Kia Rio hatch and sedan: Local Launch

words - Feann Torr
New 'halo' variant adds primo feel to new three-door hatch, while the four-door sedan brings a touch of sensibility to the table

Local Launch

Hunter Valley,
New South Wales

What we liked
>> Confident handling
>> Assertive design, inside and out
>> Real-world fuel economy

Not so much
>> Cerato hatch pricing too close
>> No manual release on boot lid
>> Leather for three-door hatch only

-- Expanding horizons
Let's get to the point -- the reborn Kia Rio is one of the standout vehicles in the extremely competitive light car segment. It scored highly in our light car megatest and was one of the team's favourite cars of 2011.

Expanding the Rio range to three body types, Kia has just launched the four-door sedan and three-door hatch variants, designed to broaden the Rio's appeal across a wider range of buyers -- particularly fleet buyers with the sedan, and younger male drivers with the sporty three-door hatch.

-- Feature-packed, value for money
Launched September 2011, the five-door hatch is expected to remain big seller, by commanding 75 per cent of all Rio sales in Australia. And what made that car so easy to like has been transferred to the three- and four-door Rios.

The fresh styling is there -- with subtle changes to the more conservative sedan -- along with a strong standard feature list, plenty of safety equipment and a good ride/handling package. Though it's not the most affordable car in its class (see the Holden Barina Spark and Suzuki Alto) the Kia remains attractively priced with the entry-level three-door starting at $15,290 for the six-speed manual.

Amongst the standard kit is Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, along with a USB plug to charge your phone or audio device, steering wheel audio controls, front electric windows and (heated) mirrors, central locking, stability control, six airbags, air conditioning and 15-inch steel wheels with a full-sized spare. The Rio S is powered by a 1.4-litre petrol engine.

All variants are offered with automatic gearboxes, adding $2000 to the sticker price.

Next in line is the so-called 'halo' model, the three-door Kia Rio SLS, which is priced at $19,990 and adds plenty of eye-candy, like chunky 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime driving lights, fog lights, LED brake lights, dual chrome exhaust pipes, larger front brakes, and a more powerful 1.6-litre engine.

The interior of the Rio SLS is more luxurious too, with leather seats, climate control, cruise control, rain sensing wipers, detailed LCD trip computer, light-sensing projector-beam headlights, an improved stereo, soft-touch plastics, and proximity sensing 'smart' key as standard.

The four-door sedan, meanwhile, is offered in just one variant, the Si. Priced at $19,690 (oddly more expensive than the $19,390 Cerato sedan) it sits between the entry-level S and uber-sporty SLS hatch models.

The Si gets everything from the S variant but adds 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, cruise control, leather steering wheel, centre console armrest, two rear doors and a larger boot.

-- Korean tech that will move you
The Rio sedan is offered with just one engine, a class-leading direct injection 1.6-litre GDi four-cylinder, DOHC, dual CVVT unit, which pumps out 103kW/167Nm while consuming a miserly 6.1L/100km (5.6L/100km for the manual).

As a guide, many of the Rio's rivals in the light car class output around the 80 or 90kW mark, so Kia's doing well to generate 103kW and the proof is in the pudding -- the car motivates smartly. It even has a top speed of 190km/h.

The manual gearbox is a six-speed unit with a progressive shift feel which is light and smooth, while the auto is a new six-speed torque-convertor unit that is some 12kg lighter than its predecessor and has fewer moving parts. It’s used on most of Kia's cars, including the Optima and Sorento.

The three-door hatch is offered with two engines, the 1.6 mentioned above, which is standard with the SLS, and the entry-level 1.4-litre unit, a less sophisticated but adequate motor for the budget-focussed S model.

The 1.4-litre donk doesn’t get the direct fuel injection system of the 1.6 but outputs 79kW/135Nm which, when paired with the manual, still has the potential to deliver a stirring drive with a top speed of 183km/h. The auto option is an older (read: cost effective) four-speed box.

The 1.4 multipoint injection engine consumes fuel at a rate of 6.3L/100km (5.7L/100km for the manual) -- slightly thirstier than the more sophisticated 1.6 four-banger.
The Kia Rio's chassis, suspension and brakes are identical to the five-door hatch variants, with independent MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam axle at the rear. Kia fine tunes the suspension of all its Australian vehicles to suit the local conditions.

Brakes consist of 256mm vented front discs for the entry-level hatch and one-grade-fits-all sedan, with 262mm discs at the rear. The three-door Rio SLS hatch however gets beefier 280mm front discs for a little more retardation when you hit the stoppers.

There's an electric power-assisted steering rack and the turning circle of 10.5 metres is neither class leading nor particularly poor.

-- Good things come in small packages
The Rio's interior has a modern look, with attractive HVAC dials, a quartet of contemporary toggle switches and a red backlight at night. There's even seatbelt arms that make it easier to reach the belts, a feature you normally see on prestige cars.

A good looker, the Rio hatch presents a European-inspired exterior design and attractive proportions that lend it a sporty posture. It's modern too, with 17-inch alloy wheels and LED lights on the SLS Rio.

The four-door sedan has a slightly more conservative front-end treatment, which Kia says is tailored to its target market of government, fleet and more mature-aged buyers.

While the three-door hatch is identical in dimensions to the five-door -- 4045mm long, 1720mm wide -- the sedan is longer and offers more boot space.

The sedan measures 4365mm bumper-to-bumper, 320mm longer than its stablemates, and gets 389 litres of boot space as a result. This compares to 288 litres in the hatch models.

The rear seats have enough headroom for a six-foot-tall person to sit upright and though legroom isn't bad, you can't put your feet under the front seats which lifts your thighs off the seat squab.

For a light car, rear seat room isn't bad and most of the vehicles it competes with exhibit similar limitations. Front-seat room on the other hand is ample, with plenty of leg room.

The view out of the car is also good, and with a tilt/reach adjustable steering column and height-adjustable driver's seat, the seating position is up to scratch.

Storage solutions are abundant, with a deep (and illuminated) glovebox, six beverage holders including small bottle holders in each door pocket, and cubbies underneath the stereo for your phone and wallet.

-- Non-negotiable protection
The Rio may be the smallest car in the Kia garage, but it adheres to Kia's "non-negotiable" safety mantra, with six airbags, stability control, anti-lock brakes and emergency brake assist standard across the range.

The Rio attains a five-star ANCAP safety rating, and hillstart assist control and electronic brakeforce distribution are also standard across the range.

-- About 30 of 'em...
The fact that Kia benchmarked the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo in terms of ride and handling, demonstrates how competitive it is in the popular light car segment. Cars like the Suzuki Swift, Mazda2, Holden Barina Spark, Skoda Fabia, Toyota Yaris and Hyundai i20 are also direct rivals.

Where Kia stands out is primarily in design and standard features, offering a smart looking, well-equipped package that appeals to the hip pocket as well as the eye.

-- Zippy and grippy
Kia went to great lengths at the local media launch of the Rio sedan and hatch to explain the extensive improvements made to the car's on-road dynamics. The hour and a half long chassis dynamics briefing went as far as to mention the reduction of shock absorber valve shims by 0.01mm. So was it all worth it? In a word, yes.

In a bold move on Kia's part, we drove the new cars on the same (very poor quality) roads the company uses to perform its noise, vibration and harshness, and general handling tests. We're talking ruts as far as the eye can see, dirt roads, mid-corner pot holes -- the works! And the Rio displayed impressive composure through most of it.

Forget that the Rio is easy to drive, has a pair of smooth shifting automatic gearboxes and a perky manual to boot. The fact it can reward the ambitious driver on really cruddy road surfaces thanks to  the local-tuning setup is the most impressive bit.

We first drove the entry-level 1.4-litre Kia S three-door hatch, packaged with a six-speed manual. The engine is responsive, the gear shift involving, and you can hit 90km/h in second gear. Indeed, the plucky little engine doesn't mind revving out.

The four-speed auto was a let-down in the S model, particularly when driven back-to-back with the newer, lighter, more refined six-speed auto, which delivered impressive acceleration when hooked up with the more powerful 1.6-litre engine in the SLS hatch and Si sedan.

This engine/gearbox combination delivers quick take offs and plenty of initial acceleration and proved adept at handling Sydney's stop start traffic. It was also a decent performer on the freeway, ticking over at 2000rpm in sixth gear at 100km/h, and managing a not-too-shabby 7.2L/100km.

The six-speed auto 'box did feel a little blunt compared to the manual but it's certainly an improvement on the four-speed auto cog swapper.

Steering the car was intuitive, though it could be accused of being too direct at times, particularly at lower speeds. The self-adjusting mechanism makes it a much nicer high-speed vehicle however.

The same argument can be levelled at ride quality. Though decent, it errs on the firmer side of compliant when driven at slower speeds. It's certainly not a deal breaker, and delivers good ride comfort for the most part, however you will feel most bumps on the road (oddly, the ride felt marginally better on models fitted with the lower-profile tyres on 17-inch alloy wheels).

The upshot of this 'firm' situation is confident handling, which should appeal to younger male drivers as Kia intended. It's a satisfying little car to drive hard and is remarkably sure-footed and capable at higher speeds.

There's good feedback through the wheels too, which means you won't have to dawdle through tight turns.

While the Rio sedan is appealing for its pragmatism and jovial persona, the range-topping Rio SLS three-door hatch is the pick of the bunch. It's got a fun-to-drive quality that's matched by few rivals.

But it's the icing on top that's going to get buyers to take a closer look -- the leather seats, the stylish exterior, LED driving lights, the list goes on.

Kia's top brass said they want to attract more male buyers to the Rio, and the three-door SLS hatch should definitely help them achieve that goal.

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Published : Friday, 10 February 2012
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