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  • Local suspension tune; six-speed manual; sharp styling and clean sedan; warranty; SLS value
  • Four-speed auto; slow 1.4-litre models; road noise; scratchy cabin surfaces; hatch\'s rear visibility

OUR RATING
7 / 10



Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
by Tim Beissmann

It was one of the most surprising cars of 2011 – and a likely award winner if a Most Improved Car of the Year trophy were to exist – and now it has increased its appeal with new variants and a cheaper starting point.

At $15,290 before on-road costs, the three-door hatch introduces a new entry price to the Rio range, while the more upmarket SLS aims to keep changing perceptions about the Kia brand.

The Kia Rio sedan, which is largely targeted at fleet buyers, is styled more conservatively and offers better luggage space and rear-seat room.

The South Korean manufacturer has taken a generational leap forward with the fourth iteration of the Rio, as we found out when we first drove the all-new Rio five-door in September 2011. The three-door and sedan are equally impressive.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the new Rio is the way it rides over some of Australia’s roughest roads and the confident feel it gives the driver. Kia Australia invested heavily in tuning the new Rio’s ride and handling to suit local conditions, and benchmarked it against two of the most dynamically sound cars in the segment: the Volkswagen Polo and the Ford Fiesta.

While it still lacks the all-round brilliance of the class-leading Polo and the exhilarating handling of the Fiesta, the Rio feels effortlessly composed on both good and bad surfaces. The suspension springs back quickly to iron out undulations and harsher ruts, ensuring a comfortable ride for passengers.

Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review

The handling of the three-door Rio S is a little unnerving at times, though. Powered by the smaller 1.4-litre engine and running on 15-inch steel wheels, the steering feel can be unpredictable over bumps at higher speeds and around corners.

The Si sedan and SLS hatch, both powered by the larger 1.6-litre engine and riding on 16- and 17-inch alloy wheels respectively, feel better balanced and more precise.

All variants and tyre sizes direct some road noise into the cabin, especially on rougher roads and highways.

The 1.4-litre petrol engine is relatively quiet and gets on in a gentle, progressive manner. The 79kW/135Nm four-cylinder unit doesn’t feel quick and the 0-100km/h sprint times confirm that. The smooth-shifting six-speed manual hits triple figures in 11.5 seconds, while the optional four-speed auto ($2000) drags its feet at 13.2 seconds.

The better option is the 1.6-litre petrol, which is found in all models above S specification. With 103kW and 167Nm, the four-cylinder direct-injection unit produces 30 per cent more power and 24 per cent more torque. It’s not only faster than the 1.4-litre – 10.2 seconds from 0-100km/h for the manual, 10.3 seconds for the six-speed auto – it’s also more fuel efficient. Manual variants use 5.6 litres per 100km on the combined cycle versus 5.7L/100km for the 1.4-litre, while the automatics measure 6.1L/100km to 6.3L/100km.

Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review

The bigger powerplant is the most powerful engine in the light car segment, with the exception of performance models such as the Polo GTI and the Renault Clio RS200. It’s more lively than the 1.4, but lacks the low-down torque and zippy nature of the Polo 77TSI’s turbocharged – and more fuel-efficient – 1.2-litre.

The six-speed automatic is the same versatile gearbox found in the Kia Optima and Kia Sportage. It’s smooth and well calibrated for the smaller Rio, although is forced to drop back when confronted by inclines and overtaking manoeuvres, resulting in higher revs and a louder engine note. The 1.6/manual combination is the sweetest of the bunch, and represents good value with its sub-$20,000 price tag.

Although Kia Australia is pushing head office for it, there’s no high-performance turbocharged engine on the horizon. The local brand is less enthusiastic about a diesel variant, feeling the model’s premium price, marginal fuel savings and manual-only transmission would limit its appeal.

While styling is subjective, the new Rio looks sharp and decidedly more masculine than most light cars. It’s no surprise the Rio was initially designed as a three-door, as the new hatch’s styling is well balanced and exudes a sporty, playful character. The sedan is a triumph, too, eschewing the contrived styling common among light sedans for a cohesive, clean appearance.

Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review

The interior has also taken giant steps forward. The layout is functional, the steering wheel and gearsticks have a good look and feel, and the buttons, dials and switches have a classy touch. The quality of the interior plastics and materials rivals most light cars, although the abundant scratchy surfaces lack refinement.

Drivers should find their sweet spot easy enough thanks to a tilt and reach steering wheel and seat height adjustment. Forward visibility is aided by small A-pillar cut-outs. Large C-pillars restrict rear visibility in the three-door; the view from the sedan is significantly better.

The shape of the roof means headroom is more accommodating for rear-seat passengers in the sedan. Legroom is adequate in both body styles for a vehicle in this class. The sedan also benefits from a larger boot (389 litre versus 288 litres), although compared with its rivals, the hatch’s cargo volume is particularly impressive. Both feature flat floors that sit atop full-sized spare wheels.

The entry-level Rio S hatch gets a manual air conditioner, trip computer and a four-speaker audio system with CD player and AUX/USB/iPod/Bluetooth connectivity, including phone and music streaming.

The Si sedan adds front fog lights, folding side mirrors, an upgraded instrument cluster, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, sliding centre console armrest, soft-touch dash plastics and silver trim highlights.

Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review

The Rio SLS is arguably Australia’s best value car for under $20,000. Standard on the range-topper are automatic projector headlights, LED daytime running lights and taillights, cornering lamps, dual chrome exhausts, uprated brakes, smart key entry and push-button start, climate control, rain-sensing wipers and leather upholstery.

The Rio is rated five stars for safety, with six airbags, electronic stability control, hill-start assist and seatbelt reminders standard across all models.

Like all new Kia models, the Rio is covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

The Kia Rio three-door hatch and four-door sedan are handy additions to an already convincing light-car line-up. The fact we compared the Rio with the Volkswagen Polo throughout this review is massive compliment in itself, and is evidence of just how far the tiny Korean has come.

2012 Kia Rio manufacturer’s list prices (excluding government and dealer charges):

Three-door hatch:

  • S six-speed manual – $15,290
  • S four-speed automatic – $17,290
  • SLS six-speed manual – $19,990
  • SLS six-speed automatic – $21,990

Four-door sedan:

  • Si six-speed manual – $19,690
  • Si six-speed automatic – $21,690

Five-door hatch:

Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
  • S six-speed manual – $16,290
  • S four-speed automatic – $18,290
  • Si six-speed manual – $18,990
  • Si six-speed automatic – $20,990
  • SLi six-speed manual – $19,990
  • SLi six-speed automatic – $21,990


Kia Rio 3-door Hatch, Sedan Review
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Kia Rio Specs

S : UB : 1.4L MULTI POINT F/INJ - 6 SP MANUAL - UNLEADED PETROL - 5D HATCHBACK
Car Details
Make
KIA
Model
RIO
Variant
S
Series
UB
Year
2012
Body Type
5D HATCHBACK
Seats
5
Pricing
New Price
N/A
Private Sale
$7,700 - $8,750
Dealer Retail
$9,160 - $10,890
Dealer Trade
$6,000 - $7,000
Engine Specifications
Engine Type
MULTI POINT F/INJ
Engine Size
1.4L
Cylinders
INLINE 4
Max. Torque
135Nm @  4200rpm
Max. Power
79kW @  6300rpm
Pwr:Wgt Ratio
67.5W/kg
Bore & Stroke
74x75mm
Compression Ratio
10.5
Valve Gear
VARIABLE DOUBLE OVERHEAD CAM
Drivetrain Specifications
Transmission
6 SP MANUAL
Drive Type
FRONT WHEEL DRIVE
Final Drive Ratio
3.933
Fuel Specifications
Fuel Type
UNLEADED PETROL
Fuel Tank Capacity
43Litres
Fuel Consumption (Combined)
5.7L / 100km
Weight & Measurement
Kerb Weight
1170
Gross Vehicle Weight
Not Provided
Height
1455mm
Length
4045mm
Width
1720mm
Ground Clearance
140mm
Towing Capacity
Brake:1050  Unbrake:450
Steering & Suspension
Steering Type
RACK & PINION - POWER ASSISTED
Turning Circle
10.5
Front Rim Size
5.5x15
Rear Rim Size
5.5x15
Front Tyres
185/65 R15
Rear Tyres
185/65 R15
Wheel Base
2570
Front Track
1521
Rear Track
1525
Front Brakes
DISC - VENTILATED
Rear Brakes
DISC
Front Suspension
MacPherson strut, Coil Spring, Hydraulic double acting shock absorber
Rear Suspension
Torsion bar, Hydraulic double acting shock absorber
Standard Features
Comfort
Air Conditioning
Control & Handling
Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Electronic Stability Program, Hill Holder, Traction Control System
Driver
Adjustable Steering Wheel - Tilt & Telescopic, Power Steering, Trip Computer
Entertainment
Radio CD with 4 Speakers
Exterior
Power Mirrors, Remote Boot/Hatch Release, Rear Spoiler
Interior
Cloth Trim, Power Windows
Safety
Dual Front Airbag Package, Anti-lock Braking, Head Airbags, Seatbelts - Pre-tensioners Front Seats, Side Front Air Bags
Security
Central Locking Remote Control, Engine Immobiliser
Optional Features
Exterior
Metallic Paint
Other
Service Interval
12 months /  15,000 kms
Warranty
60 months /  999,000 kms
VIN Plate Location
On Floor in Boot Compartment
Country of Origin
Korea