7 / 10
The 2012 Kia Rio is the clearest indication to date that good looking, well built, well engineered and well equipped cars can also be very affordable.
Kia has worked out the perfect formula for car manufacturing. Hire German and Italian designers, poach some of the brightest engineers out of Europe, perform localisation tests for each market but keep production in South Korea.
The new Kia Rio is European designed, custom tuned for Australian roads and comes with a Korean price tag. What’s not to like?
That’s not to say that the South Koreans had little to do with the new Kia Rio, but more so that the European influence is clearly evident in both the design and engineering of the new Kia.
The new Kia Rio is yet another chapter in Kia’s new design language, spearheaded by former Audi design chief Peter Schreyer. Despite Schreyer setting the scene, the new Rio is actually the work of Massimo Frascella, an Italian car designer who’s had a hand in designing cars for Ford, Land Rover, Jaguar and even Aston Martin. He was also in charge of designing the highly praised Kia Sportage.
In the flesh, the fourth-generation Kia Rio is definitely a looker. From the front it’s one of the cleanest executions of a light car to date. The side profile flows nicely into the prominent rear-end that may look a little overcooked in photos but is actually very pleasant in person. Given its small size, it’s not exactly what you’d call a masculine design, but it’s also not entirely feminine.
The new Kia Rio is a huge step forward from the previous model with the only thing shared with the outgoing Rio being the badge. One has to wonder if Kia would’ve gained more kudos if it came out with a new name to break the association with the ‘cheap and cheerful’ Rio of old. But that didn’t seem to hurt sales of the new Kia Optima and Kia Sportage so it’s unlikely to have any real impact on the new Rio.
You can currently pick up an outgoing Rio for $13,490 driveaway, which is noticeably less than the $16,290 retail asking price for the new base model Rio S manual. In saying that, the new Kia Rio is more of a revolution than an evolution of the old model, so any comparisons on price are unjustified.
Apart from looking like Mila Kunis compared with Donatella Versace, the new Kia Rio measures 20mm longer, 25mm wider and 15mm lower than the previous model. Two different four-cylinder engines will be offered at launch: the base model Rio S is equipped with a 1.4-litre MPI petrol (79kW/135Nm), while a 1.6-litre GDI petrol with an impressive 103kW and 167Nm of torque is on offer for the mid-rage Si and range-topping SLi variants.
If those figures don’t excite you, it’s important to consider that the 1.6-litre Rio manual has a kerb weight of 1,179kg (with a 75kg driver on board), making for an excellent power to weight ratio. More importantly, apart from the performance-orientated Volkswagen Polo GTi, the standard Rio remains the only car in its class to offer more than 100kW of power. It’s more than likely that Kia will eventually offer a performance focused turbocharged version of the Rio as well.
The smaller engine in the Kia Rio S comes standard with a six-speed manual but can be optioned with a four-speed automatic gearbox ($18,290). No 1.4-litre variants were available for testing at the Rio’s Australian media launch.
If you can stretch yourself another $2700, the 1.6-litre GDi petrol is the ideal choice for the Rio. Despite its impressive power output, it doesn’t feel as quick or agile as a car with that much power and torque should. That’s because the gear ratios are engineered with efficiency in mind as the primary focus, instead of performance.
The 1.4-litre sips 5.7 litres of fuel per 100km when equipped with the six-speed manual (6.3L/100km with four-speed auto), while the more advanced 1.6-litre GDI actually uses less fuel in both manual (5.6L/100km) and six-speed automatic application (6.1L/100km).
To launch the new Kia Rio, the motoring media were invited to the hilly countryside surrounding the Barossa Valley in South Australia. Unlike sister company Hyundai, which insisted we tested its recently launched Hyundai Accent around the Sydney CBD only, the folks at Kia had no hesitation in letting us punt the Rio at top-speed around the outskirts of Adelaide’s countryside.
Much like the Optima and Sportage, Kia Australia has spent a great deal of time and resources fine-tuning the new Rio for Australian conditions. The modifications included custom Australian-only shock absorber settings, a unique power-steering tune, a 22mm rear stabiliser bar and more.
To showcase its efforts, Kia picked a selection of both city and mountain roads for the drive program out of Adelaide. With heavy rain causing slippery roads and poor driving conditions, the Rio needed to be on its best behaviour to meet expectations.
Here is the ironic thing about Kia Australia these days; it’s done such a good job with the Sorento, Sportage and Optima, that expectations are a lot higher than ever before. Perhaps the company is a victim of its own success.
Thankfully though, the new Kia Rio isn’t a disappointment. Pelted at high-speed into tight corners in heavy rain, the positive results of the localisation program are clearly evident. The Rio behaves similarly to a Volkswagen Polo, as in, it sits flat with next to no body roll even when pushed hard into bends, while still providing a comfortable ride. At high speed there is noticeable tyre noise coming from the 205/45 R17 Continental tyres found on the range topping SLi, but given the high level of grip, it can be overlooked. The SLi’s upgraded front brakes (11-inch instead of 10.1-inch) also help provide better braking feel.
Around town the Rio absorbs our low-quality pothole-infested roads without too many complaints and provides a relatively quiet cabin in the process.
As previously mentioned, despite the great power-to-weight ratio, acceleration is not as quick as we’d hoped. Officially, the 1.6-litre manual does the 0-100km/h dash in 10.2 seconds (10.3 for the six-speed auto) while the 1.4-litre manual manages to hit the same speed in 11.5 seconds (13.2 for the four-speed auto). Not exactly what you’d call quick.
Even so, once it gets going we found the 1.6-litre Rio more than good enough to pull us around the twisty bits or keep up with highway traffic. In-gear power delivery is smooth but you really need to climb the rev-range before things start to happen. The six-speed manual gearbox is simple and easy to drive, but we did find the gearshift indicator far too optimistic with its suggestions for which gear we should engage for maximum fuel efficiency. Given the option, a six-speed automatic would be our preferred choice. The automatic is super smooth and seamless, exactly what you want in a light car.
The Kia Rio’s interior is one of the best we’ve seen in the light car class. Although a little too black (again, very Polo-like) for its youth-orientated market, the new Rio provides a very pleasant cabin full of features. Luggage space in the boot is 288L but if you fold the rear seats down, that can get up to 923L.
Even the absolute base model comes with Bluetooth telephone and audio connectivity with full iPod/USB support and steering wheel controls.
There is a great deal of hard plastics used throughout the cabin, but given the type of car the Rio is destined to be, it’s not necessarily a turn-off. You can indeed fit four average-sized adults in the little Kia without anyone complaining, There is good headroom both front and rear but taller than averages passengers may find the legroom in the back a little cramped.
The sporty-looking three-dial instrument cluster is a nice touch and shows that extra bit of attention to detail. Cruise control with steering wheel controls is standard on Si and SLi models.
If it makes you feel any better, Kia says the new Rio is 85 per cent recyclable and includes the use of recycled bumpers for the rear wheel liners. Even the seats are made from five per cent soy bean extracts.
As expected, safety is top notch with all variants getting the full compliment of safety features. Six airbags, ESC, ABS, EBD, BAS and TCS are all standard (if none of those acronyms make any sense, just rest assured knowing the Kia Rio is destined to achieve the maximum five-star safety rating from the Australasian New Car Assessment Program).
The new Kia Rio will initially launch in Australia in ten colours as a five-door hatch only, with the four-door sedan and three-door hatch models expected to arrive early next year. There are currently no plans in motion for a diesel variant or the 1.2-litre turbo available in some European markets.
Ten years ago no one would dare compare a Volkswagen with a Kia. These days it’s becoming standard practice. Even if the fourth-generation Kia Rio didn’t look as good as it does, given the level of standard features, high build-quality, a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and excellent ride and handling, you’d be mad not to put it on your shopping list.
Kia Rio S
Kia Rio Si – S model trim plus:
Kia Rio SLi – Si model trim plus:
*Available from August 2011 production
Kia Rio Pricing