• Benchmark engine power; cabin space; one of segment’s bigger boots; easy to drive in traffic; five-year warranty; decent servicing costs
  • Inconsistent steering; auto can be indecisive; tyre and wind noise at higher speeds; stability control calibration

7 / 10

Kia Rio Review
Kia Rio Review
Kia Rio Review
by Jez Spinks

The Kia Rio tenaciously clings to a status as the Korean brand’s most popular vehicle despite a more expansive and more impressive line-up than in previous years.

The Rio no longer accounts for one in two Kias sold in Australia as it did in 2008, but it continues to outsell fresher models in the family such as the Cerato small car and Sportage compact SUV.

As with most new-generation Kias these days, the Kia Rio is a far more complete offering than its predecessors.

Bolder and more appealing styling is a good starting point, though the smallest Kia you can currently buy needs substance against some fine rivals in the city car class that include the Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2, Renault Clio and Volkswagen Polo.

It’s certainly not necessarily competing just with the lowest price tag.

Although you can get into a Kia Rio from $15,290 for a three-door body style, it can be more expensive than some rivals across its range. You can pay up to $21,690 plus on-road costs if you opt for the sedan version.

Here, we’re testing the range-topping five-door hatch – the SLi costing from $19,990.

The SLi includes 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and auto headlights over the $18,990 Si’s standard equipment comprising 16-inch alloy wheels, foglights, electric folding side mirrors, leather steering wheel and gearlever, cruise control, soft-touch dash and console bin.

Kia Rio Review
Kia Rio Review
Kia Rio Review
Kia Rio Review

All Kia Rios come with stability control, full-size spare wheel, six airbags, Bluetooth, and USB/iPod connectivity.

As with the bigger Cerato, the Rio’s base model gets a smaller, less powerful engine: a 1.4-litre four-cylinder with 79kW of power and 135Nm of torque.

From Si upwards, the engine bay gets a promotion with an engine that’s not only bigger but incorporates direct fuel injection for improved performance and economy.

The 1.6-litre four-cylinder produces 103kW to be the most powerful engine offered in the city car segment, backed by 167Nm of torque.

The optional auto is also a six-speeder rather than the four-speed available for the 1.4-litre.

It’s a good if not great combination. The engine’s maximum torque doesn’t arrive until high in the rev range – 4850rpm – so building momentum isn’t as effortless as in the rival Polo 77TSI or Clio Expression that both use 1.2-litre turbocharged engines with maximum torque from 2000rpm or below.

The auto also had a tendency to change up gears early for the benefit of economy but to the detriment of momentum, and it becomes indecisive as speeds rise and hills and corners come into play.

Kia Rio Review
Kia Rio Review

Having to work the engine harder at times contributed to an on-test fuel use figure of 8.6 litres per 100km versus the official 6.1L/100km.

The Kia Rio is an easy car to drive in traffic and around suburbs, though, especially when few hills are involved. A responsive step-off and smooth braking (despite a firm brake pedal) ensure commuting in rush hour is a more bearable experience.

Kia continues to refine the engineering of its cars, while Kia Australia also goes the extra yard to tune steering and suspension for our roads.

The Kia Rio isn’t quite as good as the newer Cerato but is vastly better to drive than old models.

Steering remains a work in progress because it is relatively slow and responds inconsistently as you turn the wheel, meaning it needs constant attention rather than just being held in one position to negotiate a bend at whatever speed.

An intrusive stability control system and not-quite-perfect chassis balance means a Fiesta, Mazda 2, Clio or Polo are better choices for those buyers looking to derive the most fun from their city cars, but the Rio SLi handles respectably and generates good grip from its 17-inch tyres.

The latter can get loud on coarse chip surfaces, though, and wind noise around the A-pillars is noticeable at freeway speeds.

Ride comfort is generally good, if a touch busy in the city if the Rio is traversing roads with larger-than-average bumps. The driver’s seat also offers plenty of comfort as well as some semblance of support.

Generous proportions for a city car of 4045mm in length and a 2570mm wheelbase are put to good use inside with class-leading rear head and leg room.

The rear bench is angled upwards to help under-thigh support though the cushion could be a bit deeper.

For a top-tier model, there’s no centre armrest, surprisingly, and storage is limited to seatback nets and bottle slots in the doors.

Storage options are great up front, and the 288-litre boot is up there among the largest in the segment (and expandable to 923 litres if the 60/40 split rear seatbacks are folded down).

Interior quality and design don’t set any benchmarks, though the Kia Rio cabin is nicely put together and presented. The dash is afforded better materials and plastics than the doors, and while the red monochrome infotainment display in the centre stack is on the small side it looks quite cool.

So do the red-striped needles of the instrument dials.

Running the Kia Rio over three years will cost $841 for servicing through the company’s capped price program, or $1366 over five years.

And five years is the length of time the Rio is covered by Kia’s generous, higher-than-average factory warranty.

You’ll get the same from the i20 by sister company Hyundai, though the Rio is the better city car of the two.

The Kia Rio now has the substance in the way it drives and accommodates its occupants to match its affordability and popularity.

We’d be tempted to save another $1000, though, and choose the Si rather than SLi trim grade.

Kia Rio Video Review

Kia Rio Review
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  • Ted

    Nice car, Kia !

  • Jon

    Such a shame the powerful engine (on paper) does not equate to on road speed

    • racrepus

      Well it has barely more torque than it’s competitors. Just like the 86 with ~147kw isn’t as fast as it seems it should be because it only has 205Nm of torque. If each car had say another 20-30Nm they’d feel as fast as the power figure alone suggests.

    • Dave

      The manual’s gearing is responsible for the apparent lack of punch as well as a very tight engine until its done a fair few KM’s. However, once you learn to drop two gears rather than one for a quick acceleration, you will find the performance is quite good. Rolling acceleration from about 3000rpm is actually very useful on the freeway and doesn’t have any trouble overtaking.
      The upshot of the long gearing is the economy especially on a run. Easily drops down into the 5’s l/100km.

      • Jon

        That could be the reason, for example, the Swift Sport has very similar power figures and does 0-100 in some 8 seconds or so.

        But that said, the Rio is probably more economical

        • Wombat

          Wheels magazine got 8.8 seconds from the Rio. Not far off the Swift Sport’s 8.6.
          Put 98 octane in the tank of the Rio, (as the Swift requires) and the Rio’s performance improves markedly. And if you were to throw the extra weight of a full sized spare tyre into the Swift (it only comes with a grossly inadequate inflation kit) and suddenly the Rio becomes very competitive, especially the 3 door SLS model which has less weight than the SLi.
          My experience of the Rio is that its engine quite a while to free up. With 50,000km under its belt, my manual Rio can now hold 6th gear on cruise control over all but the steepest hills, whereas initially it would require a downshift.

  • vti07

    I think that Clio is jealous of the Rio’s engine lol.

  • ray

    i have just recently got the Si 1.6 ltr version after reading all the previous review i decided that the level of equipment and better noise reviews along with the $ saving over the SLi was the way to go,
    Still getting used to the six speed box as the motor is so quiet i keep forgetting to change up as it get to 60klm/hr (our local speed limit) very easy so i am finding i dont use 4th and 5th just go from 3rd straight to top gear
    so far avg fuel is about 6.5>7.0 ltrs/100 klm whish is great
    i have had a short hwy trip (2 hours each way) and found that it steered very well i have had non of the reported weaving on the road as others have reported , My previous car “daewoo lanos” didnt have power steering so i am finding that feasture of the Rio a blessing when parking overall so far so good

  • Star

    I would rather trust much more on CarBuyer review than this.. I own Kia Rio and steering is always good and it’s much better insulated in high speeds, as I do A LOT from Melbourne to Sydney at 110km/hr.

    • Shaun

      Yes but it’s comparing to the rest of market segment. The new Rio is fantastic compared to the old one, but have you also tested a Polo, Fiesta, Clio, etc? I have and would agree with Jez’s comments.

      The Cerato is better though? Not sure if the Ceratos steering is better, I thought it was just as bad, after a 600km trip in the new Cerato a few weeks ago… those steering wheel modes are woeful.

  • aqua

    I got one for 16K with ORC, auto, 1.4L, 5 door.

    Things I don’t like: speakers (drama on it own), 4 gear auto gearbox = high raving noisy engine, very thin metal sheets the body is made from (feels like touching a soft drink can), interior made of hard stiff plastic (just like in toyota’s)

    Things to like: all the res – nice comfy drive, hands free bluetooth, fuel economy (650km on one tank in mixed traffic in auto using accelerator frequently), space inside and in the booth, practical design of the dashboard, cups holders etc., good visibility in all directions.

    In summary: I don’t think for that kind of money there is anything better (a new one) out there;
    My previous cars: toyota echo 1.3 (best car ever, did over 230 000 km in it and it never broke down, fuel efficiency simply amazing), toyota yaris 1.5;

Kia Rio Specs

Car Details
Body Type
Engine Specifications
Engine Type
Engine Size
Max. Torque
135Nm @  4200rpm
Max. Power
79kW @  6300rpm
Pwr:Wgt Ratio
Bore & Stroke
Compression Ratio
Valve Gear
Drivetrain Specifications
Drive Type
Final Drive Ratio
Fuel Specifications
Fuel Type
Fuel Tank Capacity
Fuel Consumption (Combined)
6.1L / 100km
Weight & Measurement
Kerb Weight
Gross Vehicle Weight
Not Provided
Ground Clearance
Towing Capacity
Brake:850  Unbrake:450
Steering & Suspension
Steering Type
Turning Circle
Front Rim Size
Rear Rim Size
Front Tyres
185/65 R15
Rear Tyres
185/65 R15
Wheel Base
Front Track
Rear Track
Front Brakes
Rear Brakes
Standard Features
Air Conditioning
Control & Handling
Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Electronic Stability Program, Hill Holder, Traction Control System
Adjustable Steering Wheel - Tilt & Telescopic, Mobile Phone Connectivity, Power Steering, Trip Computer
Radio CD with 4 Speakers
Power Mirrors, Remote Boot/Hatch Release, Rear Spoiler
Cloth Trim, Power Windows
Dual Airbag Package, Anti-lock Braking, Head Airbags, Seatbelts - Pre-tensioners Front Seats, Side Front Air Bags
Central Locking Remote Control, Engine Immobiliser
Optional Features
Metallic Paint
Service Interval
12 months /  15,000 kms
84 months /  999,000 kms
VIN Plate Location
Country of Origin