Kia Rio (2017) Launch Review

Rio 1 4TEC 005

The new Kia Rio has arrived in South Africa and it promises better comfort, improved refinement and a quieter ride amongst other enhancements. We drove it at the launch in Johannesburg to get a feel for the Volkswagen Polo rival.

The previous Rio, launched in 2011, was a hit for the Korean brand in South Africa; Kia claims that around 37 000 units found homes here. Much of the Rio's success can be attributed to its design, which is imbued with a stylish exterior that made it noticeable in the large crowd of B-segment hatchbacks. This latest 2017 model aims to improve and refine the winning formula rather than reinventing itself like the 2011 model did.

What’s new?

The Rio has grown 15 mm in length, been lowered by 5 mm and had its wheelbase extended by 10 mm. These are admittedly minor changes, but they have positive knock-on effects in terms of passenger space and aerodynamic efficiency. The exterior design is still distinctive and the new front grille creates a purposeful front-on appearance. LED lights are available on certain models and a new rear lighting signature is noticeable when the brakes are applied. Wheels are offered in 15- and 17-inch sizes.

Kia's new Tiger Nose grille is enlarged and better integrated with the headlight design. 

Inside, Kia has taken the opportunity to give the Rio a new infotainment system and a rework of some of the materials. Most of the surfaces are hard plastic, but not scratchy/nasty to touch. There are some glossy Piano black finishings around the air vents and a sliver of leather on the passenger dash area.

For the full specs and pricing of the Rio, click here

The engines

There’s an entry-level 1.2 LS derivative that gets a 1.2-litre naturally aspirated engine with 62 kW and 120 Nm of torque. We didn’t get a chance to drive it, so we’ll reserve judgment for now. The rest of the new Rio range is powered by a 1.4-litre naturally aspirated engine and it delivers 74 kW and 135 Nm of torque. We experienced this 1.4-litre motor in the top-spec Tec derivative and at the Reef it lacks the low-range grunt that the competition delivers courtesy of their turbopetrol 1.2-litre units. The 1.4 requires a lot of shifting of the 6-speed manual transmission to keep on the boil, but this didn't seem to adversely affect the (indicated) fuel consumption, which was hovering around 7.0 L/100 km.

Top-spec 1.4 Tec comes with 17-inch wheels and rear PDC and camera. It's also the only model with stability control.

Ride comfort

Despite the lacklustre engine, the Rio delivers a much-improved ride. It’s supple over bumps and holds firm when coaxed through bends. The steering feels better, too! The old Rio's tiller had a very light, vague feel to it where the new Rio's seems better weighted and offers a more direct connectedness to the wheels. It’s quiet in the cabin with very little wind heard at speed and road noise is kept to a mere faint background murmur.

Tech update

In the higher spec 1.4 EX and Tec, the Rio is equipped with a 7-inch touchscreen multimedia system. It’s one of the better units in the segment and also features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The other basics such as Bluetooth and USB and auxiliary ports are also standard.

Tec model also features a full leather interior and a new 7-inch infotainment system that is Apple CarPlay capable.

In terms of safety, all models come with ABS-equipped brakes and at least two airbags (driver and passenger). At the top-end (Tec) there are 6 airbags installed as well as ESC (Electronic Stability Control), however, it would be nice to see this passive safety feature as standard across the range like it is in the Renault Clio and Volkswagen Polo. A rear-view camera with park distance control is standard in the Tec and EX models too.

Space and practicality

The Rio feels like a spacious car, especially up front where extra room has been afforded to the passenger. Rear roominess appears adequate and certainly a match for the competition. The rear seats can be folded down flat in a 60:40 split and the luggage bay is one of the largest in the segment (Kia claims a capacity of 325 litres). This compares favourably with the Polo that is said to offer only 280 litres.

Final word

As with many of Kia's latest products, the focus area has been to improve the build quality and refine the driving experience. In these areas, the Rio is right up there with the class leaders and the new infotainment system is a match for the competition. The engines however, still feel a little gutless when compared to the torquey turbos from rivals, especially at altitude. It results in the driver having to work the gearbox more often to keep the engine in the sweet spot. More models could also benefit from stability control than just the top spec version.    

Warranty and after-sales support

Kia has managed to keep the pricing almost identical to the outgoing model. It has done this with a favourable exchange rate of late and means that the Rio offers a touch more value-for-money. It still sits at the top of the B-segment price range, however. The Rio is backed by Kia’s 5-year/unlimited km warranty and 4-year/60 000 km service plan.

Kia Rio prices in South Africa (June 2017)

1.2 LS R219 995
1.4 LX R234 995
1.4 EX R249 995
1.4 Tec R274 995

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