Rio is doing brisk business for Kia with sales of 2589 vehicles as at the end of April for six per-cent of our jam-packed small car market. Nicely styled in the modern Kia way and handily priced, the good-looking Rio actually drives better than some bigger-selling rivals.
So, if you’re thinking about a small car, head to Rio (but you won’t need a passport for this Rio).
Kia Rio Overview
Car Showroom enthused about the Kia Rio when we first drove Kia’s stylish new small car at the national media launch. Now we’ve just put two models – five-door SLi automatic and the sporty range-topping SLS automatic (both stickered at $21,990) – through our standard test procedure and again we were impressed.
Over the entry-grade S model, SLi and SLS models tested gain extras like LED DRLs, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear lever, upgraded instruments, metal-look interior trim features and front map lights. The sporty SLS three-door goes further with leather seats, climate-control air-conditioning, push-button start and rain-sensing wipers.
Of course entry to the Kia Rio family starts at just $15,290 for the S model three-door and with 12 variants to choose from, Kia has cleverly specified the Rio to suit most budgets and requirements.
Kia Rio Engine
Both of our Kia Rios (SLi and SLS) were powered by Kia’s latest ‘Gamma’ GDi (Gasoline Direct Injection) 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine. Kia says the benefits of its friction-reducing ‘Gamma’ technology and GDi deliver 13 per-cent more power than a conventional naturally-aspirated engine with the Rio good for 103kW at 6300rpm and 167Nm at 4850rpm.
Those figures leave many rival small cars, including the segment’s best-sellers, languishing.
Zero to 100km/h is as low as 10.2 seconds and fuel consumption gets down to 5.6l/100kms.
Both of our test cars drove through six-speed automatic transmissions.
Entry level Kia Rio S employs a 79kW/135Nm 1.4-litre engine and its optional automatic is a four-speeder.
Kia Rio The Interior
There’s a family feel about the interiors of the latest Kias and the Rio is no exception. Up-market for a small car no doubt, the Rio is both sophisticated and clean-cut inside (dare we say ‘Gen Y’?) – its sporty/functional look highlighted by the centre toggle switches for the climate control.
Instruments follow the current Kia trend with a ‘three-cylinder’ cluster housed in an otherwise horizontal dashboard. The gauges themselves offer nice red graphics with a prominent secondary display for secondary information like current fuel consumption.
Also typically Kia is the sporty three-spoke steering wheel (leather trimmed in our SLi and SLS test cars) which adjusts for both rake and reach.
All Rio models except the entry-level ‘S’ run a six-speaker CD audio system (four speakers in the ‘S’) with iPod AUX/USB connectivity and Bluetooth with audio streaming.
SLS gains nice leather seats and both front and rear seats offer good support. Pleasingly the three-door SLS also comes with a seat belt holder/guide so front seat occupants needn’t dislocate their shoulders reaching rearwards for their belts when strapping-in.
Rear seat room in the Kia Rio is amongst the best in the class.
Luggage space is segment-competitive with 288-litres (rear seat in place) or 923-litres (rear seat folded).
Kia Rio Exterior & Styling
The turnaround has been dramatic. Since luring German styling guru Peter Schreyer from Volkswagen, Kia is these days an automotive company lead by design.
Supporting this direction, Schreyer has injected his styling studios in Korea, Europe and North America with an influx of talented designers. In fact design of the Rio was lead in California by Italian Massimo Fascella.
Rio clearly shows Kia’s current design DNA with the ‘Schreyer-style’ grille, rakish looks, curved roof and rising glass line. The rear too is complex and sophisticated, highlighted in the three-door SLS we tested by the tightly-curved rear hatch glass, roof spoiler and large jewel-like tail-lights…all very modern and European in execution.
Our SLi and SLS models also looked dramatic with their excellent five-spoke alloy wheels – probably the boldest wheel design in the small car segment.
Kia Rio On The Road
More so than other importers, Kia makes a point of promoting its extensive local suspension and chassis development. It’s a valid point because Australian roads and buyer expectations are unique and the thousands of kilometres racked-up evaluating different combinations of springs, shock absorbers, anti-roll bars and power steering assistance don’t come cheaply but do deliver outstanding on-road dynamics.
And while we’ve not driven the standard specification Korean Rio to compare, the Aussie-spec versions were spot-on over our high-speed mountain roads test loop. Ride was firmish in the European way, but the payback in terms of turn-in, balance and feedback through the twisty stuff was well worth it.
Kia Rio runs the currently trendy MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear end suspension layout.
Naturally in the twisty stuff, Kia’s lively 105kW/167Nm 1.6-litre engine came into its own and provided clear differentiation when compared to major rivals with 1.5-litre and 1.4-litre powerplants.
Our only points deduction in that sporty driving environment was Kia’s automatic transmission – when pressing-on hard we would have liked a faster response when changing manually.
Around town you do notice the firm ride of the Kia Rio. But that sporty feel isn’t at all uncomfortable and we did appreciate the willing 1.6-litre engine when accelerating hard for freeway merging.
Kia Rio Challenges
Kia’s local chassis tuning is very smart – but we’re perplexed why the Rio’s steering feel at low speeds lacks the precision evident when punting quickly.
Otherwise our only points deduction comes from the small rear three-quarter windows/high waistline of the three-door SLS – care is needed when changing lanes and reverse parking.
Kia Rio Verdict
Hard to fault the Kia Rio – whichever way you cut it, Kia’s small car is one of the best. We reckon the sporty SLS is the standout looker in the small car segment, but regardless of the model grade, the Peter Schreyer influence on Kia’s styling scores big points.
On-road dynamics are also right at the front end of the field and families will appreciate the interior space afforded in the Kia Rio.
If you can stretch the buckaroos, definitely go for the 1.6-litre powered models – the extra oomph will leave most Kia Rio rivals in your rear-view mirror.
Kia Rio The Competition
Mazda2 and Toyota Yaris are the segment’s best-sellers, but even their ‘Genki’ and ‘YRX’ grades don’t match the Kia Rio SLS for on-road presence. And Kia’s 1.6-litre engine outguns both the 1.5-litres from Mazda and Toyota.
Ford’s Fiesta is a Car Showroom favourite – we love the German style, precision handling and technology (sequential six-speed automatic is a pearler). Range-topping Zetec is brilliant despite Ford’s 1.6-litre being outgunned by Kia’s 1.6.
Honda Jazz, Hyundai i20, Nissan Micra and Suzuki Swift must also be test-driven if you’re buying in Australia’s most competitive market.
Thumbs-up: Love the looks again Mr Schreyer; fun to drive; interior space matches the segment’s best; value