How do you make an award-winning compact car even better? In the case of the new Kia Rio you add a sedan version plus a three-door model which lowers the entry price to an attention-grabbing $15,290.
Kia Australia is ambitiously targeting a double-digit percentage sales growth this year and the new additions to the improved Rio lineup will provide broader coverage in the crucial compact car category. Last year in Australia Kia sold more than 25,000 cars to achieve impressive sales growth – defying the overall market which was down by three per cent.
Kia Australia boss Tony Barlow says the stylish Rio is symbolic of the brand’s new status – Kia is the world’s fastest-growing automotive nameplate and to reinforce that position, locally we can expect six new products or generational changes within the next two years.
Kia Rio Overview
Addition of Kia Rio’s entry-level three-door hatchback and four-door sedan certainly gives the Korean giant real traction in the ultra-competitive compact car segment. In fact, Ford Fiesta is the only other vehicle in this end of town with a sedan variant.
The sedan is offered in one specification level – the mid-range Si with the 1.6-litre direct injection engine. New three door hatchback versions come in entry-level S (1.4-litre engine) and sporty SLS (1.6-litre).
And that SLS model is handily equipped with leather seats, good-looking 17-inch alloy wheels, projector headlights, LED DRLs, cornering lights, LED tail-lights, climate control air and rain-sensing wipers amongst the extras.
The five-door hatchback retains its three specifications – entry level S (1.4-litre) plus Si and SLi, both with the 1.6-litre powerplant. SLi five-doors get most of the SLS three-door kit, missing out on (for example) the leather seats, climate control air, rain-sensing wipers.
The full range is:
3-door hatchback S 1.4-litre (6-speed manual) $15,290
3-door hatchback S 1.4-litre (4-speed automatic) $17,290
3-door hatchback SLS 1.6-litre (6-speed manual) $19,990
3-door hatchback SLS 1.6-litre (6-speed automatic) $21,990
4-door sedan Si 1.6-litre (6-speed manual) $19,690
4-door sedan Si 1.6-litre (6-speed automatic) $21,690
5-door hatchback S 1.4-litre (6-speed manual) $16,290
5-door hatchback S 1.4-litre (4-speed automatic) $18,290
5-door hatchback Si 1.6-litre (6-speed manual) $18,990
5-door hatchback Si 1.6-litre (6-speed automatic) $20,990
5-door hatchback SLi 1.6-litre (6-speed manual) $19,990
5-door hatchback SLi 1.6-litre (6-speed automatic) $21,990
Kia Rio Engine
S model Kia Rios (the three and five-door hatchbacks) employ Kia’s 1.4-litre MPi four-cylinder engine with 79kW at 6300rpm and 135Nm at 4200rpm. Transmission choice is a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic and fuel consumption is rated as low as 5.7l/100kms (manual).
The rest of the range enjoys Kia’s 1.6-litre GDI ‘Gamma’ engine - claimed to be the most powerful in the segment - with 103kW at 6300rpm and 167Nm at 4850rpm. Drive is via six-speed manual or automatic transmissions, zero to 100km/h takes an impressive 10.2 seconds and fuel consumption is as low as 5.6l/100kms (manual).
Kia Rio The Interior
Kia’s stylists are world-beaters, no question about it, and the Rio interior is a ripper - modern, stylish, practical and highlighted by quality materials. The SLS three-door with its leather seats is a standout in this league.
The steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach (not so long ago that was a rarity in compact cars) and the driving position is top-notch. Instrumentation is conventional gauges with very nice graphics and needles and an orange-lit multi-information display in the centre (including gear-change advisory arrows in the SLS manual).
On the audio front, ‘S’ models get a four-speaker CD system with Bluetooth and steering wheel remotes while the rest score a six-speaker system.
Access to the rear seat in three-door models is a tad tight, but the four-door sedan impressed with wide-opening rear doors and reasonable rear seat legroom.
Also impressive in the sedan is the boot. It’s wide and deep with a surprising 389-litres capacity.
Kia Rio Exterior & Styling
The influence of German styling guru Peter Schreyer has dramatically changed Kia’s face to the world. The Rio is superbly crafted – highlighted by the dramatic curved roof, stylish C-pillars and wide on-road stance.
Kia Rio’s all-new three-door version is dimensionally identical to the five-door hatchback. At 4045mm in length, 1720mm width, 1455mm high and with a wheelbase of 2570mm, Kia Rio is one of the larger compact cars.
Kia says the sedan targets more conservative buyers and fleet customers so it gains a unique front-end with headlights, fog-lights and lower grille which are different to the hatchback models.
‘S’ models run 15-inh steel wheels, Si goes to 16-inch alloys and SLI and SLS get 17-inch alloys.
Kia Rio On The Road
Kia calls it a ‘Localization Project’ – the umbrella term under which local engineers re-calibrate suspension tune (springs, shock absorbers and anti-roll bars) to better suit its Korean vehicles for Australian conditions. It’s a very thorough and costly exercise which enjoys the support of engineers back in Korea who confirm the local development and fit Australian vehicles with the uniquely-tuned revised equipment.
Why is this important? Because – as sales statistics confirm – Australian compact car buyers these days aren’t just city dwellers. Where once compacts were ‘second’ cars, used exclusively in cities and suburbs, now increasingly they are sold in regional markets and as primary family vehicles…which means they tackle higher speed and often twisty rural roads.
Kia was so confident in its local development, we were sent over the exact same NSW Hunter Valley roads used for testing. Sure we had some city work from Sydney Airport and some freeway cruising up the Pacific Highway (where the Rio SLS we drove proved to be spirited and refined) but it was on the often poor secondary roads north of the city where Kia was keen to prove the Rio’s worth.
The Korean versions of the Kia Rio are set-up to perform well in Korea – to feel dynamic at low speed (40km/h) in the city, but Kia Australia’s ‘Localization Project’ called for calibration better suited to dynamic handling at the much higher speeds familiar to Australian drivers.
Our drive showed Kia Australia has met its objectives – the new Rio is a very sporty package with much firmer and more precise ride, sharper turn-in and greater input from the rear end. No doubt it’s beautifully balanced, very predictable and safe…but also sporty and enjoyable in the way of say the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo.
Our only real criticism was the steering feel. Again this was recalibrated for Australia and gives great feedback in corners, but we felt the ‘straight-ahead’ and ‘initial movement’ feel wasn’t quite as precise.
Kia Rio Challenges
Apart from that minor steering feel observation, our only other points deduction was tyre noise – not so much on smooth freeways and in the city, but over the often poor, coarse-chip-sealed secondary back roads around the NSW Hunter Valley.
Kia Rio Verdict
It’s no fluke Kia Rio has scooped lots of awards – this is a world-class compact car. We love the looks and the stylish interior, the on-road dynamics are very impressive, the three-door and sedan models add extra options and the value-for-money is beyond question.
The list of ‘Great Cars’ in the compact class is extensive, but if you’re shopping in this league, the Kia Rio is a ‘Must Include’ on your list.
Kia Rio The Competition
Volkswagen’s recently updated Polo has also bagged lots of international and local awards and while the starting price is still north of $16,000, the all-round quality and competence of the Polo in both three-door and five-door versions is beyond reproach. Against that, Polo’s naturally aspirated 1.4-litre engine (63kW/132Nm) is a fair way shy of Kia Rio’s 103kW/167Nm 1.6-litre.
Hyundai’s sister company Hyundai steps up to the plate with the excellent i20, priced from $15,490. However when you move upscale in the i20 lineup, Kia Rio’s 1.6-litre engine overshadows the 1.4-litre-only i20 range.
Ford’s Fiesta, with its German origins, is a compact car star in both sedan and hatchback guise, but with no three-door, the $16,990 starting price doesn’t match Kia Rio’s $15,290. Ford Fiesta’s 88kW/151Nm 1.6-litre petrol engine is also out-gunned by Kia Rio’s 1.6-litre, but of course Fiesta does have the superb 66kW/200Nm turbo-diesel.
Toyota’s all-new Yaris is a beauty and the three-door model is very sharply priced at $14,990. However Toyota’s 1.3-litre and 1.5-litre engines don’t match Kia’s 1.6-litre.
Mazda2 looms as a real contender, priced from $15,790. Mazda too is outgunned with the 2’s 1.5-litre engine delivering 76kW/137Nm and the interior doesn’t match the Kia Rio style - but for on-road dynamics the Mazda2 gives the Rio a run for its money.
Honda Jazz is great value priced from $14,990.