2012 Kia Rio SLi Five-door Automatic Review Photo:
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Tony O'Kane | Sep, 01 2011 | 4 Comments

What’s Hot: Six-speed auto, cabin design, pricetag, driving dynamics
What’s Not: Tyre and wind noise, rearward visibility
X-Factor: With both dollar value, and fun-to-drive, the new Rio comes with unexpected charisma

Vehicle Style: 5-door light hatchback
Price: $21,990

Fuel Economy (claimed): 6.1l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 6.8 l/100km



The arrival of the all-new 2012 Kia Rio gives the Korean automaker yet another sterling product to add to its rapidly-improving local line-up.

Quality, refinement and drive have improved so much that the new Rio is incomparable to the old one, which was sold as a bargain-priced entry-level hatchback.

The range-topping Rio SLi variant is particularly good, and although priced well over the $20,000 mark (in automatic form), it’s more than competitive against other ‘premium’ light hatches.



Quality: The 2012 Rio’s cabin is world’s apart from the previous model in terms of quality. Soft-touch dash plastics, solid switchgear and improved build-quality put the new Rio at the front of the light car segment for interior ambience.

Our only complaint is that there isn’t anything inside the cabin to differentiate the top-spec SLi from the mid grade Si.

Comfort: The driver’s seat position is quite high, but a tilt/reach adjustable steering wheel and plentiful headroom make it easy to get comfortable behind the wheel.

The rear seats are nicely sculpted and reasonably comfortable, but a rising beltline severely limits outward visibility for children. The driver’s over-the-shoulder vision is also compromised by the chunky C-pillar.

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: Boot space measures in at 288 litres with the rear seats up, and 923 litres with the seatbacks folded.



Driveability: The SLi’s 1.6 litre direct-injection four cylinder is smooth and refined-enough in normal driving, but lacks torque in the mid-range. It needs more than 4500rpm on the dial if you really want some urge out of it on hills, overtaking and on freeway on-ramps.

The spec sheet may show 103kW and 167Nm, but it feels less powerful than those numbers suggest. We put that down to its relatively hefty kerb weight of 1215kg.

The Rio’s automatic gearbox though is one of the better ones in the light class, with six ratios and a manual shift-mode. The six-speed compensates somewhat for the engine’s lack of torque, and kickdowns are quick.

The automatic prefers to keep revs low, and quickly moves up through the gears. To keep the engine on the boil in hilly terrain, it’s best to use the manual shift mode.

Refinement: A lot of tyre noise finds its way into the cabin, and we noticed an annoying whistle from around the driver’s wing mirror. The engine can sound a bit harsh at high revs, but remains balanced and vibration-free.

Suspension: Ride quality is quite good, and a testament to the effort of Kia Australia’s engineers in localising the Rio’s suspension for our roads.

A thicker front swaybar reduces roll and unique damper rates keep the ride smooth and controlled. It’s a bit jittery on corrugations, but even on the SLi’s big 17-inch alloys the Rio’s ride comfort is great.

The electric power steering is responsive, although feedback is lacking a little. A 10.5 metre turning circle is handy for tight quarters.

Braking: SLi models get a larger front brake package than the S and Si variants (280mm rotors compared to 258mm rotors), and thanks to the grip of its Continental tyres (other models roll on Kumhos) the Rio is capable of stopping very quickly.



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: 5 years/unlimited km

Service costs: TBC.



Mazda2 Genki automatic - ($22,145): Well-built and a delight to drive, the Genki’s only real weak points are its antiquated four-speed auto and lack of Bluetooth and USB inputs.

Its 76kW power output is also at the lower end of the scale. (see Mazda2 reviews)

VW Polo 77TSI Comfortline DSG - ($22,350): Its 77kW may not sound like much, but the Polo’s 1.2 litre turbocharged engine puts out a grunty 175Nm of torque - arguably the more important metric in urban driving.

Build quality is superb, and the Polo’s driving dynamics are excellent. USB and Bluetooth aren’t standard though, and the Polo’s options list is pricey. (see Polo reviews)

Ford Fiesta Zetec ($22,990) - A punchy 89kW/151Nm 1.6 litre inline four and an entertaining chassis endear the Fiesta to keen drivers, and its standard equipment list is sprinkled with many mod-cons.

Interior quality isn’t up to the standard of the Polo or the Rio though. (see Fiesta reviews)

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



Kia has made a bold move by taking the Rio nameplate upmarket - the SLi is now just $360 shy of VW’s Polo 77TSI Comfortline DSG - but this is a genuinely good product.

The SLi flagship packs a lot of equipment for its $21,990 asking price, and tackles established European and Japanese machinery for value while equalling them for build quality and driving dynamics.

The Rio, like the Optima and Sportage, will surely do much to change buyer perceptions about the Kia brand. The only question is, can Kia Australia secure enough Rios to satisfy demand?

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