KIA'S RIO HAS TRADITIONALLY BEEN AMONG THE CHEAPEST IN THE LIGHT HATCH CLASS, BUT THAT’S NO LONGER THE CASE.
The Rio starts at $15,990 for the entry-model three-door S (plus on-road costs) - or about the same as everyone else’s five-door models - while an automatic five-door Rio S is $19,090. Sitting further above that is this SLi auto five-door at $22,990.
And, though priced at the upper end, however, it is bettered by many of its closest competitors when it comes to features.
But, on the plus side, it has had, and retains, one of the better-performing engines in the segment. It also offers some significant extra value in the form of Kia’s benchmark seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
Vehicle Style: Light hatch
Price: $22,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 103kW/167Nm 1.6-litre 4cyl petrol | six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.1 l/100km | tested: 9.3 l/100km
The current-generation Rio is three years old, which seems an eternity in this rapidly evolving class.
A testament to its original design, however, is the fact it still looks fresh. Kia clearly hasn’t felt the need to alter its styling because this facelift only gets a mild front and rear bumper tuck.
Adding a long warranty is smart, but high-ish pricing for the class isn’t teamed with a high level of standard equipment (see below).
- Standard equipment: Power windows and mirrors, keyless entry, multi-function trip computer, climate control air-conditioning, leather/cloth seat trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, luggage net, automatic variable intermittent wipers, auto-on/off headlights
- Infotainment: Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, AM/FM radio, CD player, 6 speakers
- Cargo volume: 288 litres
Viewed from the outside, the Kia Rio still looks classy and chiselled, even chunky.
Open the doors, and the interior feels among the most solid and best-finished in the class. Perhaps that’s no surprise when you note its 1171kg kerb weight – heavy for this segment – nor when you gaze over that inviting trim.
The front seats are broad for a light hatch, the nicely-tilted rear bench even more so compared with the flat backseat found in many rivals.
Space is generous for all passengers, while storage options are plentiful, including a large glovebox, a sizeable centre console bin and a bottle holder in each door.
Where the soft-touch plastics and tactile climate-controls successfully disguise the Rio’s age, its infotainment system betrays its vintage. For a vehicle costing north of $23k on-road, the basic monochromatic display is disappointing, as is the absence of sat-nav or even a reverse-view camera.
Compared with the middle-tier $21,490 Rio Si auto, for $1500 extra this SLi adds 17-inch alloy wheels (up from 16s), LED daytime lights with projector headlights, reverse parking sensors, auto on/off headlights and wipers, partial leather trim and climate control air-conditioning.
It’s a decent amount of equipment, however it’s also worth considering this: the $18,990 Hyundai Accent SR auto asks $2500 less than the Rio Si yet adds a touchscreen and auto on/off headlights.
The Rio has a smaller boot than the Accent (288 litres versus 370 litres) and isn’t any roomier, while both models share the same 1.6-litre engine.
Where Kia offers that engine with auto transmission only, Hyundai offers a six-speed manual in the Accent SR for $16,990 – that’s the same price as a Rio S five-door manual with a much less powerful 1.4-litre engine and daggy hubcaps instead of alloys.
Even Kia’s seven-year warranty, versus five years for the Hyundai, struggles to cover the value disadvantage.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 103kW/167Nm 1.6 litre naturally aspirated petrol four-cyinder
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering, Turning circle: 10.5m
The 1.6-litre direct injection four-cylinder petrol engine’s outputs of 103kW and 167Nm are outstanding for its capacity, however the respective power and torque are delivered at a peaky 6300rpm and 4850rpm.
As those points of the tachometer may suggest, this engine loves a rev and is flexible, but loud, when doing so.
The six-speed automatic gets a workout, but it is a slick-shifting unit and more intelligent than we remember compared to early versions of this Rio generation – it holds lower gears when hills are detected, for example.
The workout means the Rio’s engine needs to quench its thirst. As we found, its official combined-cycle fuel consumption of 6.1 l/100 kilometres can blow-out by as much as 50 percent in mixed driving conditions (we averaged a high-ish 9.3 l/100km).
For a little less money, the small turbocharged engines in the Renault Clio Expression and Volkswagen Polo 81TSI are more refined and efficient, as is the slightly dearer but very feisty Ford Fiesta Sport.
The Rio paved the way for Kia in terms of steering and suspension tune back in 2012, however, as with the infotainment system, it now falls below the class average.
Steering that is light and direct at speed turns heavy when trying to park quickly – the electric motor is a tad slow feeding in power assistance.
Through smooth corners the Rio SLi relies on the grip of its excellent Continental tyres, however add bumps and broken tarmac to the mix and the suspension struggles to keep its body in check, becoming both ‘crashy’ and floaty.
Likewise, around town this Kia skims over small imperfections in the road, but lollops over speed-humps and thumps through large potholes.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - The Kia Rio scored 34.99 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Six airbags including dual-front, front-side and full-length curtain, ABS and ESC, reversing sensors.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Fiesta Sport is the most fun to drive in the class. The Accent SR is the value pick, while the Mazda2 Genki offers the most funk and the Polo 81TSI the most class and refinement.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Even in its twilight years the Kia Rio remains a likeable proposition – handsome, roomy, reliable and with an outstanding warranty.
It is, however, now showing its age in key areas – namely infotainment and suspension refinement – and yet Kia has neither cut prices nor added equipment (as most car manufacturers do with older products; Hyundai with the Accent, for example).
But if you’re buying, that can work in your favour.
Clearly Kia dealers are taking to Rio pricing with ‘a red pen’, because it currently sits as the fifth most popular model in this sticker-sensitive segment.
If your heart is set on a Rio SLi five-door automatic, we’d point to the competition then seek a keen deal.
MORE: Kia News and Reviews