Bravo for new Rio!
By David Morgan
ANYONE familiar with the original Kia Rio will know it was nothing much to crow about – great value but basic and unrefined.
But like everything else in Kia's portfolio, the latest incarnation of this small family hatchback is a transformation that catapults it into entirely new territory.
This is a small hatch given a major makeover that addresses all of its previous shortcomings with an all-new structure that, at last, brings it up to the same impressive standard as its larger cee'd stablemate.
Offered in three and five-door shells it comes with a bewildering range of small petrol and turbodiesel engines in a variety of trims from modest Rio '1' 1.1-litre petrol costing £9,995 as a three-door to a mighty £14,895 for a noisy 1.4 CRDi turbodiesel in generous '3' trim with five doors.
There's plenty to chose from in between. Kia build no fewer than 21 variants of the Rio and there's no denying the choice is good with a reasonable entry level '1' trim specification right through to the more luxurious Rio '3'.
My test car was the model I singled out at last year's launch as the best all-rounder – a Rio '2' with five doors powered by a sweet 1.4 litre petrol unit that delivers 107bhp.
At £13,095 it is the cheapest 1.4 and shadowed by the '3' version which costs £13,795 for a little more comfort and equipment.
Frankly, there's nothing wrong with the cheaper '2' – it's well appointed and for family hatchback use, is a perfect mount which will not leave an owner wanting.
Kia's big selling point is its warranty. And so it is with the Rio.
Discounts are modest these days, but still available to hagglers, but with such a generous guarantee the appeal of this South Korean badge is powerful.
Today's new Rio is light years ahead of its dismal predecessor – the current hatch is spacious for a small car, great to drive, refined, practical and good to look at.
But so are many competitors – the difference is Kia's excellent no-quibble seven-year/100,000 mile warranty linked to a reputation for good reliability.
Discount or not, any private buyer with an eye on many years of faithful service ahead will be ill advised to ignore this outstanding offer.
I've kept tabs on many Kias since they arrived. I've watched them grow and visited their factories in Korea and Slovakia.
They may not be the most dynamic of family cars, but the overwhelming impression I've been left with is of an exceptionally well assembled affordable range that is fun to drive, practical in an everyday way and as safe as you'd expect any mainstream European or Japanese rival to be.
If there was a weak point left in the range after the replacement of the over-light original Picanto with its far improved model 18 months ago, it was the Rio.
Crying out for replacement, it was a dull hatch with the charisma of a hand cart and the refinement of a 1966 Morris Minor. Way past its sell-by date.
Last autumn all of that changed. The new model was more than just a revision – it was an all-new car.
Quality and dynamics were transformed and while it occupies the same modest position as its predecessor and is designed to deliver good honest family transport and dependability, it is a far better car all round that's genuinely fun to drive.
The back is spacious for passengers with good leg and headroom and the new roofline means you're a lot less likely to crack your skull on the door frame as you climb in and out.
Rio has similar dimensions as before, but it's still compact and handy with better use of interior space.
At 4.04 metres long it's half-a-metre longer than the new Picanto and at 1.2 tonnes for the 1.4 five-door a tad heavier. But it's around 200mm shorter than the current cee'd – due to be replaced by a smart looking new model this summer – and a little lighter.
What that means is that the Rio is the perfect "gap-filler" in the range – roomier and more grown-up looking than the Picanto but significantly more compact and manageable than a cee'd.
That's why families and older drivers downsizing from Golf-dimensioned hatches queue up to buy into the Rio range.
There's no spare wheel, but the Rio has a reasonable boot with 288 litres, but with a high loading sill. It comes with split and fold rear seats that leave a loading lip when folded and a maximum cargo capacity with them down of 923 litres.
The engine is linked to a sweet six-speed manual transmission and perky enough despite its size.
Round town it is brisk with a good overtaking punch on the open road. In the cruise it buzzes contentedly away to itself and on test, gave me an overall average of 46mpg after several hundred miles of mixed driving.
Government combined figures suggest 51.4mpg is attainable dropping to 39.2mpg around town – consumptions that should be well within the Rio 1.4's grasp.
Insurance rates are low in Group 8 and while you will be forced to use a Kia dealer for servicing every 10,000 miles to reap the benefits of that fine warranty, it's a commitment well worth the trouble.
The '2' would be my preferred Rio – but only with a petrol heart. Like all small cars this Kia does best without a diesel and the Rio can be ordered with a superb 84bhp 1.25-litre petrol if 1.4 is not for you. You can also get the car with a 74bhp 1.1 CRDi diesel or an 89bhp 1.4 CRDi – frugal but eclipsed by the petrols.
This is a great little car.
The '2' trim delivers air conditioning, tinted glass, tilt and rake adjustment for the light electric power steering, powered and heated door mirrors, 16-inch alloys with sensible 55 section tyres, radio controls on the steering wheel, remote central locking, a really impressive radio and CD unit with MP3 compatibility, front, side and curtain airbags, powerful ABS braking with Hill Start Assist and well designed dash with high quality feel and even a leather trimmed steering wheel and gear lever. Metallic paint is a good value £415.
If you are in the market for a good rival like the Volkswagen Polo 1.4 it comes with similar equipment but the Rio is marginally bigger and cheaper – and even Volkswagen cannot match the warranty.
FINAL THOUGHT: Modest three- or five-door family hatch with a great 1.4-litre petrol engine that's frugal and relaxed. Excellent performance and fine practical all-round small family car. Diesels OK but the petrols are a better bet.
Kia Rio 1.4 '2' five door
- Price: £13,095
- Capacity: 1396
- Power: 107
- 0-62mph: 11.2 seconds
- Maximum speed: 114mph
- Economy: Combined 51.4mpg, Urban 39.2mpg
- CO2 emissions: 128/km (VED D)
- ESP: Standard
- Insurance: Group 8 (new 1-50 Grouping System)