2011 Kia Rio Review and First Drive

by under Review, Kia, Rio, First Drive, Review, 2011 on 01 Sep 2011 12:49:56 AM01 Sep 2011
2011 KIA RIO
Price Range
$NaN - $NaN
Fuel Consumption
NaNL - NaNL/100km

Great value; nice looks inside and out


Entry model let down by four-speed automatic

Kia knew the all-new Rio had to pack some punch to succeed in Australia’s toughest new car class – compact cars. So they equipped the Rio with choice of 1.4-litre or lively 1.6-litre powerplants, ramped up the standard specifications and the result is a standout, handily-priced newcomer. 

2011 KIA RIO

It helps when German design guru Peter Schreyer and his Italian-born, California-based deputy Massimo Frascella are at the drawing board – again with the all-new Kia Rio they have crafted a Kia with superb looks inside and out.

And then Kia embarked on a grueling program of chassis development on Australian roads which resulted in a unique set of anti-roll bars and dampers to ensure the all-new Rio delivers the driving dynamics demanded by Aussie drivers.

So while our compact car segment is overflowing with great cars, the all-new Kia Rio stakes its claim to be a genuine contender

Kia Rio Overview

All-new Kia Rio is a marked step-up from its rather basic predecessor – make no mistake, the newcomer can go toe-to-toe with the best compact cars on the market. New Kia Rio delivers larger exterior dimensions and more interior space than all previous Rios and is much better equipped with a premium feel evident as soon as you climb inside.

And new Kia Rio also ticks the safety boxes with ESP and six airbags standard across the range – Kia is expecting the maximum five star safety rating when NCAP barrier testing is done. 

2011 KIA RIO

For the first time, this fourth generation Kia Rio will be offered in three and five-door hatchbacks as well as four-door sedan. Kia Australia has initially launched the five-door hatchback model – three-door hatchbacks and four-door sedans will arrive early next year.

Kia has aligned the all-new Rio model grades with its Cerato small car – entry level ‘S’, mid-grade ‘Si’ and range-topping ‘SLi’.

For the extra coin, amongst the extras in SLi model Kia Rios are 17-inch alloy wheels with grippy 205/45 R17 Continental tyres, projector headlights, LED DRLs, cornering lamps and LED rear lights.
The full range is:
S (1.4-litre 6-speed manual) $16,290
S (1.4-litre 4-speed automatic) $18,290
Si (1.6-litre 6-speed manual) $18,990
Si (1.6-litre 6-speed automatic) $20,990
SLi (1.6-litre 6-speed manual) $19,990
SLi (1.6-litre 6-speed manual) $21,990

Kia Rio Engine

Entry-level Kia Rio S (six-speed manual or four-speed automatic) is uniquely powered by Kia’s 1.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine with double overhead camshafts and continuously variable valve timing. Power and torque are up over the outgoing model – now rated at 79kW at 6300rpm and 135Nm at 4200rpm.

By way of comparisons, Honda’s entry-level Jazz employs a 1.3-litre engine with 73kW/127Nm and the entry-level Ford Fiesta delivers 88kW/151Nm from its 1.6-litre engine. 

2011 KIA RIO

But Kia Rio lays down the challenge to rival compacts in Si and SLi models grades by stepping up to Kia’s 1.6-litre ‘Gamma’ direct injection engine with dual continuously variable valve timing (inlet and exhaust). This is the smallest capacity Kia engine to adopt GDI (Gasoline Direct Injection) technology and it’s good for 103kW of power at 6300rpm and peak torque of 167Nm at 4850rpm – no other comparable compact hatchback offers three digits of kilowatts.

Kia Rio The Interior

If you’ve driven Kia Cerato, Optima and Sportage you’ll notice a theme continued in all-new Kia Rio’s interior. It’s the Kia/Peter Schreyer corporate look which brings not only a modern, attractive appearance but also quality materials which combine to deliver a premium feel across the range. 

2011 KIA RIO

So there is the familiar horizontal dashboard and three-cylinder instrumentation with blue backlighting – but this time with a new twist in the form of centre-mounted toggle switches which we liked a lot.

We also liked the usual Kia top shelf driving position thanks to the nice, sporty steering wheel (reach and rake adjustable) and, in Si and SLi models, nice leather inserts in the seats.

Bluetooth, MP3, AUX, iPod and USB connections are included in the CD sound system and Si and SLi models gain tweeters taking their speaker count to six.

2011 KIA RIO

Included in Kia Rio’s new, extended dimensions is a hefty 70mm in wheelbase, taking it to 2570mm. This pays off in passenger space which felt to us to equal the best of the compact cars.

Luggage space is 288-litres with the rear seat in place or 923-litres with the rear seat folded.

Kia Rio Exterior & Styling

Often automotive stylists talk about ‘evolving’ designs. Well forget that with the all-new Kia Rio where the Schreyer-Frascella design team binned all things Rio and started with a clean sheet of paper. The result is yet again a very stylish new Kia which, while having some of the expected styling cues shared with the rest of the handsome, Schreyer-Kia family also has some unique Rio nuances – for example, this time the ‘corporate’ front grille sees the Kia badge sitting on top.

2011 KIA RIO

Same with the front bumper and spoiler – certainly reminiscent of Cerato and Optima but in reality unique to Rio.

The side profile is a tad Kia Sportage with sloping glass lines hinting at a wedge shape and quite bold C-pillars.

Enigmatic Italian Massimo Frascella has assembled an impressive portfolio for Kia – before the Rio, he was the driving force behind the Sportage design. And, like the Sportage which was launched in New Zealand, he left his California HQ to venture to South Australia for the Rio’s media launch. 

2011 KIA RIO

He showed the design sketches which evolved the Kia Rio design and its sharp, muscular look was evident from the initial drawings.

Kia Rio On The Road

When it comes to ride and handling, we can report without hesitation that the all-new Kia Rio is amongst the very best compact cars we’ve driven. We can be so forthright because Kia, to its credit, set the national media launch in South Australia’s Barossa Valley and sent us on one of the most demanding drive routes in recent memory. 

2011 KIA RIO

No toddling around the city and suburbs this time – we launched a variety of Kia Rios down a long and challenging drive over many high-speed roads and surfaces, including lots of dirt, made even more difficult by overnight torrential rain and washaways. And by any measure the all-new Kia Rio shone – actually make that ‘surprised’ if you want to draw a line to its predecessor which honestly didn’t set the world on fire in the driving dynamics department.

Of course we didn’t drive international market cars, so we can’t make direct comparisons between the Australia specification unique suspension tune (thicker front roll bar and unique spring/damper calibration). But for Australian drivers in Australian conditions, there’s no doubt the all-new Kia Rio is ‘the business’ when it comes to ride and handling – so whatever that local development cost, it was money well spent. 

2011 KIA RIO

All-new Kia Rio runs a MacPherson strut front end and coupled torsion beam at the rear.

Apart from that precise front-end, sharp turn-in and nice chassis balance, overall refinement levels were impressively high – helped by a stiffer bodyshell, C-pillar reinforcement and larger hydraulic mounts for the engine and transmission.

Kia Rio Challenges

Why a four-speed automatic for the entry-level S model Kia Rio? Honda Jazz has a five-speeder and Ford’s Fiesta offers a six-speed shifter. We expect the all-new Toyota Yaris will run a five-speed automatic, leaving the Rio, Mazda2 and Nissan Micra as the only four-speeders.

Kia Rio Verdict

Well you can forget the old Kia Rio, the all-new model takes Kia to the major leagues for compact cars.

Standout European styling – yes. Modern and stylish interior – yes. Top-shelf driving dynamics - yes (and a tip of the Car Showroom hat to Kia for funding that local chassis tuning).

2011 KIA RIO

And, like all Kias a major factor in Rio’s undoubted sales success will be value-for-money. Like the Cerato, Sportage, Optima, Grand Carnival and Sorento, you get a lot of car for your coin and a real premium feel every time you open the door and climb inside. This is the new Kia folks and you simply must include the Korean giant on your shopping list.

Kia Rio The Competition

Ford’s European-designed Fiesta stands out in this segment, competitively priced from $16,990 but the 88kW/151Nm 1.6-litre petrol engine doesn’t match Kia Rio’s 103kW/167Nm 1.6-litre.

Same for Volkswagen’s well-done Polo (from $16,690) – but again the 1.4-litre and 1.2-litre engines fall a tad short of Kia Rio. 

2011 KIA RIO

Honda’s Jazz is a typically well-engineered and very clever Honda. Even Honda’s 88kw/145Nm 1.5-litre doesn’t match Kia Rio’s 1.6-litre.

And don’t forget, Toyota previewed the all-new Yaris at the Australian International Motor Show and it’s due on-sale shortly.

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