple of days.
The Three Sisters is a spectacular rock formation in the heart of the Blue Mountains. It’s easily accessible off the main road, there is plenty of parking available and you don’t have to hike through kilometres of bush to see it. There are plenty of bushwalking tracks around, though, if you want to get active and explore.
Leaving Sydney in the morning, my passenger and I settle into the front seats. The Si gets leather appointed trim which feels beautifully soft and the seats are well shaped and supportive. No power adjustment, though – you have to jump up to the top-spec SLi for that. The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels good in the hand and the cabin is finished with some nice trims including gloss-black. Although I could probably skip the fake carbon-fibre effect material that just scream ‘poser’.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen is angled towards the driver and popping the address in for Echo Point lookout was a quick and simple affair. As is pairing the phone and getting the tunes sorted. This was only a quick day trip, so there was no reason to load anything into the 382-litre boot. So with wallets, phones, water bottles and coffees all secured in storage spots about the cabin, with a jab of the finger on the push-button start, the 16-inch alloys were rolling and we were off.
Echo Point lookout is west of Sydney and depending on which way you go to get out of the hustle and bustle, and of course the traffic, it would take around 90 minutes to cover the 120-odd kilometres. As always, battling the traffic out of the city is a slow and arduous process. To help smooth the way, the Si has blind-spot monitoring, lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert as well as a rear-view camera and front and rear parking sensors.
The Cerato range features a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 112kW and 192Nm and tackles around town duties adequately. It responds quickly to build speed and the six-speed automatic transmission is smooth and, for the most part, accurate with its gear selection and changes though it can get a little noisy if you surprise it with a sudden and forceful stomp on the throttle.
Once you’re on the Great Western Highway it opens up a bit and the Cerato has to work a bit harder to overtake at highway speeds and I found myself yelling ‘go, go, go’ a couple of times when I felt like it was not picking up speed fast enough on the run.
The locally-tuned suspension makes the ride very comfortable over most surfaces, and the cabin is almost void of wind, tyre and engine noise. It’s easy to just cruise along, in your own little bubble, shut off from the outside world.
Though the winding road up the mountains offers up some scenic views, don’t expect a spirited drive. The speed limit is 80km/h through most of it and 60km/h through the villages and there are speed cameras and plenty of Highway Patrol cars. It’s still a lovely, relaxed drive if it’s not too busy. Watch out for weekend traffic though, it can get quite hectic.
Leura is a gorgeous spot to stop for a coffee, with tree-lined streets and a quaint village-like feel. There are many little towns along the way, and it’s easy to get on and off the highway if you’d like to stop and wander. At this time of year, the colours of the trees and flowers are vivid and it is spectacular.
Echo Point lookout at Katoomba is a hive of activity. The Three Sisters is a very popular tourist attraction but visitors are well catered for with two big lookout platforms on different levels, and an easy walk down to the formation. The pillars of rock are 922, 918 and 906 feet tall and are prominent in front of that renowned blue-haze background of the Blue Mountains.
The Cerato falls into the small car category, and though it is a strong seller it lags behind the big players like the Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30. After spending a week in it in both urban and highway environments, it’s hard to understand why.
It offers a haven of silence and smoothness on the road, it may be slightly underpowered when asked to do more at speed, but it’s a delightful cruiser that is well kitted out with safety features and creature comforts. Over the course of my time with the car, I clocked up 354km and fuel economy was 7.9-litres per 100 kilometres which is close to the claimed combined figure of 7.1L/100km.
The Kia Cerato may be one of the most underrated cars in the small car segment and is well-suited to around town, and day trip driving.
Click on the photos tab for more images by Sam Venn and Tegan Lawson.