2012 Kia Rio SLi Hatch Review Photo:
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Kez Casey | Oct, 04 2011 | 13 Comments


What’s Hot: Interior and exterior style, good dynamics.
What’s Not: Rearward visibility, wind and road noise.
X-Factor: A polished all-rounder that lifts the Rio beyond ‘basic transportation’.

Vehicle Style: 5-door light hatchback
Price: $19,990
Fuel Economy (claimed): 5.6 l/100 km
Fuel Economy (tested): 7.2 l/100 km



No longer is the light car just basic transportation. Kia’s 2012 Rio joins a growing list of light cars that shift the goal posts in terms of dynamics, style, performance and equipment.

In range-topping SLi trim, the Rio packs enough features and finesse to keep its Euro opposition on its toes - even some of the more fancied ones. And it does this while keeping the price of entry below $20,000 when equipped with a six speed manual.



Quality: Not only is the interior hugely-improved over the previous model, but it also out-shines Kia’s larger Cerato in terms of design and material quality.

Si and SLi models feature a soft-feel dash, there’s modern ventilation and audio controls and it all fits together snugly and securely.

The door trims however are still hard on the contact points (something somewhat common to the light car classes).

Comfort: Smaller framed occupants will love the perfect-fit front seats, but taller bodies will find the thigh-support short and the side-bolsters too narrow. Steering however adjusts for both tilt and reach.

A sculpted rear bench adds comfort in a surprisingly roomy rear row. The line of the C-pillar however swings low, meaning rear passengers need to take care stepping in and out. And, once inside the high window line limits visibility.

Equipment: Standard on the Rio SLi are LED daytime-running lamps, dusk-sensing headlamps, cruise control, trip-computer, air-conditioning, power windows, six-speaker sound system with USB/aux inputs, Bluetooth phone integration, electric folding wing mirrors, leather-upholstered multi-function steering wheel, front foglamps and 17-inch alloys.

Storage: There’s 288 litres of boot volume on offer with the rear seats in place stretching to 923 litres with the 60:40 rear bench folded.



Driveability: The 1.6 litre direct injection engine of the Rio Si and SLi is a perfect fit. It is smooth, revs freely, perky when pushed but still happy to pull from below 1000rpm.

Producing 103kW of power and 167Nm of torque, the numbers look good. From a quiet idle it builds revs quickly and never sounds strained towards the top end.

But, while brisk in normal driving, the Rio’s 1179kg weight can be felt in mid-gear acceleration.

Peak torque arrives late in the rev range so it needs to be pushed to really zing, hence our 7.2 l/100km fuel usage (KIa claims 5.6 l/100km).

Refinement: There’s a lot of tyre rumble from the Rio’s Continental rubber, it becomes noticeable from beyond 60km/h and up; wind noise joins in at freeway speeds as well.

Although the engine can become vocal at high revs, it remains surprisingly smooth and balanced. The gearshift is smooth through the gate and the clutch light enough for peak hour crawling while still providing sufficient feel.

Suspension: Rio’s front MacPherson strut and torsion beam rear axle are tuned specifically for Australian conditions. It features a thicker front swaybar and uniquely tuned dampers - handling is good, it really does seem to do the trick on secondary country roads.

Braking: SLi models run a larger front-brake package than lower spec variants (280mm rotors compared to 258mm rotors); coupled with rear discs and grippy tyres, the SLi has very good braking performance.



ANCAP rating: Not Tested.

Safety features: Front, front side, full-length curtain airbags. Stability control, traction control, ABS, brake assist, EBD, hill-start assist.



Warranty: Five years, unlimited kilometres.

Service costs: TBC



Ford Fiesta Zetec ($20,990) - The Fiesta may only offer 89kW but it still delivers punchy acceleration and offers an equally enticing equipment list. The interior isn’t quite as classy and the hard dash falls short of the Rio in comparison. (see Fiesta reviews)

Volkswagen Polo 77TSI ($19,850) - Fun to drive, solidly built with a well-crafted interior but a little more conservatively styled.

The Polo lacks some standard equipment but offers greater levels of refinement and greater torque from its 1.2 litre turbocharged engine. (see Polo reviews)

Suzuki Swift GLX ($18,990) - It may not pack the ‘flash’ of the Rio at first glance, but the Swift provides exceptional value and well-sorted handling. If power is a priority, the Swift is down by 33kW but is light enough to still feel sprightly. (see Swift reviews)

Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.



Despite being saddled with the same name as two lacklustre generations of Rio before it, this all-new model stands well apart from its predecessors.

Its styling, driving dynamics, build-quality and equipment-list puts this 2012 Kia Rio on par with its Japanese competitors and just a short step away from the class-leading Europeans.

It’s a good drive and certainly worth careful consideration. Demand will be high and limited supply means that this is one to get in line for quickly.

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