Kia Rio Review

2007 Kia rio

It was only a few years ago when Korean cars were still regarded as cheap and nasty - how times have changed! For $14,990 you simply can't go past the Kia Rio for 'value for money'.

CarAdvice rating:

Test Model: 2007 Kia Rio LX 1.4-litre manual

Options Fitted: None

Recommended Retail Price: $14,990

Where it sits: At the very bottom of the Kia Rio range, the LX sits below the EX, Sports and the EX-L. The 1.4-litre is only offered as a hatchback, the sedan variants are available with a 1.6-litre engine.

A bit of history: Kia brought the Rio badge to Australia in mid 2000 and after seven years of sales, the engine size has dropped to 1.4-litres and the starting price has gone back to a rock bottom $14,990.

Kia, Hyundai's sister company, has come a long way since the early days. Kia now builds a whole arsenal of quality cars at affordable prices. As far as value for money goes, it’s hard to beat the offerings from Kia.

Although Kia still suffers from a "cheap and nasty" image problem amongst young buyers, with more and more quality cars in showrooms, its time you took another serious look at the Kia range.

How it goes

You don't buy a Kia Rio for performance, it's that simple. After driving around Brisbane in the 1.4-litre Rio for a week it became rather evident that 71kW of power and 125Nm of torque is just enough to pull the Rio along. Although put four guys in the car and it's a different story. 0-100km/hr times are just a tad over 12 seconds.

Next time you find yourself stuck behind a small car merging onto the highway at crawling speed, take a deep breath and relax. Most frustrated drivers are under the impression that some drivers are just simply slow, but what they don't realize is that it’s not just the drivers, but the cars as well.

I do sometimes wonder why Australian Design Rules do not have a bare minimum 0-100 acceleration time, surely a car incapable of reaching 100km/hr in more than 15 seconds should be deemed unsafe for Australian roads.

Of course the Rio is not that bad, it easily reaches merging speed if your willing to keep your foot planted, something the majority of drivers do not do, and essentially that’s the sort of performance you can except from the Rio, if you need to go fast, you will find your foot flat to the floor at all times.

The five-speed manual gearbox is extremely easy to use and requires very little work to master. Although I would prefer it if reverse was in its traditional location below fifth, instead it resides left of first. Kia has marketed this car towards first time car buyers and the gearbox demonstrates this with its ease of use.

If you constantly overtake cars on the highway, the 1.4-litre Rio is not for you. Having to drop back to third to get past slow drivers becomes a tedious task, but after a few days, you simply reside to the fact that arriving home 30 seconds faster, is not all that important.

The Rio LX misses out on ABS brakes with brake assist and EBD (Electronic Brake force Distribution). However Kia offer this as an $850 option, if you value your life, tick this box! As far as brakes go, it’s a case of, nothing.. nothing.. everything.

As for the Automatic, for an extra $2,000, it really isn't worth it, I only had a short steer in the auto, and I noticed the gearbox constantly hunting for gears, the delay between gear changes left a lot to be desired. I would highly recommend the manual over the auto, not only is it faster, but you can spend the $2,000 on some nice wheels!

Despite the lack of power, I really can't complain about the performance as the 1.4-litre Rio runs on the smell of an oily rag.

How it handles

The Rio caused me some sleepless nights, how can a $15,000 car go around corners so well? Surely I was just dreaming, many times I had to go back and take the same corner over and over again just to confirm any doubts, the Rio actually has some soul (as small as it may be)!

Of course for $15,000, you can't expect much, and the Rio has a very soft ride, there is noticeable body roll around bends, but I was impressed by just how fun it was driving the Rio into and out of corners. Given the limited power there is no torque steer and with a light weight engine at the front (the whole car weighs less than 1200kgs), dare I say it, the Rio feels more nimble than then the new Toyota Corolla.

Around the city, the Rio is the ideal car, it gets to speed quickly and is extremely easy to drive, and the power steering is a treat. Parking the car at a shopping centre was also a breeze. Although the car lacks any sort of parking aid technology, the clear rear view as well its miniature size make the Rio one of the easiest cars to park.

Behind the wheel

The Rio is a city car, you wouldn't take the baby Kia for a trip from Sydney to Brisbane, it’s just not that sort of car. The seats are adequate, although they don't do a good job of keeping you still around corners. I did end up using the steering wheel for support many times.

The steering wheel is perhaps the biggest let down, the plastic feeling it gave constantly reminded me of the price tag. Of course the LX is the base model and the steering wheel in the luxury E-LX model is much better.

For a small car, the Rio does a good job of accommodating larger drivers, the steering column moves up and down adequately for good leg space.

The dashboard? Well, did I mention the car only costs $15,000? The speedometer and tacho are nothing fancy, but still clear and easy to read. There is a mark at 50km/hr for those who travel in suburbia frequently. Although given our draconian speed limits, I see no reason why the Rio, or any car for that matter, does not come with a digital speedometer (as they surely don't cost more than a few dollars in this day and age).

Interior comfort

For what it is, the Rio LX is a comfortable car, having driven the Mazda2, the Toyota Yaris, Mitsubishi Colt, and the Suzuki Swift, the Rio is on par as far as comfort goes. Of course for those after more creature comforts, the luxury variant, the EX-L provides a few more goodies.

The LX comes standard with:

  • 12V Sockets - Auxiliary - a feature needed on all new cars,
  • CD player with 4 Speaker Stereo - not the best, but still better than Ford Fiesta! However it does not play MP3s, much to my disappointment and disbelief.
  • Air Conditioning - takes a great deal of time to kick in, same with the heater
  • Front power windows - the rear is still from the 50s

The EX-L's interior looks much better :

It also carries the LX features while adding:

  • 6 Speaker Stereo,
  • Leather Steering Wheel,
  • Power Door Mirrors,
  • Power Windows Front & Rear,
  • Remote Boot/Hatch Release,
  • Remote Fuel Lid Release

The Look

This is where it starts to get a little... opinionated. Korean cars have always been at the receiving end of car jokes. The Kia Rio is definitely an improvement over the past models, not only in safety and performance but also in design.

You might be thinking, it must be somewhat embarrassing for a grown man to drive around in a Kia Rio, and I'll be honest, the Rio is a little more feminine than I would have liked. Given the choice, I would pick the sedan variant.

Taking the Rio out on our second date, I picked up a few of my friends for coffee, initially their reaction was, "Dear God, what are you doing in a Rio? What happened to the Lambo?" - ten minutes passed and after everything in the car was turned on and off, opened and closed, the general consensus turned from "Oh no .. not a Kia" to "So how come it’s so cheap?"

The old saying goes, you get what you pay for, but in today's car market, that couldn't be further from the truth. While Mercedes and BMW continue to sell low end models on reputation alone, other manufacturers such as Kia, have to fight hard to win over customers, and when they fight, they fight well.

So how come it’s so cheap? My friends kept asking. I didn't really have an answer to that question, the cabin doesn't feel cheap, it doesn't drive like a cheep car and most importantly, it doesn't look like a cheap car.

Like with most small cars, the target audience is essentially young drivers (although I would imagine females being the main target). The Rio is definitely one of the better looking cars in its class. I would not hesitate to put it above the Yaris and the Mazda2.

Safety Features

The Kia Rio may be a Korean car, but it’s not made by Daewoo, so it doesn't suffer from dismal crash ratings. The video below is of the Kia Rio crash test conducted by German authorities. Please note Australian delivered vehicles are not fitted with side & curtain airbags hence the 4 star safety rating does not apply.

Unfortunately for Kia, it only takes one rotten apple to ruin the lot and with the Korean made Holden Barina receiving a two-star safety rating, most consumers may be turned off by the "cheap and nasty" image still residing over Korean cars.

Lets me be brutally honest, as far as safety goes, the Kia is not the best in its class, The Toyota Yaris has a four and a bit star safety rating (when optioned out with the safety pack), the Rio? While no results are available from Australian authorities, overseas tests have put the Rio (with side & curtain airbags - which are not available here) on par with the Yaris.

Driver and passenger front airbags are standard across the range. My biggest quarrel with the Rio LX is the lack of ABS, thankfully available as an $850 option; the ABS (with EBD) is a must, buying a car without ABS in 2007 should be illegal!

Cost of ownership

This is where the Kia shines. Not only above all small cars but above, well, all cars! Both NRMA and the Royal Automobile Association of South Australia have awarded the 1.6-litre Kia Rio as the cheapest car to maintain.

Costing an average of $113 to run (measuring everything from repairs to fuel to depreciation) the 1.6-litre Rio came out as the best value for money car in Australia. I can only imagine the 1.4-litre Rio tested here would improve on those figures.

Fuel economy is quoted at around 6.7L/100km combined city/highway. For fifteen thousand dollars, you really can't complain!

If you’re after a small car, or a second A->B car, for a starting price of just $14,990, it’s hard to fault the Rio.