Kia's 'little Titan' supermini is Rio grand
The Rio supermini is Kia's biggest player on the world stage so no wonder it has put so much effort into this more grown-up fourth-generation range, says motoring editor Andy Russell.
If ever a model summed up Kia’s rise to stardom it’s the Rio supermini, the model it calls a ‘little Titan’.
Eclipsed by the cee’d hatchbacks and estate and Sportage crossover in the UK, globally the Rio is the Korean car-maker’s best-seller with nearly 475,000 sales annually – almost one in every six.
No wonder Kia has put so much effort turning the Rio from the rather dumpy, dated original to the all-new fourth-generation model. Now one of the more stylish superminis, it doesn’t look out of place in a class dominated by the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and Volkswagen Polo and is great value with generous kit across the board and that seven-year/100,000-mile warranty.
Instantly recognisable as a Kia, with the brand’s distinctive ‘tiger nose’ grille, this latest Rio looks and feels more polished and mature – the biggest and most spacious so far, with new turbo petrol engines, a full connectivity package, advanced driver aids and reworked suspension and steering for a more grown-up feel.
In line with customer demand and other manufacturers’ thinking, it’s now only a five-door while a longer wheelbase and bonnet, combined with a lower roofline and more upright back end, make it look more athletic.
Under the bonnet
Revised 83bhp 1.25 and new 98bhp 1.4-litre petrol and 76 and 89bhp 1.4-litre turbo diesel engines are joined by a new 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol in 99 and 118bhp guises.
The 99bhp version goes in mid-spec Rio 2 and 3, the 118bhp unit is reserved for the First Edition launch flagship, driven here.
Whichever you choose, it’s a characterful companion and you’ll love all the pull from 1,500 to 4,000rpm – the real-world rev range – for punchy mid-range performance. But real-world economy is a mite disappointing compared to rival tiny turbo units with 45-48mpg no matter how I drove it.
How it drives
The Rio benefits from a new platform and stiffer structure but the sensitive, low-speed ride means you are always aware of what’s going on beneath the wheels especially with the bigger 17in wheels, accompanied by tyre roar and even some suspension noise over roadwork scars and potholes. The ride improves with speed but it’s not as supple as the class leaders - a great shame because in all other respects the Rio is very refined.
The trade-off of the firmer suspension is agile handling and fine body control in corners and, combined with responsive steering, the Rio is rewarding enough to have some fun through the twists and turns
Space and comfort
As superminis go, the Rio is a front-runner in the space race with that longer wheelbase contributing to a more spacious cabin with the increased leg and shoulder room near the top of the class.
It can carry four large adults with relative ease and six-footers front and rear won’t feel the squeeze. The same can’t be said for three across the back seat - fine for children, cosy for adults.
It’s also got a huge, flat-sided boot compared with most rivals, having grown 13% to a very accommodating 325 litres. The only issue is a high sill and, while the 60/40 rear seat backs lay flat, there’s a big step up from the boot floor and there’s some storage in what would be the spare wheel well around the tyre inflation kit.
At the wheel
A good range of adjustment to crank the seat up and down, and the steering wheel also in and out, means short and tall drivers won’t have problems getting comfortable.
Nor will the simple fascia give them any grief with clear dials, simple rotary controls and push buttons for the heating and ventilation and, on top models, seven-inch touchscreen sat-nav.
It’s not as plush inside as class leadedrs – hard plastics abound but are nicely textured and feel durable. The range-topping First Edition gets a red panel across the fascia and doors, picked up with red stitching on the red and black faux leather upholstery –eye-catching but not to everyone’s taste.
Storage space is good with a large glovebox, decent doorbins and lots of cubbyholes
Kia’s Rio just gets better and better – it’s gone from budget-buy also-ran to a serious contender that’s still good value when it comes to pricing, kit and warranty. It’s not quite up there with the front runners but it’s fast closing the gap.
SPEC AND TECH
Price: Kia Rio First Edition 1.0 T-GDi £17,445 (range from £11,995)
Engine: 998cc, 118bhp, three-cylinder turbo petrol
Performance: 0-62mph 9.8 seconds; top speed 118mph
MPG: Urban 50.4; extra urban 67.2; combined 60.1
CO2 emissions: 107g/km
Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 20%
Insurance group: 9 (out of 50)
Warranty: Seven years or 100,000 miles
Will it fit in the garage? L 4,065mm; W (including door mirrors) 1,993mm; H 1,445mm