Kia Rio: Launch Review

words - Matt Brogan
Well packaged and well priced the new Kia Rio does more than turn heads...

Kia Rio

Local Launch
Barossa Valley, South Australia
What we liked
>> Gender neutral styling
>> Road holding and ride compromise
>> Strong 1.6-litre direct-injected engine

Not so much
>> Only one non-metallic colour offered
>> Some road noise from 17-inch alloy/tyre combo
>> C-pillar and high shoulder line compromise visibility

More photos of the new Kia Rio at

>> Design changes more than skin deep
Following its all-singling, all-dancing debut at this year's Australian International Motor Show, Kia has this week revealed its fourth-generation Rio to local media.

Penned by Sportage and Sorento designer Massimo Frascella, the newest member of the Kia family receives the Peter Schreyer designed corporate grille and confident sculpting treatment familiar elsewhere in the Kia line-up.

Longer, wider and lower than its predecessor, Rio's ground-up re-engineering also sees its wheelbase extended by 70mm (to 2570mm). Combined with clever packaging the practical result is greatly improved interior and cargo space.

Rio is offered in three trim levels (S, Si and SLi), the choice of two petrol engines, and is available with the choice of manual or automatic transmissions across the range.

Indoors, Rio's driver-orientated decor follows the signature interior architecture now seen across the Kia range. A horizontal 'three-cylinder' instrument panel -- also familiar to Sportage, Cerato, Sorento, Soul, et al – is said to "accentuate the feeling of width and space", while centrally-mounted toggle switches offer precise control of the car's heating and ventilation secondary functions.

The Kia Rio five-door hatch is the first variant to arrive Down Under. Three-door hatch and four-door sedan variants will be offered from the first quarter of 2012.
>> More meat, less fat
Across the range, Rio is offered with a generous equipment list that challenges many same-sector rivals' larger sticker prices.

As standard, and even on base-model Rio S, the 'light' categorised hatch is equipped with tilt and reach steering column adjustment, seatbelt reminders, dual vanity mirrors, powered and heated wing mirrors, grey/black cloth upholstery, four-function trip computer, (manual) air conditioning, power windows, intermittent wipers, 60:40 split-fold rear seats and a big-car-style flip key.
The base audio package is a four-speaker, single-CD tuner which includes steering wheel-mounted remote controls, USB and 3.5mm auxiliary inputs as well as Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming (both of which may we add are very easy to pair and operate).

This is upgraded to an Arkamys six-speaker audio package on Rio Si and SLi. Also standard on these models is cruise control, while top-spec SLi adds single-zone climate control.

Outside, all models receive body-coloured wing mirrors, bumpers and door handles, integrated rear spoiler and chrome grille. To dress things up, and depending on model grade, front fog lamps are also available.

Rio's colour palette now extends to ten different shades, nine of which are metallic and charged as an option at $400. White is the only non-metallic tone.

The new Kia Rio five-door hatch is priced as follows:

- Rio S $16,290 (man) / $18,290 (auto)
- Rio Si $18,990 (man) / $20,990 (auto)
- Rio SLi $19,990 (man) / $21,990 (auto)

Rio is backed by a comprehensive five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

>> Five doors and two petrol fours
The all-new Rio five-door hatch is offered with a choice of two four-cylinder petrol engines. The manual-only turbodiesel Rio offered in some overseas markets is not expected to make it to Oz.

The smaller 1.4-litre (1396cc) unit uses variable valve timing to deliver 79kW at 6300rpm and 135Nm at 4200rpm. It is mated to either a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy returns are listed at 5.7L/100km and 6.3L/100km respectively, while CO2 emissions are 135g/km and 150g/km.

On the performance side of the equation, the 1.4 'Gamma' engine accelerates Rio from 0-100km/h in 11.5 seconds for the manual and 13.2 seconds for the automatic.

For those chasing better performance and (remarkably) economy, Rio is also offered with a 1.6-litre (1591cc) petrol engine. This class-leading unit outputs 103kW at 6300rpm and 167Nm at 4850rpm and is offered with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel consumption for Rio 1.6 'Gamma' engine is, thanks to direct-injection and variable valve timing, lower than its 1.4 multipoint sibling at 5.6L/100km for the manual and 6.1L/100km for the automatic.

CO2 emissions are recorded at 133g/km and 143g/km.

Acceleration times are also improved against the 1.4 with the manual and auto transmission options posting 10.2 and 10.3 seconds respectively for the 0-100km/h run.

Both 1.4 and 1.6 versions of the Rio five-door are suspended by a MacPherson sturt front/coupled torsion beam rear arrangement with coil springs and gas-filled shock absorbers.

According to Kia, Rio's suspension has been specifically tuned for "local optimisation". Of note, shock absorber and steering tune as well as the fitment of a 22mm front stabliser bar are exclusive to the Australian tune.

Steering duties are handed by an electrically-assisted rack and pinion system offering 2.82 turns lock-to-lock and a minimum turning circle of 10.52 metres. Kia claims the unit trims as much as 3 per cent from the car's fuel consumption figure against the former hydraulically-assisted arrangement.

To further save fuel, manual models are fitted with a gearshift indicator (telling you when to change gears) while automatic models have an ECO light to show when fuel efficient driving is achieved.

All versions of the Kia Rio five-door hatch feature a drag coefficient of 0.32Cd.

All Rio five-door grades are offered with four-wheel disc brakes, though up-spec SLi benefits from larger diameter 'Sports' discs up front (280mm versus 256mm).

Across the line-up, three wheel and tyre combinations are offered with entry-level Rio S fitted with 15-inch steel rims and 185/65R15 Kumho or Hankook tyres; mid-spec Rio Si 16-inch alloy rims with 195/55R16 Kumho or Hankook tyres and top-spec Rio SLi fitted with 17-inch alloy rims and 205/45R17 Continental rubber. All models offer a full-size matching spare wheel.

Rio five-door hatch is fitted with a 43-litre fuel tank and will operate comfortably on 91RON (regular) unleaded petrol.

>> Good things, small packages
Making the most of the available space in a light hatch can be a tricky feat. Fortunately, Kia has succeeded with the new Rio, extracting a small to midsize feel from the front seat and, all things considered, generous rear climes.

The Rio five-door measures 4045mm in length by 1720mm in width (excluding the wing mirrors) and is now 1455mm high for a sleeker, sportier look. The front are rear track are almost square, measuring in at 1521 and 1525mm respectively, and as mentioned earlier, the wheelbase is also extended by 70mm.

These measurements see Rio grow 20mm in length and 25mm in width while shrinking 15mm in height when compared to the previous model. To put Rio in perspective, the current Ford Fiesta five-door hatch is 21mm longer, 2mm wider and 18mm taller. The difference in wheelbase is 81mm in Rio's favour.

The upshot here is that the cabin and cargo area are afforded more space with which to occupy. In front Rio offers 1015mm of headroom, 1350mm shoulder space and 1112mm of legroom (a notable 34mm increase against the predecessor). Taller drivers are well catered for, the seat's long travel and adjustable steering column allowing the ideal driving position to be set with ease.

In the rear, Rio offers 960mm of headroom, 1324mm of shoulder space and 790mm of legroom. All three rear seats offer lap/sash seatbelts, headrests, child seat anchor points and are offered with 60:40 split fold capability.

Again using Fiesta as a yard stick, Rio comes in with greater front and rear head, shoulder and legroom.

Cargo capacity, with the seats in place and to window height, is measured at 288-litres (VDA). This is seven litre less than Fiesta with 295-litres.

Oh, and just wait until you see the size of the glovebox.

The new Rio weighs in at 1143kg for the manual 1.4 through to 1215kg for the auto 1.6. Maximum braked towing capacity is rated at 1150kg on the 1.6 manual.

>> Full safety score expected
Offered as standard in all new Rio grades are stability and traction control systems, seatbelt reminders, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and hill-hold function.

As stated earlier, all five seating positions receive three-point seatbelts and anti-whiplash head restraints, the front pews' seatbelts adding pyrotechnic pretensioners and force limiters. Child seat anchor points are fitted in all three rear seat positions.

Six airbags (front, side and curtain) are also offered across the model range, with top-spec Rio SLi adding dusk-sensing projection headlamps with LED daytime running lamps, rear LED combination lamps and headlamp cornering functionality.

The new Rio is yet to be tested by ANCAP with Kia Australia saying they expect a five-star result before the year's end.
>> The baker's dozen
With 13 manufacturers all vying for a piece of the light car pie, the new Korean kid on the block is up against some pretty stiff competition, at least where pricing is concerned.

Flanked at its lower end by bargain basement models, Rio S is likely to go up against the Chinese-built Chery J1 and Geely MK (both priced at $11,990), Korean-built Holden Barina Spark ($12,490 - $14,490), Thai-built Nissan Micra ($12,990 - $18,990), Malaysian-built Proton Savvy ($12,990 - 14,990) and S16 ($11,990 - $15,990), as well as the Indian-built Suzuki Alto ($11,790 - $13,990).

In its middle reaches, Rio Si could conceivably face Korean cousin Hyundai and its new i20 ($15,490 - $23,490), Thai-built Honda Jazz ($14,990 - $20,990), Proton's Satria ($13,990 - $18,990), Persona ($14,990 - $18,990) or Gen.2 ($15,990 - $21,990) and the soon to be updated Toyota Yaris (currently $14,990 to $21,790).

While at the top-end of the range, Rio SLi has the likes of Thai-built Ford Fiesta ($16,990 - $24,990) and Honda City ($18,990 - $23,490), Korean-built Hyundai Accent ($16,990 - $22,990), Japanese-built Mazda Mazda2 ($15,790 - $22,590) and Mitsubishi Colt ($16,490 - $18,490) and South African-built Volkswagen Polo ($16,690 - $28,990).

If the previous model Rio's sales figures are anything to go by, and indeed the amount of car on offer at this price, the new model should encounter no issues in grabbing its fair chunk of the light hatch segment.

Kia estimates it will sell between 600 and 700 Rios a month from launch, but says it may experience some supply constraints early on. The model mix is expected to heavily favour the entry-level Rio S at 60 per cent with Rio Si to account for 35 per cent of sales and top spec Rio SLi just 5 per cent, Kia says.

To date, Kia has sold some 80,000 Rios in Australia.

>> A new benchmark in light hatch handling?
It's already obvious that the new UB series Rio has a lot to offer, and those purchasing from the spec sheet alone would not be disappointed. Fortunately, and unlike so many in this class, the driver-orientated buyer should also be pleased.

From the driver's seat, forward visibility is excellent, the A-pillar blindspot reduced by a smaller triangular piece of glass between the convergence to the door, similar to that seen on Honda Jazz.

The same cannot be said, however, for the rear three-quarter view which is hindered by a rising shoulder line and thick C-pillars when changing lanes or reversing from a 45-degree park. This combination could also obstruct the view of small children.

Otherwise, the driving position is excellent, the instruments sharp and concise and the centrally-mounted toggle switches easy to find when on the go. Of note, Rio's steering wheel is a particular highlight, both in terms of size and feel, a highlight in this class.

Rio's electrically-assisted power steering is well weighted and offers positive on-centre feel, but can take a moment to react when "tipping in" and is quite artificial of feel.

Driving 1.6-litre powered models at launch (the entry-level 1.4 are not yet available), we found the manual gearshift to be light and precise, and complemented in equal measure by a balanced clutch (a vast improvement over that experienced in Cerato and Koup models).

Automatic models are lively by comparison to others in this category, perhaps on par only with Fiesta's Powershift twin-clutch arrangement. Shifts are well timed and focussed, the occasional downshift taking a moment longer than it should to react when climbing steeper inclines.

Where power is concerned, new Rio is certainly ahead of most in this category, and although on paper its figures are class-leading, on-road the car feels no quicker than other class-leaders, such as Ford Fiesta or Mazda Mazda2.

The hilly drive route around the Barossa Valley (SA) was hardly ideal for gathering remarks on fuel consumption, but it did prove how far Rio's handling has come from the previous model.

New Rio grips tenaciously through winding roads, even in the wet, with no need for intervention from the stability control system. As a result, the car is dynamically on par with Suzuki Swift, Ford Fiesta or Mazda Mazda2, or dare we say, Volkswagen Polo. And considering the price difference here, we'd say is a potential class leader.

At the same time, the comfort side of the equation is not forgotten, Rio offering a terrific compromise here.

Even on brief stretches of unmade road, Rio was adamant in maintaining direction. Small corrugations and loose gravel did little to sway the car's planted feel, the odd large crater shaking the car's sportier tuned ride but never its confidence.

Road noise is certainly no worse than any other class rival, though the 17-inch alloys and their liquorice-strip rubber present a noticeable hum on coarse chip surfaces.

Engine noise is also evident at higher revs, but again, no worse than any other same-class competitor.

Confident braking in all models is bettered only by the top spec Rio SLi.

Read the latest Carsales Network news and reviews on your mobile, iPhone or PDA at the carsales mobile site

Published : Thursday, 1 September 2011
In most cases, attends new vehicle launches at the invitation and expense of vehicle manufacturers and/or distributors.

Editorial prices shown are a "price guide" only, based on information provided to us by the manufacturer. Pricing current at the time of writing editorial. Pricing prior to editorial dated 25 May 2009 may refer to RRP. Due to Clarity on Pricing legislation, RRP for those editorials now means "price guide". When purchasing a car, always confirm the single figure price with the seller of an actual vehicle.

^ If the price does not contain the notation that it is "Drive Away No More to Pay", the price may not include additional costs, such as stamp duty and other government charges. Please confirm price and features with the seller of the vehicle.

Opinions expressed with editorial material are those of the writer and not necessarily Ltd. editorial staff and contributors attend overseas and local events as guests of car manufacturers and importers.

Click here for further information about our Terms & Conditions