What is it? The new Kia Rio is the fourth generation of the brand’s global best-selling supermini.
Key features: Larger, more space, more efficient engines, connectivity.
Our View: The latest Kia Rio is a significantly updated model that, while it can’t match the driving dynamics of some rivals, outdoes most in space and value for money.
Type of Review: First UK drive.
The Kia Rio is not nearly as well-known on the UK market as it is globally. The supermini is the brand’s best seller across the world, shifting 475,000 each year, and can trace its lineage over four generations back to the Pride, which was really the first proper Kia model.
In the UK market, the Rio rates only fourth in the brand’s top ten, behind the Sportage, cee’d and Picanto. But it is Kia’s oldest nameplate in the UK, still accounts for around 12,000 sales a year and is crucial to the brand’s ambitions to hit annual UK volumes of 100,000 by the end of the decade.
So we now have a completely new Rio, replacing the model that has been around since 2011. The headlines are a larger car with more interior space, efficient new downsized engines, a totally revised chassis for more effective road manners, and of course all the latest connectivity and driver-aid tech that has now spread into the supermini segment from larger cars.
Kia Rio – outside and in
Visually the Mk4 Rio is, quite attractive actually. The latest styling language has been applied, principally the work of Kia’s European studio in Frankfurt and the American equivalent in California.
So we get the signature ‘tiger nose’ grille, which is longer and more slender than its predecessor, giving a greater impression of width. It is framed by sculpted projector headlamps and fog lamps, the latter standard across the range.
The shape of the shell is distinctly different – while 15mm longer than the outgoing model it also boasts a longer front overhang and bonnet, and a shorter rear overhang, plus a 10mm lower roofline, all of which adds up to a more purposeful appearance.
The wheelbase is extended, by 10mm, which naturally frees up more interior space, emphasised by more efficient packaging of the interior, along with wide-opening doors making for easy access. Sitting in the back it certainly feels roomy for a supermini.
There are big gains in the boot – the volume rises by 37 litres to 325 litres, which makes the Rio very competitive amongst its rivals. The Peugeot 208 offers some 40 litres less, the Hyundai i20 is 73 litres down and even Britain’s best-selling car the Ford Fiesta only manages 290 litres. Only the Skoda Fabia significantly outscores the Rio and then by just five litres.
Drop the rear seats and you can make use of 980 litres, while the boot is easy to load too, as the tailgate opening is 71mm wider and with a 26mm lower lip. However there is a step in the floorspace with the seats down.
Slip behind the wheel and if you know the previous Rio you will notice the better visibility, particularly behind the shoulders courtesy of rear screen pillars some 87mm narrower than the outgoing car.
The dash layout looks the part, especially on the upper trim levels which include a seven-inch touchscreen rather than a five-inch. And while the materials are not exactly soft touch, they add to a well put-together interior.
The new Rio launches with a powertrain choice ranging across six engines and three transmissions. There is a 1.4 diesel in outputs of either 77hp (replacing a previous three-cylinder 1.1 unit) or 90hp. Petrol choices range across the 1.25 84hp unit available in the previous Rio or a new 1.4 of 99hp, but the highlight is the new 1.0-litre T-GDi petrol engine.
Offered in 100 or 120hp outputs both returning torque figures of 171Nm, this new three-cylinder engine is part of Kia’s stated aim to cut its 2014 range average fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 25 per cent before the end of 2020.
This aim will partly be achieved by new technology such as plug-in hybrids, but downsizing and greater efficiencies will also play their part and the 1-litre engine gains a turbocharger and direct injection to boost its power and torque. While offering up to 21 horses more than the 1.4 unit, it also outstretches it on miles per gallon while producing CO2 emissions almost down to diesel levels.
On the road
The 99hp versions of the 1.0 are coupled to a five-speed manual transmission and are expected to prove the most popular engine in the Rio range, so on the launch event we tried this combination alongside the 1.4 diesel, which comes with a six-speed ‘box (as does the 120hp petrol unit specifically in range-topping ‘First Edition’ models). The only auto option is with the 1.4 petrol – it’s only a four-speed and carries significant economy and emissions penalties.
The 1-litre petrol engine is certainly impressive, especially in the mid range where it pulls strongly in similar fashion to the diesel. The gearbox could be slightly slicker in operation, but overall it’s a competent combination and makes the diesel’s perceived advantages, particularly in low-down pulling power, seem less obvious. Both engines are refined in their progress too, though road noise can get just a little intrusive for particularly rear-seat occupants.
Kia’s efforts to improve the Rio’s road manners include a shell increased in stiffness by 51 per cent, and significant revisions to the MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear suspension.
The result is a competent performance with a comfortable ride tending to the slightly firm side. It will more than suit the vast majority of Rio buyers, but those who really enjoy driving their car should go instead for a Fiesta or a Volkswagen Polo as the Rio is not exactly exciting to drive.
Four trim levels are available to UK buyers of the Rio, dubbed 1, 2, 3 and First Edition. The last is a range-topping model, the only way currently to get the higher-powered 1-litre turbo engine and we are told a limited-time model.
Equipment levels are impressive – even entry-level models, costing from £11,995, get air conditioning, front electric windows, remote locking, electric heated door mirrors, Bluetooth, auto lights, LED daytime running lights and cornering lights.
Grade 2 adds such niceties as 15-inch alloys, leather trim on the steering wheel, rear electric windows, folding mirrors, DAB radio, the five-inch display screen, a rear parking camera and sensors and cruise control. It also includes two significant safety features, autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning, which safety body Euro NCAP recently insisted should be standard equipment on all cars.
Our pick would be the 100hp 1-litre turbo petrol engine in 3 grade. It costs £16,295 and gains the larger seven-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, heated front seats and steering wheel, black leather-like upholstery, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth with voice recognition and smartphone compatibility through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The air conditioning is auto and the alloys grow to 16 inches.
And if you want to pay £17,445 for a First Edition with the 120hp petrol unit, you will also gain 17-inch alloys, a smart key entry system with a stop-start button, stainless steel pedals, black and red on the leather look and LED rear lights.
Perhaps of more value across the range, however, will be the Kia warranty, that still reaches across an industry leading seven years and is a big plus when you come to sell the car on.
Kia Rio – Summary
The fourth-generation Kia Rio is an effective re-invention of the model, with significant advances particularly in terms of the efficient little 1-litre engine. For pure driving pleasure it can’t come close to the likes of the Ford Fiesta, but it leaves rivals behind in several areas of practicality, notably interior space. And the combination of competitive pricing and that warranty makes it a value-for-money option in the supermini market.
Kia Rio – key specifications
Models tested: Kia Rio 3 1.0 T-GDi 99bhp five-speed manual, 3 1.4 CRDi 89bhp 6-speed manual
On Sale: February 2017
Range price: £11,995-£17,445
Insurance groups: TBA
Engines: Petrol 1.25, 1.4, 1.0T x 2. Diesel 1.4 x 2.
Power (hp): 84, 99, 100/120. 77/90.
Torque (Nm): 121, 133, 171/171. 240/240.
0-60mph (sec): 12.5, 11.8 (13.4*), 10.3/9.8. 13.5/11.6.
Top speed (mph): 107, 108 (103*), 115/118. 102/108.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 58.8, 56.5 (46.3*), 62.8/60.1. 80.7/74.3.
CO2 emissions (g/km): 109, 114 (140*), 102/107. 92/98.
Key rivals: Peugeot 208, Hyundai i20, Renault Clio, Toyota Yaris
Test Date: January 2017.
* = with auto gearbox