Maybe you’re looking at your first car as a new driver, or perhaps your family needs a second runabout to ease the burden on your primary transport - these are just some of the situations that might lead you to look at a low-cost car like the Kia Rio.
Cars in the Rio’s segment and price range used to be characterised by their bare-bones basicness, but these days buyers expect more across the board from safety to technology - and they’re getting it too.
While it might look simple - particularly in basic white - the new Rio build on its status lifting predecessor and is good enough to give competitors something to worry about.
Vehicle Style: Light hatch
Price: $16,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 74kW/133Nm 1.4-litre 4cyl | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.6 l/100km | Tested: 6.1 l/100km
Kia offers the Rio in a three-variant range starting with the entry-level Rio S tested here, with incrementally specced up Si and SLI variants also available.
The Rio now comes exclusively as a five-door, there’s just one engine across the range too; a 74kW 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol. In the base-mosel rio there’s a choice of six-speed manual or four-speed auto, but all others are auto only.
Pricing kicks off from $16,990 plus on-road costs (excluding special offers) for the Rio S manual, but realistically the Rio S auto is better value from $17,490 diveaway.
- Standard Equipment: Cloth seat trim, urethane steering wheel, air conditioning, remote central locking, height-adjustable driver's seat, 15-inch steel wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen, AM/FM radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, Bluetooth, Aux and USB inputs, six-speaker audio
- Cargo Volume: 325 litres to rear seats, 980 litres to front seats
Excitingly even in its most basic form the Rio includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth and iPod compatibility. Although there’s no navigation, plugging a compatible smartphone in does the same job if you need it.
Otherwise the Rio is is a fairly basic proposition with cloth seats, manual air conditioning, and plenty of hard plastics throughout the interior. Items like cruise control aren't included but power windows and intermittent wipers are.
The design is contemporary and rather handsome, even if it is a little unexciting, and initial impressions suggest that most surfaces should pass the test of time - arguably something more important than an added veneer of luxury.
It’s also nice to see a full-size centre console and armrest where some competitors miss out, and a useful array of storage areas scattered throughout the cabin.
While it may only be compact on the outside, the interior of the Rio is surprisingly spacious. The front seats feel as spacious as some cars from the next size-class up while the rear will comfortably accommodate two adults for urban trips without discomfort, or the need for any kind of contortion to fit.
The boot is a handy size too, with 325 litres available to the rear seats trumping the available space of most of its competitors, with split-folding rear seats to accommodate larger items when required.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 1.4-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol, 74kW at 6000rpm, 133Nm at 4000rpm
- Transmission: Six-speed manual, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: 256mm vented front discs, 262mm solid rear discs
- Steering: Electric power steering, 10.2m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 1000kg braked, 450kg unbraked, 75kg towball download
Kia has carried over the 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine from the previous Rio for the new generation car, with 74kW of power and 133Nm of torque.
As far as similarly-priced entry level light hatches go, it’s a competitive engine (yes there are both more- and less-powerful alternatives) and it does a fine job of urban commuter duties.
Although it lacks little punch from low in the rev range, the engine soon becomes willing and will happily amble along in city traffic, with just enough zest to keep up with flowing traffic and enough nimbleness to not feel daunting in tighter streets.
While most buyers are sure to opt for the available four-speed automatic, the six-speed manual has its advantages, feeling more responsive and being easy to operate thanks to a light clutch and gear shift action.
Work the Rio a little harder and the engine can rasp in protest with a few passengers on board, or under the instruction to work higher in the rev range, something that often becomes necessary to extract the best from the modest package.
Otherwise the rio does well on Aussie roads thanks to suspension that was specifically calibrated to match local conditions and driving preferences, meaning respectable control over everything from low-speed speed humps to high-frequency corrugations at highway speeds.
Open road cruising may not be the Rio’s natural environment, with added road and wind noise, and a lack of torque to keep up the pace over hilly roads, but the compact five-door can still reel of country road kilometres when required without feeling entirely out of place.
ANCAP Rating: 5 stars - the Kia Rio scored 35.52 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2017.
Safety Features: All Kia Rio variants come with six airbags, load-limiting front seatbelt pretensioners, electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, a rearview camera and rear park sensors, and two ISOFIX child restraint anchor points.
Advanced safety features like autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, or driver fatigue detection are not yet available on any variant of the Rio range.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Seven years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Kia's capped price servicing covers the first seven years or 105,000km of ownership with 12 month/15,000km intervals (whichever comes first). Prices vary between $226 for the least expensive service up to $561 for the four year/60,000km major service which includes items like brake fluid and cabin filters (some competitors charge separately for these items). Your Kia dealer can explain full terms, conditions, and exclusions of the program.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Suzuki does a fantastic job of making light and frugal cars that also handle very well. Like the Rio the cheapest Swift is quite a basic package, to the point the manual version misses out on smartphone compatible touchscreen infotainment.
Toyota has a small advantage on price with the Yaris Ascent, and also allows autonomous emergency braking to be added as an option (which is definitely worth considering) but the package is much older overall, the rear seat is more cramped, and the design and infotainment are both dated.
The Hyundai Accent keeps hanging on in the Australian market and presents great value with one of the more powerful engines for its class and a healthy standard features list. It may not look as fresh as the Rio (or Swift)but it should appeal to the hip-pocket.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
It’s simple, it’s subtle, and it does exactly what it needs to do. The Kia Rio doesn’t try to be extravagant, but even with a fairly basic package the rio surprises with an industry-best seven-year warranty and inclusions like Apple and Android smartphone screen mirroring.
The thing that Kia potentially most needs to address is the lack of autonomous emergency braking, something that its own, slightly cheaper Picanto does feature. While the brand has claimed a fix is on the cards, no timeline has yet been stipulated.
It may not be the cheapest of Australia’s cut-price offerings, but value still works in the Rio’s favour. It may not excite, but for the most part it gets the crucial basics right.