YOU may be surprised to learn that, globally, the Kia Rio is the Korean manufacturer’s best-seller – and this fourth-generation model looks set to continue the success with fresh styling, a new engine, impressive tech and, of course, Kia’s superb 7-year/100,000-mile warranty.
However, the supermini market is also super-competitive – especially in the UK – with the likes of the Ford Fiesta, VW Polo, Vauxhall Corsa, Skoda Fabia and Toyota Yaris all plying for punter’s hard-earned cash. So, unless it wants to remain an ‘also-ran’, the new Kia Rio needs to stand out for all the right reasons.
And it gets off to a good start on the looks front with a slightly lower stance than before, a longer bonnet and the new, slimmer and stretched “tiger grille” at the front – where you’ll also find sculpted bi-function headlights with U-shaped LED daytime running lamps.
It has a more traditional hatchback look than its predecessor, which was a little nondescript, and next to the opposition it looks very smart – especially in high-end GT-Line and GT-Line S trim with their twin exhausts, glossy black bodywork highlights and “ice-cube” front fog lights.
Inside the new Rio is where you’ll notice the biggest difference with a thoroughly modern looking cabin that has plenty of soft-touch materials. Mid-to-high-spec cars get a 7in infotainment screen as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Kia have been wise enough to provide separate controls for the heating and ventilation with solid-feeling buttons set into the central dash meaning you don’t get distracted when changing the temperature.
The interior is brighter too, thanks to a wider variety of materials than before and a central dash strip that is coloured rather than just another shade of black/grey. Overall, it doesn’t feel like you’re sat in a sub-£13k car, the Rio looks and feels classier.
Trim levels are comprehensive with ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, ‘GT-Line’ and ‘GT-Line S’.
Kia say the Rio 2 is expected to be the best-seller by some margin as it has everything you need plus quite a few extras.
Starting at £12,645 on-the-road, the entry-level ‘1’ features air conditioning, Bluetooth with music streaming, 3.8″ radio display with RDS plus USB and AUX ports, steering wheel mounted controls, Bi-Function projection headlights with LED daytime running lights, body-coloured bumpers, door mirrors and exterior door handles, front electric windows and remote central door locking with fold-away key.
The Kia Rio 2 (from £14,855) gains Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA) and Lane Departure Warning system, 7″ colour infotainment display with a 6-speaker audio system, 15″ alloy wheels, leather trimmed steering wheel and gearshift, cruise control and speed limiter, front and rear electric windows, reversing camera with guidelines and rear parking sensors.
Rio 3 models (from £17,435) get 7-inch touchscreen satellite navigation, automatic air conditioning, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 16″ alloy wheels, black faux leather upholstery, voice recognition, heated front seats and steering wheel, along with rain-sensing front wipers.
GT-Line models (from £16,940) get some sporty styling cues, including new front and rear bumpers, LED front and rear fog lights, 17-in alloys, aluminium pedals, sporty leather, flat-bottomed steering wheel, black cloth and faux leather upholstery with grey stitching and rear privacy glass.
Top-spec GT-Line S (from £18,435) gets all the GT-Line goodies but adds in Smart Key with start/stop button, auto air con, heated front seats and steering wheel and rain-sensing wipers.
The 3-door Rio is now defunct as Kia say the demand was minimal, so all new Rio’s are 5-door hatchbacks.
Rear space is on-par with the opposition, although headroom is a little better than most thanks to the Rio’s high(ish) roofline.
Boot space is very good at 325-litres – beating the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Corsa by some margin. It’s a decent shape too, so getting awkward-shaped objects in there shouldn’t be a problem. Although, it’s a pity the rear seats don’t fold entirely flat to make loading easier.
Engine choice on the Kia Rio is good with the introduction of Kia’s latest 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder petrol unit that provides either 99bhp (5-speed gearbox only) or 118bhp (6-speed manual or 7-speed DCT). It’s a cracking little engine that feels just at home on motorway runs as it does tootling around town.
There are 1.25 and 1.4 petrol units also available but the newer 1.0 is the more powerful and definitely the pick of the bunch.
My ride for the week was a Rio GT-Line S, equipped with a 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder unit (118bhp) mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox which handled everything I threw at it without ever feeling under-powered or under-whelming.
Okay, Ford’s Fiesta is more fun overall to drive on twisty roads but the little Rio comes close enough for it not to matter for most drivers. The Kia Rio’s extra space, value for money, interior refinement and rock-solid warranty will be enough to convince most punters that the Kia is a serious contender.
On the A-roads around the Peak District it kept up easily with traffic and darted around bends and up hills with aplomb. The engine is revvy without being intrusive which makes it fun to use. Only the rather dull steering spoilt the party a little but it’s certainly no deal-breaker.
The 6-speed gearbox shifts slickly enough and the exhaust note can be surprisingly fruity when the car is pushed hard – more so than in the equivalent Fiesta or Fabia.
I must admit that I wasn’t expecting much from the Kia supermini as the former models were a little dull – but I’ve been pleasantly surprised right from the moment I clapped eyes on the new Rio.
At last, Kia have a real contender in the fiercely-fought supermini sector.
AT A GLANCE:
Kia Rio 1.0 T-GDi GT-Line S
OTR Price: £18,435
Engine: 1.0 petrol
Power: 118 bhp
Transmission: 6-speed manual
0-62mph: 9.8 secs
Top Speed: 118 mph
Combined Economy: 47.1 mpg
C02: 117 g/km