The 2019 Kia Rio GT-Line is a surprising and inspiring performance option within a value-packed range, and it’s a range that’s not necessarily associated with driving enjoyment. It’s not quite a hot hatch, but on the flipside it’s more than enough fun to spice up your daily drive.
Starting from $16,990, the Rio hatch range begins with the 1.4 S, moves up to the $17,990 1.4 Sport, and then tops out with this model, the 1.0 GT-Line Turbo starting from $23,090 before on-road costs. While the Rio's (across the range) focus is more on value and first-time car owners, there’s no doubt the GT tested here brings something new to the table for the Rio range.
The big upgrade and headline news for this variant is the punchy little 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine, which makes 88kW and 172Nm and is backed by a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. There is no manual available – no bad thing either when you find out how well the DCT performs.
Key standard features include: a GT-Line body kit, LED DRLs, LED position lights, LED tail-lights and LED fog lights, 7.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, six-speaker audio system, rear-view camera, two ISOFIX points, AEB, lane-keep assist, and idle stop/start.
There is no inbuilt satellite navigation, so it’s smartphone only for guidance, and climate-control AC has been dispatched in favour of a more basic control system. That’s really all the Rio GT misses out on in the overall scheme of things, and as such it remains a solid value proposition. On the subject of using your phone’s data plan for satellite navigation, that’s only an issue if you’re on a capped plan. Increasing data limits across the board should see this become less of a problem (and cost) for owners.
I reckon Kia has got the cabin ambience spot on – for this car and this pricepoint. It feels sporty enough, but not stupid as some attempts can be, with comfortable seats that aren’t hard for the sake of it. There are touches of leather, and the carbon-look dash, along with the flat-bottomed GT-Line steering wheel. The instrument cluster and colour LCD screen for the driver both do exactly what you need.
There’s plenty of storage for a compact car like the Rio, and the second row is useable unless you have super-tall occupants in the front two pews. Boot space is, likewise, useful and more than handy enough for what is such a compact car externally. Clever packaging is obviously a hallmark of modern vehicle design, but not every manufacturer gets it as spot on as Kia has here, or Honda does with the Jazz for example.
The low seating position and high-roof design of the Rio range mean it always feels more spacious than you expect before you climb in – a further triumph of that aforementioned modern design and packaging. There is solid leg and head room in the second row, and passengers back there get a 12V outlet and large door storage bins.
We tested both smartphone connections and they both worked faultlessly on test – better in fact than some vastly more expensive cars. I find Apple CarPlay seems to be a bit more intuitive than the Android Auto system, but that’s probably because I’m more familiar with the OS. Whichever platform you prefer, you’ll find it works well in the Rio GT.
While specification is key in this competitive end of the market, you’re buying the Rio GT for the fun driving experience – I think anyway – and as such, that’s the factor we need to look at closely. Given the Rio has been tweaked and modified for Australian roads, it should be nicely primed to make the most of the power on offer and the lightweight platform.
First up is fuel use, and the Rio GT has an ADR claim of 5.8L/100km, which we managed to get pretty close to by returning 7.1L/100km in the real world cut and thrust of Sydney. I don’t mind the stop/start system, but I still turned it off a lot, and I did drive the Rio GT relatively enthusiastically while trying to extract as much out of the little three-pot as I could. You could expect, then, that the average fuel figure would drop a little the more you drive it. Even mid sixes would be both impressive and easily achievable.
Stop/start aside, the 1.0-litre three-banger is a vastly superior engine to the ‘lesser’ 1.4-litre engine found in other Rio models. There’s not too much lag, and the engine fizzes enthusiastically to redline, without feeling like it’s being strangled or worked too hard. It’s got that slightly ragged edge in the upper reaches that we love from a three-cylinder, but it’s plenty of fun too.
As always, the locally tuned suspension system is exceptional and works beautifully on our local road network. The ride can be a little stiff over really poor roads, but it soaks up everything else effortlessly. We loved the way it sails flat through corners, with barely any body roll to upset the balance at speed.
The low-profile ContiSportContact 2 tyres mean there is a little bit of road noise that enters the cabin, but the prolific grip and poise when you hook in are more than worth that payoff. Like the suspension, the steering – turn-in especially – is way beyond what you’d expect at this pricepoint. Benefits of both a light chassis and quality tyres are matched by the local suspension tune to extract the best out of the Rio platform.
While the Rio GT isn’t ultimately a proper, extensively sorted hot hatch in the truest sense of the term, it isn’t meant to be either. What it does do brilliantly is deliver on the promise of affordability in a fun package that you can easily and safely get the best out of when you find a twisty road.
As with all Kia product, the MY19 Rio GT-Line is covered by a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with seven years of capped-price servicing also included and roadside assistance for the period too.
Those services are required once every 12 months/10,000km and average out to just over $484 per year over the seven years – not bad when you break it all down. The warranty alone will tip many potential buyers over the edge and into the world of the Rio GT-Line, let alone the competitive servicing price structure.
While some of you might question the Rio GT-Line’s place in the world, I think Kia has done a solid job attracting a buyer looking for some performance without having to spend well beyond 20 grand to get it.
The Rio GT-Line looks cool enough and drives well enough to justify the asking price too. If it’s not a hot hatch, it’s definitely warm, and if you need a compact car with some fun thrown in, take one for a test drive. We enjoyed our week with it in the CA garage.